Opinion & Features

Letters & emails

Why we dare to call God ‘Father’

SIR – Steve Larkin (Charterhouse, July 5) reminds us that Fr Frederick Faber used to speak of Our Lady as “Mama”, a term he says some criticise as “affected and weird” when used today.

Presumably it would sound even more affected and weird to speak of God as “Papa”. Yet Christians have the best possible authority for adopting a less formal word than “Father” when speaking to God in private prayer. For Our Lord himself seems to have habitually used the Aramaic family word, with its tone of intimacy and trust.

The Gospels preserve this usage only in his prayer in Gethsemane, “Abba ho pater” (“Abba, Father”), recorded in Mark 14:36 with pater as a gloss for the Gentile reader. But abba is, as St Paul tells us in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 (again with a gloss), the word of Christ’s own Spirit praying in our hearts. And modern scholars such as Jeremias have plausibly conjectured that the original Aramaic Lord’s Prayer used abba where the Greek Gospel text now has pater. So I can see no objection to our using “Papa” when speaking to God in private prayer – though it would perhaps be unwise to adopt it into any revised wording of the Lord’s Prayer that might be in the offing …

I would add in passing that when the great Bishop Ulfilas in about 350 translated the Bible for the warlike Goths, he used atta to render pater. This, as WB Lockwood notes in Indo-European Philology, “had largely replaced fadar” but was “in origin a baby word.”

Dr Carl Schmidt
Witney, Oxfordshire

Wanted: coordinated moral leadership

SIR – Today there are so many moral and social issues bombarding us, challenging our Christian values: LGBT rights, contraception for schoolchildren, compulsory Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) for infants, no-fault divorce, civil partnerships for heterosexual couples, silencing opposition to abortion with buffer zones, transgender issues, and the forcing through of abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Each of these matters calls out for moral leadership.

There are many pressure groups working tirelessly to uphold Christian values but they are largely ignored by the political class and the media. Occasionally a bishop will issue a statement deploring this or that and then there is silence. Perhaps they, too, are being ignored by politicians and the media.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that the bishops’ conference uses individual spokesmen for separate topics. The bishops’ collective strength is diluted. With all due respect to a bishop such as Bishop Sherrington, for example, auxiliary in Westminster and lead spokesman on Life matters, he may issue a criticism of what is happening in Northern Ireland but who is listening?

The recent furore over SRE (Britain news analysis, July 5) has been presented in the media as being an issue for Muslim parents in Birmingham, rather than something which should concern all people of good will. Where has been the support for those Muslim parents from Catholics? Indeed, the Catholic Education Service has welcomed the new SRE as being compatible with Catholic teaching.

We need collective leadership from our bishops – and they all need to know they speak with one voice, and keep on voicing their concerns.

John de Waal
Eastbourne, East Sussex

Immigration facts

SIR – Patrick West in his review of Anglo Nostalgia (Books, July July 19) refers to “the fact that, owing to increasing immigration, [local] access to state education and medical services is reduced”. Although this may be a widely held belief, it is hardly a fact. Anyone who visits a NHS hospital, GP surgery or care home will see that a majority of staff are either immigrants or the children of immigrants while the majority of patients are elderly and indigenous.

As for state education, I am not aware of children who are unable to go to school because there are no places available for them, and it is only a few years since there was anxiety because rural schools were closing owing to lack of demand, as happens in low-immigration countries such as Japan.

Dr A C Pembroke
Sevenoaks, Kent

A micro error

SIR – Uncharacteristically, Fr Rolheiser’s quotation from CS Lewis (The Last Word, July 19) contains an error when describing how God manifests himself in our pain. He used the word “microphone” when it should have been “megaphone”. Thus Lewis described pain as “God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Thus somewhat changing the force and intrinsic meaning of the epithet.

Brendan O’Leary

A saint in charge

SIR – Stephen de la Bédoyère makes a pertinent point (Letter, July 12) when he speculates about the desirability of Henry VIII appointing St Thomas More as a “minister for education”.

The point is rather lost on me, however, when I ponder the post the king actually conferred on Thomas – namely, that of lord high chancellor. In this capacity, which was the forerunner of the post of prime minister, More was the virtual ruler (when the king was busy hunting and pursuing dynastic matters) of the realm and had far more opportunity to influence matters than he would have done as a “minister for education”.

Mac Tanner
Barry, Vale of Glamorgan

SIR – On the feast day of St Thomas More, Magnificat reminds me of his affirmation, “I am the King’s servant, but God’s first.”

In 2000, Pope John Paul II declared More the universal patron of statesmen and politicians, a witness to the truth that “man cannot be sundered from God nor politicians from morality”.

A Marron
Wylam, Northumberland

Millennial quirks

SIR – Jordan Bloom (US news analysis, July 19) writes about journalistic attempts to comprehend why young women are being drawn to religious life. Is it an act of rebellion against secular norms or of submission to authority?

Perhaps there is another explanation that has nothing to do with the supposed psychological quirks of the millennial generation: that God is steadily rebuilding his Church.

James Peterson
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Divine anonymity

SIR – Richard Ingrams deals with coincidences (Feature, June 14), and informs us that the author Malcolm Lowry sees something of the supernatural in them. Yes, indeed. Coincidences are really Godincidences, and are God’s way of remaining anonymous.

Brother John Barry OCSO
Scourmont Abbey, Chimay, Belgium