A Catholic Monthly Magazine

“Abba, we’re here to help you!”

by Anne Kerrigan

by Anne Kerrigan

“Everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God. The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, “Abba, Father!”
Romans 8:14-16.

When I was growing up, back in the 40’s and 50’s, there was very little emphasis on scriptural studies. In fact, we were told not to read the Bible because we would not be able to understand it without supervision. Bible reading was really viewed as a Protestant devotion, and Catholics had very little knowledge of the Scriptures. As a result, the primary scriptural references we heard were the words of the gospels. We knew hardly anything about the Old Testament, or as they are called today, the Hebrew Scriptures. Knowledge of our Jewish roots was basically non-existent. The fact that Jesus was a faithful adherent of the Jewish faith was lost on most of us. In our minds, Jesus was Catholic and that was that!

The twentieth century saw a great increase in scriptural studies among Catholic scholars and theologians, but, in my opinion, it wasn’t until Vatican II that Catholics began to learn about the Bible.  We began to understand more fully the words of the gospel which were so familiar to us. An emphasis on the study of the Hebrew Scriptures, and on the new ecumenical movements saw an increase of interest in the totality of our Christian history. Catholics started to become more aware of the richness of their combined history with the Jewish people. Parishes started having multiple and varied adult education classes which addressed the common faith of Jews and Christians. Religion classes for the children included information about our universal Jewish history. Jewish terms became more familiar to us within the Catholic community and our “Jewishness” began to become part of our understanding of our own faith. Since Jesus lived and died as a Jew, our knowledge of Jewish history was very important to understanding our own faith. In fact, Jewish-Catholic dialogue is still very much a work in progress, and that is a blessing for each of the denominations.

While it is wonderful that time and circumstances have changed, and Catholics are beginning to understand and internalise their Jewish roots, these changes are, for many of us, purely academic and cerebral. We Catholics might now know intellectually Jesus was a first century Jewish man, but we obviously cannot have explicit experience of what that means. If we are fortunate enough to be able to travel to Israel, and then have a knowledgeable tour guide, we might be able to envision more fully what Jesus might have experienced as a young man. A gifted teacher or a great movie documentary might be able to transport you back to that place and time. But we didn’t live in first century Israel, and so we have to garner our knowledge and experience of that time and place utilising many different avenues.

Recently, a very unexpected but wonderful incident truly helped me to get a glimpse of how Jesus lived.

My four-year old grandson, who lives in Los Angeles and who is being raised in the Jewish faith, was visiting our home on Long Island. During the visit, I observed that when Sean interacted with his father, who was born in Israel, he called him Abba. At first, I wasn’t even sure what I had heard. Abba is not a word I have ever heard in casual conversation. I have only heard that word mentioned in the New Testament scriptures, and I surely had never heard a child address his father in this manner. As I continued to hear my grandson call his father Abba, I became deeply aware of the significance of the name and of what I was hearing.father_son

Abba is the English translation of an Aramaic word which essentially means Father, but in the original language it expresses a much deeper affection and child-like trust in a parent. According to the Encyclopedia of Catholicism, the term Abba was often used in a familiar sense, as in “my Father.” It was profoundly moving to hear my grandson call his own father Abba, especially knowing that this was the term Jesus would have used. The very beautiful, intimate, and caring interaction between my grandson and his father, his Abba, epitomised the relationship between Jesus and his own father for me. Such beautiful relationships are probably all around me, but it was the use of the word, Abba, which stimulated my thoughts about the beauty surrounding me. “Holy Families” abound! So often, I need to be reminded of what is all around me! This innocent child, in his love for his own father, was making my own faith more real for me. These moments of God’s grace, God’s generous self-revelation, help me to see what I often miss or take for granted. God’s grace enables me to make the necessary connections so that I see the significance of the beautiful father-son, father-daughter relationships surrounding me.

I mentioned my reaction to my daughter, and she related the following story. One evening, Avi, my son-in-law, had some car trouble and called my daughter for assistance. Since no baby-sitter was available, and it was early evening, Maureen woke Sean, explaining the situation. Maureen bundled Sean up, and off they went to help Avi. As they approached the disabled car, Sean saw his father and yelled out, “Abba, we are here to help you!”

That story, and my grandson’s frequent use of the word Abba, made my Jewish heredity very  real for me. I could actually hear Jesus calling his father, “Abba.” I could hear Jesus, when he was a young boy, and went to help Joseph in the carpentry shop, say, “Abba, I am here to help you!” As a result of this interaction and experience with my grandson and his father, I was transported back to my roots. It was wonderful.father_son2

The gospels challenge us to bring the message of Jesus’ love for all of us to the world. Jesus is no longer here in the world physically. The challenges he left for us must be done by us. We are called to feed the poor, take care of the sick, and expend ourselves to help others in any way we can. In fact, Jesus calls us to, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

How often do we shout, “Abba, we are here to help you?”

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

(St Teresa of Avila, 1515-1582, Spanish mystic, writer, and reformer, Carmelite nun and Doctor of the Church)

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