From the Pastor – October 30, 2011

“Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt. 23:9-12)

Occasionally, I’ve jokingly observed that the hierarchy of the Church made sure that Popes, Cardinals, Bishops and Monsignors weren’t on Jesus’ list of prohibited titles! But seriously, this is a Gospel passage that is sometimes used against the Catholic Church in criticism for priests being called “Father.” Such literal fundamentalism is misguided and un-Biblical. If Jesus were prohibiting the use of “father,” then why does Jesus Himself use the term in other contexts? He confirms the commandment to “honor your mother and father,” (Mt. 19:19); He calls Abraham “father” (Mt. 3:9); and as He enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday He allows the people to proclaim the coming kingdom of “our father David” (Mk. 11:11).

Clearly, Jesus was not giving an absolute prohibition. If He had been, then surely His Apostles would have heeded it, and the word “father” wouldn’t have been used throughout the Acts of the Apostles and the rest of the New Testament letters. No, what Jesus was using was “hyperbole.” It’s a similar linguistic tool that He used when he told people to “cut off their hands” or “pluck out their eyes” if either caused them to sin. (Mt. 5:29-30).

The point of His admonition is not the word being used, but the false attitude of superiority on the part of the religious leaders of that time. He is chastising those who raise themselves up as “holier than thou:” those who are spiritually prideful and boastful. He is also saying that we are not to put any man, including the Pope, above God, Our Father.

The uses of the word “father” in Sacred Scripture tend to fall into three categories: natural fathers, forefathers and spiritual fathers. Priests fall into the last category. But any man can be a “spiritual father” to someone. That’s why we have “godfathers.” We might even refer to an older friend as being “like a father to me.”

We need “father figures” in our lives. They point to spiritual and moral guidance, they protect us, and they aid us in need. And they remind us of our Heavenly Father, of Whom we are all children.

 (Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty