Call no man on earth your father, for you have but one Father in heaven. Matthew 23:9
I think if I had called my father ‘Kirk,’ instead of ‘dad,’ that would have bummed him out. And I don’t think us bum-rushing our earthly fathers is exactly what the Lord Jesus had in mind when He said this. Nor do I think that He intended just to wag His finger at Catholics who address priests as ‘Father.’
My dad believed in God, and Christ, and the Church. So he would never have hesitated to acknowledge that, before God–before the heavenly Father–we were brothers.
When my brother and I were still kids, dad got to make the fatherly decisions. And he was not above corporal punishment, if and when we neglected to co-operate–which, in all honesty, was very infrequently. My mom wasn’t above corporal punishment, either. But, like I said, we were co-operative sons.
All that said, my dad knew perfectly well that we all had a horizon much higher than himself. He considered himself a child, also, when he turned the eyes of his soul to God.
So the irony is: Calling our priests ‘Father’ actually helps us to fulfill what the Lord Jesus said. Because calling the man who leads the church family ‘Father’ lifts our eyes to the higher horizon.
Yes, we owe our earthly fathers respect and obedience. We owe all earthly authority the co-operation to which it is entitled.
But if we want to get to the bottom of the question, Where do I come from? To whom do I owe my deepest loyalty? We can’t stop at ‘mom and dad,’ or ‘Virginia,’ or ‘America.’ We can’t stop anywhere on this earth.
We have to lift the eyes of our soul up to answer the question. We exist because of the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our first, fundamental, and absolute allegiance is to God our Father.
The priest is a father because he baptizes us and makes us children of God; he feeds us with the Body of Christ; he teaches and makes rules for the church family, according to the teachings and rules in the Word of God.
‘Mark’ is my name. But if you called me ‘Hey, Mark,’ as if my duty were to chitchat and play with you like just another semi-skilled basketball player–I think that would be a big bummer for everybody. Every family needs a father.
By the same token, though: in the Church, even the Fathers are children. At the holy altar, we stand together before our heavenly Father. He guides us, and feeds us, and loves us. And, together, we try to please Him and love Him back.