Servant of God, Father Isaac Thomas Hecker CSP is the founder of the Paulist Fathers. The following series of Hecker Reflections are primarily drawn from his sermon collection. This reflection is taken from a sermon entitled, “Filial Devotion,” that Father Hecker preached at the Paulist Mother Church in New York City, the Parish of Saint Paul the Apostle in 1863. This sermon was published in a Paulist sermon collection in 1864.
Are we aware of the high privilege of being the true children of God? Does this move us as children of the Father to serve and pray to Him? A child is at home in the house of his father. He does not wait to do as his father asks. He fulfills his father’s wishes without obligation or difficulty. For where there is love there is freedom and obligation ceases to be a burden. If guilty of a fault, it is to displease one’s parent. To lack trust in a parent’s wisdom, affection, tenderness and care, never enters the mind. Am I wrong to say that few Christians at any state of life serve and pray to God in this manner? We find souls that have long been devoted to God’s service and yet are still in doubt as to whether God loves them, whether their sins are forgiven and whether they are prepared to die? What a misunderstanding of the privilege of being a Christian.
There are others who keep God’s law, fulfilling the duties of their calling and if it were proposed to them, and they would rather choose death than be guilty of offending God. But their conscience is governed by fear and when for good reason such as illness or an act of charity or the care of a sick member of their family or a suffering neighbor, they miss SundayMass or their regular prayer, they fear as if they had sinned and lose their inner sense of peace, until they have been reassured that they have acted correctly. And while God in the fullness of His heart is stretching forth His arms of love to embrace these good Christians for their charitable acts, they are crouching in fear lest God be extending his arm to strike them.
We should not cringe or crouch like a beast of burden but be motivated by the spirit where we cry “Abba Father.” Look up to your heavenly Father. Trust in his infinite love, goodness and mercy. As Saint Paul writes, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Serve God with affection and in the freedom in which Christ has made you free.
RESPONSE: FR. PAUL ROBICHAUD, CSP
One moment of childhood is when the training wheels come off and we successfully navigate a two wheel bicycle. It’s a big step. We learn how to balance and we are able to ride just like the big kids. Now and for the next few years a bicycle will get us around until it is time to get a driver’s license. In a similar manner Servant of God, Father Isaac Hecker encouraged people who came to him for spiritual direction to trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit. This means moving beyond the training wheels of rules and regulations, reward and punishment and trusting in the Holy Spirit within; to inculcate that necessary sense of spiritual balance.
In today’s reflection, Father Hecker talks about two elements that conflict with the spirit of adoption that comes to us from God in Christ Jesus - fear and scrupulosity. These can keep us from developing our spiritual balance. Father Hecker teaches that being the adopted children of the Father so we must act freely and without compulsion. God loves us with a nurturing, supportive and parental love. In this context God calls us to grow. Our response should not be caused by guilt or fear. “Fear of the Lord” is a virtue whereby we are in awe and wonder in God’s presence, not that we are afraid of God. God has adopted us. God listens to us his children and encourage us to grow.
Sadly, either we don’t always understand this gift or we fail to use it. Father Hecker uses this vivid image of God opening his arms to embrace us and we crouch in response, fearful that God will strike. Look up to your heavenly Father. Trust in his infinite love, goodness and mercy. Hecker ends by quoting Saint Paul to the Galatians, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Serve God with affection and in the freedom in which Christ has made you free.
Paulist Father Paul Robichaud, CSP is Historian of the Paulist Fathers and Postulator of the Cause of Father Hecker.