I had a profound experience today visiting Fr. “E.J.” Flanagan’s Boys Town in Omaha. I really don’t know how to express the power of what it represents other than using the word “love.” If you ever are able to visit it, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Among other things, Boys Town reunites children with their families, finds children foster homes and, most remarkable of all to me, provides in the Town a family environment for boys (and girls) with nowhere else to turn.
But today I just wanted to share one thing. While I was there on my pilgrimage for about five hours, I had an overwhelming and almost disconcerting awareness of the presence of fatherhood. I don’t know how else to explain it. Of course, the looming presence of the charism of Servant of God Fr. Flanagan was no doubt a part of that sense. But there was an even deeper sense that this fatherly presence transcended Fr. Flanagan, and the many other fatherly figures that I met throughout the day. There was a tangible sense of God the Father’s nearness to these grounds. But there was a particular moment when this was so overwhelming that I almost felt like asking the people around me if they also noticed. It was in Fr. Flanagan’s house. There was a painting there depicting him fishing with one of the Boys Town boys. Here it is:
Here’s what I later wrote in my journal about the awareness of I had of the Father’s presence:
I cried as I looked at this — quintessential fatherhood. The expressive faces. The unforced intimacy. The intentional wastefulness and uselessness of the time spent together — with love alone to justify. Such waste confirms dignity, worth, value. Steady, strong, selfless. You can’t see it in my photo, but with Fr. Flanagan’s crossed feet and the boy’s playing feet, both look like boys. Beneath God the Father, both are truly sons, and brothers. But together, side by side, they are father and son. It’s just amazing. I felt God the Father’s presence very powerfully, like a Sacrament somewhere nearby had accidentally broken open, allowed more of the Kingdom in than usual. Intimations, tiny inklings of what His unbounded love must be like. I kept thinking of Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Even as I wanted to ask others if they sensed it, this presence made it hard for me to speak to anyone. I feared I would burst into sobs. All good, though. An unsought grace. May it bear fruit in my life. Deo gratias.