There’s a laundry list of “discussion points” when it comes to what we, as Catholics, believe and how we execute that belief that non-Catholics have an issue with. Such things as how we view Mary, the Saints, the Eucharist, Purgatory, Confession, etc… One of those topics is going to be discussed this Sunday (Nov. 5th) in the Gospel. In fact, the argument against this Catholic tradition is going to be spelled out in the Book of Matthew.
Has anyone ever told you that you are not supposed to call your priest “Father?” In the Gospel of Matthew we read the following:
“Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.”
So, that seems pretty clear, right? If so, what gives us the right to go against what the Bible says and call our priests father?
Who’s your daddy?
Let’s start with those who take the Bible word-for-word in the most literal sense. This seems like an easy one to counter and it is. Refer to Exodus 20 which outlines the Ten Commandments “Honor your father and your mother.” It’s fairly obvious Christ was not removing the title of father from the husband of your mother. Besides, in the adjoining versus of Matthew, Jesus says we aren’t supposed to call anyone on earth “Rabbi”, “Master”, or “Teacher.” We use those titles freely without any argument. However the argument about calling a Catholic priest father goes much deeper than this.
Who’s your Spiritual Father – Part 1
This one is tricky, but it too has Biblical back-up supporting why Catholics use the title father. For example:
Genesis 45: 8 – “So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Joseph tells his brothers of a special fatherly relationship God had given him with the king of Egypt.
Job 29: 16 – “I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.” Job indicates he played a fatherly role with the less fortunate:
Isaiah 22: 20-21 – “and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.” God himself declares that he will give a fatherly role to Eliakim, the steward of the house of David.
2 Kings 6: 21 – “Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them?” Elisha himself is called a father by the king of Israel.
Who’s your Spiritual Father – Part II
The important part of this title is context. So what is the context of Joseph, Job, Eliakim, and Elisha being called father in a non-biological way? Well, they carried a very similar role as that of the person you call father. They acted as guides, protectors, mentors, or a provider of sorts for the groups they are being called “father” to.
So what does a Catholic priest guide his parishioners in that warrants the title father? In short, all things spiritual…aaaand that’s what non-Catholics have a problem with. This is the root of the problem. A Catholic priest is not your spiritual father, only God can be that. That’s what they will tell you is the meaning behind the verse from Matthew.
A Different Approach
You can use the Bible references above to defend the Catholic tradition if you want. I think they build a very strong case, but my guess is that it will get you no where. So my suggestion is try taking a different approach. Instead, explain how you, as a Catholic, view and don’t view your priest. Let them know how they guide and mentor us in a faith that has almost two centuries of history. Let them know we don’t put them on a pedestal next to God, and in fact, the priest would be the first person to instruct us NOT to do that!
As a father to two girls, my goal is to help my children find God in this secular world, guide them in how to find and stay on the path God has for them regardless of where it takes them, and make sure they get to heaven. However, some days, o.k. most days, I can feel lost on my own path. I can turn to the Bible, the rosary, prayer, etc… to help re-orient me towards God, but sometimes I need an earthly bound person to help me with that. I need guidance in my journey to God and in understanding His path for me. I need a person to have a live conversation with that can help grow closer to God. That’s my priest. And that’s why I call him Father.
What about the title Messiah?
I thought this was an interesting side bar on the same topic. In a divorce case in 2013 a Child Support Magistrate was settling a dispute on which last name the parents of Messiah Martin McCullough should take (Martin is the mother’s last name and McCullough is the father’s last name). The Magistrate agreed with the father, calling him Messiah McCullough. But in an interesting twist, the Magistrate went one step further and told the parents they had to change the babies first name. Judge Ballew said “The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ.” High-five to the judge!