Call No Man on Earth ‘Rev’

“Call no man on earth your father,” says the Lord.

Here in Protestant country, we Catholics have to meet this gospel passage head on.

At a gas station or grocery store—if I had a nickel for every well-meaning soul who refused to call me ‘Father…’

If I went to the Speedway and walked around the infield, many of the God-fearing, Bible-believing NASCAR fans would surely salute me with, ‘Hey, Pastor,’ or ‘Hey, Rev!’

My next-door neighbor on Spruce Street, God bless him, absolutely, positively refuses to call me Father, under any circumstances.

Here’s the precise problem: Some people have the idea that the Lord Jesus said “Call no man on earth your father” specifically to prohibit people from calling Catholic priests “Father.”

When we scrutinize Christ’s teaching, however, we discover that such an interpretation does not make sense.

…By the power of the Holy Spirit, we call God “Father.” Christ made the title “Father” sacred and precious.

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.

We use the word ‘father’ from childhood to refer to another imperfect human being. The first person I learned to call ‘father’ enjoyed large bowls of ice-cream on Sunday afternoons. He taught me how to catch blue crabs using chicken necks and string. He sang baritone in the church choir.

The Lord Jesus said, “Call no man on earth your father.” But if this were a commandment meant to be taken literally, then everyone would be in violation of it. It would not just be priests that we could not call ‘Father’—we couldn’t call our own fathers ‘father.’

There is more. If these 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 their letters.

This is not the only example of a situation in which the Lord Jesus did not intend for His imperative statement to be taken literally. For instance, He also 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.

Sometimes the Lord used hyperbole. He spoke in an exaggerated way to make an important point. We do the same thing all the time. For instance, after a big Thanksgiving dinner, someone says, “I am not going to eat another bite of food for a week!” Not literally true, but not a lie, either—simply using hyperbole to make a point.

God is our true Father. As St. Paul put it, “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 fatherhood comes from God the Father. We are ministers of the sacraments by which God begets and raises His children. At the same time, natural fathers of children are rightly called fathers, too. God has made these fathers His ministers in the home.

True fatherhood flows from above. What does not flow from God is any kind of arrogant authority or abuse, any cult of personality that tries to usurp the place of the divine Father.

A true father knows that he has been given the care of children who actually belong to someone else. The people who call me ‘Father’ are God’s children, not mine.

A true father helps his children grow towards God. A true father does not concern himself with the honor you give to him; he worries about the honor you give God.

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.

[Click HERE for the ‘extended version.’]

2 thoughts on “Call No Man on Earth ‘Rev’

  1. I always wondered why the Protestants seem to only notice the fact that calling a priest father is supposedly wrong, but calling their father father is okay? And as often as they quote that, they seem to miss that line St. Paul used in the same Bible they’re quoting where he says something along the lines of, “I am your father” the same goes with teacher. Why can we call teachers teachers when the bible says not to if taken literally, but calling a priest father is off limits. I guess it’s one of those selective hearing type things. And people tend to get very selective when it comes to the Catholic Church…I am glad that God has given you the patients to accept hearing problems, Father White. Myself, with as stressed out as I usually am, I have an exponentially decreasing tolerance for…well, intolerable lacks in intelligence and critical thinking skills…Dear God, help me to the end of the semester…:0)

  2. Father Mark,

    Still, sales are more difficult when there is a literal discrepancy between the Bible and Church practice. It’s just one more hurdle to leap.

    The simple answer I got 15 years ago (from Father Mike) to the question (# 1, Why do we call priests “father”?) was, “it’s an address of respect;” from him, I could take it as an answer. My other two questions to him (yes, I’m just a bothersome questioning kid) to him were: # 2. Why do people pray the Rosary in the middle of Mass?; and # 3. Why do we pray the Rosary when the Christ says, “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.”? His answers to # 2 & # 3, respectively, “Do you doubt their faith?” (no, of course not; who am I to do so?) and “It draws us to God in the litany.” (point made; and I began to try to get so that I appreciated the Rosary, ultimately settling on “The Scriptural Rosary” as my way of doing so).

    I like yours and Jacqueline’s notion that we most all call our family father “Father” at one time or another. I much more like your closing for this and the “extended version”, to the effect that “But any man who helps lead his children to heaven, to the Father—that man is indeed a father, worthy of the name.”

    Thanks for being there!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s