Browsing From the Pastor's Desk

Like Father, Like Son

Dec 18, 2017

The onward march of time provides new perspectives as we march along with it.

When I was 14 years old, I was able to visit the town in which I was born, Davenport, Iowa. My family moved back to Rochester before I was two years old, so I knew nothing of the place or the people there, except what I had heard from my parents. So finally at age 14, I met these great people who were friends of my parents and siblings.

One man, who had worked with my father, made a big impression on me. The moment he saw me, he said, “Now there is Maurice Brunner.” I never saw any resemblance of me to my father. And at that age I certainly never wanted any resemblance. There was a good deal of tension between my father and his teenage children.

So it has been a surprising and sobering thing to realize that as I have aged, I have, despite all intentions to the contrary, gradually turned into my father. My two brothers have managed not to do so somehow, at least not as much. But my sister has turned into my mother and sympathizes with my chagrin at this transformation.

The people in my parish back home in Rochester would say my father had the voice of God when he served as a lector. In my parish in Maryland, I was always the disembodied voice of God in the family Christmas liturgy. One of the children at Mass a few weeks ago asked if I was God because of my deep voice.

My father had a constant throat clearing sound. I have been hearing that coming out of my throat too. He had a benign tremor in his right hand which I have inherited, although it didn’t show up ‘til I turned 60. So both of our handwritings became illegible. Mine was never good to begin with, but now I have an excuse. He developed neuropathy, and so have I.

He was a skilled writer about the law. I was amazed to find that googling his name brought up a host of results leading to his legal opinions. I never became a lawyer, but whenever the corporations I worked for needed a good or important letter, they called on me. Now I just write for the bulletin.

Next to his “Archie Bunker” chair in the living room was a side-table stacked with the books he was reading, always several at the same time; he had a restless curiosity. Once I started reading seriously in my mid 20’s, I too created a stack of books that I was reading simultaneously. There is so much to learn, and so little time.

Once, on a visit home, as we were all sitting around the kitchen table conversing, he suddenly sprang out of his chair and rushed out the back door, having grabbed a pellet pistol kept by the door for such occasions, firing madly at a squirrel that was raiding the bird feeder. You can ask some of the old Priory students about me and the Canada geese. I was told it looked bad for the headmaster to be carrying around a pellet rifle.

More than anything, my father was a creature of habit, controlled and predictable. After my first visits to Saint Louis Abbey, I was describing the monks to an old friend, and my mild discomfort with them because they were so reserved, stiff and “British.” He laughed loudly and said, “That’s just how you are.” Oh well. I too have become set in my ways… a creature of habit.

It’s not bad, mind you. It’s just a surprise. But it shouldn’t be. After all, there is both the genetic inheritance of some traits and there is the way he raised me. Like father, like son. Like mother, like daughter.

And so that brings me to Christmas. As Isaiah prophesied, “For a child* is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”

A child, a son, who is our brother, human like us in all things but sin. God He was and is, but still His mother Mary had to change His diapers. The man the world knew as His father taught Him his trade, of a carpenter. Jesus built things just like Joseph did, handled a saw, hammer and plane just like Joseph did. And Jesus has taught us how to live as human beings.

As Christians, we are supposed to be like Him; to do justice and what is right, and to love kindness and mercy, and to live humbly with our God. But it is much more than that.

Jesus has told us, “The Father and I are one,” (John 10:30). And again, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9). And also, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him,” (John 14:23).

As adopted children of God, we become heirs, co-heirs with Jesus Christ, of the universal kingdom of God. We are not servants or slaves, but we are of the same family with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. And so it is revealed to us that if we become like Jesus, we in fact become like God, just like the Father.

The Eastern Catholic Church and the Orthodox make much of this doctrine of theosis. In the west we call it “Divinization,” which sounds just a little bit heretical, almost Mormon. But it is not heresy; it is true. In the Offertory of the Mass, as the priest pours a little water into the chalice of wine just before he blesses and thanks God for it, he prays, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” This is the wonder we celebrate at Christmas. God became human so that we might become like God. In the new year about to begin, and forever after, may we act more and more like God, our Father.

A blessed and happy Christmas and New Year to you!

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