Ut servum redímeres, Fílium tradidísti!
The line above is from the Easter Song Exultet. If you do not understand what it means, don’t fret, here below is the translation:
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
I must have first encountered the song when I was 12 years old. That time, I was a newly minted member of the Knights of the Altar and, as it were, I became a staple server in practically all the Masses in the parish. But the first time I gave much attention to this song, and particularly to this line was when I was initiated to the study of theology.
It was our teacher in Fundamental Liturgy who directed us not only to the lofty theology found in Exultet but also the beauty intricately woven in its poetry. She particularly referred us to this line. How painful it must have been for a father to let go of a son in order to buy back a servant. And yet, we know that it’s not just a mere fiction for we know that it happened in real life.
Yes, God so loved the world
that he gave his only Son
that whoever believes in him
may not be lost,
but may have eternal life.
Today, we join the world in celebrating Fathers’ Day. And how fitting it is that the readings for the liturgy precisely lead us to recall how the Almighty Creator has so loved us that we are allowed to call Him with such closeness and familiarity: Father.
I love this anecdote about a father and a son.
One day, the son goes to the father and asks if he could go to a party. The father thinks for a while, nods his head in approval but gives a condition: “Be back before midnight or sleep outside.”
The son considers it and agrees right away. The son enjoys in the party. He almost does not notice that it’s already past 1 AM. He rushes back home; from afar he sees the familiar figure which he immediately recognizes to be his dad. His fear and anxiety grows further. When he finally reaches the house, his dad motions him to stay outside.
There is a long, eerie silence. The father breaks the awkwardness. “I don’t like to do this, son. But you breached our agreement.” The son replies “Yes, dad. I know. And I’m sorry. I’m ready to sleep outside … But, dad, why do you have two sets of pillows and blankets?”
“Son, our agreement is for you to sleep outside if you reach home late. But no one is to stop me from suffering with you.”
This story made me see in concrete how God—like the father in the story—painted a compassionate image of Him in the first reading (cf. Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9).
Just try to imagine. The Israelites worshipped the golden calf—this took place after their covenant with God was just sealed thru the tablets of stones. Witnessing this idolatry, Moses was blazed with anger that he smashed the tablets.
This betrayal of the Israelites alone could have merited death; after all, He is God, they should not have messed up with Him in the first place. And yet, wonder of wonders, God gave them another chance. His words echo, thus:
“Yahweh, Yahweh, God of tenderness and compassion,
slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy,
maintaining his faithful love to thousands,
forgiving fault, crime and sin…”
I did not do well in Hebrew, but if there is one Hebrew word I do not allow myself to forget, it is this: Hesed. This word speaks of a “of faithful love in action;” a love that does not wait to be reciprocated in order to be realized, a brand of love which is freely given away—for no one merits it.
John writes ‘God is love,’ (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16). But “By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (CCC 221).
Barely three months after assuming the papacy, St. John Paul II spoke that “God in his deepest mystery is not a solitude but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family, which is love” (January 28, 1979).
Just last night, a priest narrated to me that he came home from his blessing the remains of a father—and his daughter—who met an accident in Batangas. Last Thursday, when their family went to an outing, the daughter was washed away by a big wave while sitting on the breakwater with some friends. All of them were able to fasten themselves to safety except for the daughter. The father immediately went into the sea to save her. But the current was too strong, his mere human will to save her was not enough. He lost her, and in the process, he lost his life as well.
Stories like this naturally make me feel sad. But ironically, they also cheer me up for they make me realize how it is possible to go beyond the unthinkable, even to that point of risking our lives, in order to give life to others.
If anything, this act of the father in saving his daughter reflects the beauty of love emanating in the Most Holy Trinity. In it, we can find an eternal exchange of love which no death can even put a stop to.