Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Call no man father"?

A few days ago, I was talking to a former student and friend about common objections and/or misunderstandings about the Catholic faith. As I've been a member of the Catholic Church for about eleven years now, our discussion about aspects of our faith that others (most often Protestants) dispute was kind of refreshing.

Objections (even vehement ones) to Catholic doctrines and practices are quite-often rooted in the realm of overblown misunderstandings. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once made a wry observation about this very point:

"There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church."

Ignorance can be bliss, but it can also be a fertile ground for mistrust, envy, fear and loathing. One objection-based question that I have heard before from Protestants is: "Why do Catholics call their priests 'Father' when Scripture says: 'Call no man father'?" Behold, from the keyboard of The Catholic Next Door, a great answer:

Often times our Protestant brothers and sisters will ask why Catholics call priests Father when Matthew 23:9 says “You must call no one on earth your father.” This stems from a literal interpretation that really isn’t applied literally because everyone refers to their biological dad as father. It also stems from the misguided practice of taking select Bible quotes out of context as ammunition for one argument over the other. 

The funny thing is that there are actually more verses in Sacred Scripture that support the notion of calling our spiritual leaders “Father.” If you take a look back at the Old Testament you will recall that there was a specific tribe (Levites) that were known to the Israelites as priests. In Judges 17:10 Micah tells a visiting Levite: “Stay with me…be father and priest to me..” Well that certainly contradicts the Protestant literal interpretation that it is sinful to call a man on earth father, doesn’t it?

If you move forward into the New Testament, you will see St. Paul proclaim that he is our “spiritual father.” Hmm..that sounds an awful lot like the role of our Catholic priests. Here is the verse from 1 Corinthians 4: “..For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” If that doesn’t blow the door off the Protestant argument then how about this verse from Titus 1: “To Titus, my true child in a common faith: grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior” or this: “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment” (Philem. 10). None of these men or audiences were Paul’s literal, biological sons. Saint Paul is emphasizing his spiritual fatherhood with them.

If you look further at the same chapter (Matthew 23) where Jesus says to call no man father, you will notice that he also says “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher…Do not be called leader for one is your leader, that is, Christ.” Are we to take that literally as well? I think that would be missing the point that our Savior is trying to make here. He is making a point that we should not follow an earthly rabbi or father or leader but Christ Himself and Church he started on Earth – the Church that carries forward the teachings of Christ with His assurance that the Church would be led into all Truth by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26 & John 16:13).

There are countless other Biblical examples that provide overwhelming evidence for calling our spiritual fathers, Father. I think the proper response to our Protestant brothers and sisters would be to ask them why they don’t call their pastors Father.