1. When it really counted, USA hockey lost to Canada.
2. The Hoyas are on a late-season slide, and Austin Freeman is sick as a dog.
3. Very strange things are going to start happening at D.C. Superior Court tomorrow.
4. It is still nowhere near 70 degrees…
March has arrived like an ill-tempered goat.
This situation calls for an exegetical discourse! In honor of the Year of the Priest!
“Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9)
Our one Master, the Christ, has taught us that in heaven we have a Father. Almighty God watches over us and tends us with a father’s loving care.
By teaching us this, Christ has given us an immeasurable gift. Those outside the Church do not know that we have a Father in heaven.
Some people think there isn’t anybody up there. They think it is all just a vast, meaningless expanse of supernovas, asteroids, and unfathomable emptiness. These are the atheists.
Some others think that there is a force ruling heaven which is altogether beyond the reach of our minds and hearts. This force governs all things with an unfeeling, unforgiving law. We really don’t know anything about this force, these people say. It is naïve to think that the force cares about us. For all intents and purposes, we are alone in the universe. These are the agnostics.
Other people think that all kinds of spirits, life-energies, and auras dart around in heaven, eager to act for our worldly benefit. According to these people, if we do the right exercises, or put the right kind of rocks on the coffee table, or drink the right milkshakes and teas, we can make these spiritual entities cure our migraines, or clear out our upset stomachs, or make us smarter and better looking. These are pagans and New-Agers.
The Lord Jesus, however, has revealed the truth about God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we call out Abba, Father. When we make this cry with faith, we enter into the undying love of the Blessed Trinity. The entire Catholic religion exists for this one purpose: that we would be sons and daughters in the Son, members of the divine Household, children of the heavenly Father.
The title “Father,” therefore, is extremely sacred and precious. It is the name that God the Son taught us to use for His Father.
Let us try to appreciate the fact that by doing this—by telling us to use the word ‘father’ for God, Christ has torn the lid off of a word that we have all been using since before we can remember.
‘Father’ is a very common word. If Christ had taught us to call God “Unbegotten Foutainhead,” then maybe we cold keep the sacred name locked-up in a safe place and protect it from being abused.
But, as it is, we use the word ‘father’ from childhood to refer to another imperfect human being. We use it to refer to someone who may—or may not—be a great guy. The first person I learned to call ‘father’ was a rabid Redskins fan. He taught me how to catch blue crabs using chicken necks and string. He sang baritone in the church choir. He tried to do right by raising me. But he was not—God rest his soul—Almighty God.
The Lord Jesus said, “Call no man on earth your father.” When many Protestants hear this, they turn to us and say: “See! This proves that you Catholics are wrong, because you call your priests ‘Father,’ and you call the Pope the ‘Holy Father.’ You are wrong. You are violating the commandment of Christ.”
With all due respect to our critics on this point, we Catholics actually have a perfectly good reason to do what we do. We have good reason to think that this statement of Christ’s does not mean what our critics take it to mean.
First of all, we have to recognize that the Lord Jesus did not intend for all of His imperative statements to be taken literally. He had quite a way with words, and sometimes He used figures of speech to convey his meaning.
For instance, the Lord said: “If your right had causes you to sin, cut it off…If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” If we obeyed these commands to the letter, we would all be lefties with eye patches.
He said: “Why do you consider the speck in your brother’s eye and not the beam in your own eye? First remove the beam from your own eye; then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Obviously, it is not physically possible for a human being to have a wooden beam in his eye. If this were a literal command, it could not be obeyed.
So we have to be aware of the fact that sometimes the Lord speaks poetically, for effect. If it is impossible to take Him literally, then we must look for a figure of speech.
Let’s apply this to “call no man on earth your father.” If this were a literal commandment, then everyone would be in violation of it, not just Catholics. Not one of us would be allowed to call the men who begot us in our mother’s wombs anything other than ‘Hey, you.’ It would not just be priests that we could not call ‘Father’—we couldn’t call our own fathers ‘father.’
There is more. If Christ’s words were meant to be a literal command, then Saints Peter, Paul, and John would all be guilty of violating it in the New Testament itself. All three of these Apostles referred to themselves as fathers of the Christians to whom they wrote letters.
It does not make sense, therefore, to understand Christ to be altogether prohibiting the use of the word ‘father.’ What does make sense is that the Lord used hyperbole—He spoke in an exaggerated way to make an important point. We do the same thing all the time: After a big Thanksgiving dinner, someone says, “I am not going to eat another bite of food for a week!” Or someone sitting at a red light at Rt. 301 and Excalibur Road in Bowie says to himself, “This is the longest light in the world!” In cases such as these, our words are not literally true, but they are not lies—we simply use hyperbole to make a point.
The point the Lord was making is this: God is our true Father. All true fatherhood comes from God. As St. Paul put it in Ephesians 3:15: “I kneel before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth receives its name.”
We priests of the Church are rightly called Fathers because our spiritual paternity comes from God the Father. We are ministers of the sacraments by which God begets children. At the same time, the natural fathers of children are rightly called fathers, too. God has made them His ministers in the conception and upbringing of children.
Those of us who are fittingly called ‘father’ have a true share in the fatherhood of God when we lead our children to Him. This true fatherhood flows from the love of the Father of all. What does not flow from God is any kind of arrogant authority or cult of personality that tries to usurp the place of the divine Father. History has seen many examples of this abuse. This is what the Lord Jesus prohibits with His words; His commandment condemns the arrogance of the scribes and Pharisees.
The scribes and Pharisees put themselves above their people, their children. The Pharisees were not honest and humble instruments of God the Father. They wanted the honor and attention for themselves. All they really succeeded in doing was to burden their people with unnecessary observances in the name of preserving their own falsely claimed dignity.
What the Lord Jesus was saying was: These prima donnas who try to make you feel guilty for things that have nothing to do with the will of God are not your fathers. A true father helps his children grow towards God. A true father does not concern himself with the honor you give him; he worries about the honor you give God. He does not think about pleasures for himself; he thinks only about what will be best for his children. A true father has no ego to stroke, because he has forgotten all about himself while thinking about his children.
As St. Paul put it to his beloved children in Thessalonica: “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.”
Call no man on earth your father, because in this world we have no lasting city. Our true Father is in heaven. He made us to be with Him forever. But any man who helps lead his children to heaven, to the Father—that man is indeed a father worthy of the name.