November 5, 2023 – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Last Easter season a new convert to Catholicism at my parish asked me with a grave tone in her voice: “Why do we call priests ‘father’ if Jesus says, ‘Call no man on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven’?” Thinking myself clever, I asked, “Do you think it’s okay to call someone your ‘teacher’ or ‘mister’ or ‘dad’?” She said, “Yes, I do.” I responded, “Well, Jesus seems to forbid that, too. So, it’s obviously hyperbole that he’s using.” She thought for a moment and declared, “Then I will stop using those words, too!” And she walked away. Not the outcome I was seeking.
We shouldn’t be too hasty in dismissing this complaint voiced by many non-Catholics. The expression “father” for ordained priests is not honorary for the individual man. The priest’s fatherhood doesn’t begin or end in him at all. Rather, the title “father” indicates that he is a sacramental sign of God’s Fatherhood revealed in Jesus. I can tell you, as a very unworthy bearer of that title, we should give and receive that title with some trepidation (because of God’s awesomeness) and with a little sense of humor (because of the lowliness of the men with the title).
The longer I’m a priest, the more I’m comfortable with people not using the title “father” and just calling me “John.” After all, only God is Father in the truest sense. At the same time, Jesus has brought the Father close to us, very close. We honor this closeness in some men with the title “father.” Who are the priests in your life whom Christ has sent to you? How wonderful that Christ has surrounded us with humble signs of his Father’s love. It’s good to celebrate that love with gratitude for the priests in our lives.
— Father John Muir ©LPi