31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

     Well, this is a little awkward.  Jesus is very clear in today’s Gospel when He said, “call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven” and here father stands before you to preach. I guess I have some explaining to do. If Jesus is really this clear, then why do Catholics call our priests father?

     While many fundamentalists are quick to point out our supposed error, if we look closely at the whole of this passage we see Jesus is not intending His statement to be taken literally. After all, Jesus’ last words on earth are the command to “make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”[1] Since one who teaches is called a teacher it makes no sense that Jesus would tell people to teach but then give a command not to call anyone a teacher. An honest reading today’s Gospel shows that Jesus is not opposed to using words to describe what a person is doing. Christ is opposed to titles that person use to Lord over others.

     You see this commandment of Jesus comes immediately after a story where Jesus contrasts a sincere religious leader, one who practices what he preaches, with one who fails to follow the teachings he conveys. Jesus scolds the Pharisees not because they use the title teacher or rabbi, but because they use their title to be exempted from service of others or to feel better than others. If we put our bias aside and read this passage in context we see that Jesus is condemning the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He is condemning them for teaching one thing and then using their power to live another way.

     While short-sided, this frequent charge against us for calling our priests father, gives us pause to ask ourselves why we as Catholics call our priests father. If we stop to think about who we are as human person, it makes perfect sense. All of us are both physical beings, with physical needs, and spiritual beings, with spiritual needs. Just as our biological parents care for our natural needs, priests are called to serve our spiritual needs. The sacramentals offered to us by the priest runs parallel to the sacrifices offered for us by our biological parents. Just as our parents are responsible for our being born into this world, the priest is there as we are given new life in Baptism. Just as our biological parents feed us, the priest offers us our spiritual nourishment in the Eucharist.

     In short, we call our priests father because the calling of a priest is to be a spiritual father. It is for this reason that priests take a promise of celibacy. For “as a celibate the priest is in a privileged position to love many, to love selflessly and to witness to the totally, infinitely self-giving love of God who also alone can be everything for us.”[2] Priests choose not to marry a woman and generate children but rather to use their love and creativity to serve the needs to whom they are committed through the Church. A priest gives up a natural family to care for our spiritual family. So often people ask me how I am able to live without a biological family. The truth is “God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us.”[3] While I think everyone has a natural desire for a family, in foregoing a biological family for my spiritual family here at Queen of All Saints, God has blessed me in ways I could never even imagine.

    My friends, just as all of us need biological father’s all of us need spiritual fathers. Yet priests don’t simply fall from the sky. It is no secret that we are not ordaining enough priests to sustain our parishes. Our parish is blessed to have seminarians who are a tribute to this parish, but two is not enough. We must do better. As our Church celebrates vocation awareness week, I think it’s important for each of us to stop and ask ourselves, what are we doing to promote spiritual fatherhood. Perhaps it’s as simple as praying for vocations, maybe it’s encouraging someone in our parish who we think would be a good priest, or perhaps it’s something else. Depending on our situation in life, we need to ask ourselves if God is calling us to be a priest, or ask how we would respond if one of our children told us they felt called to be a priest. Studies show us that many young men consider the call to the priesthood. When asked why they didn’t become a priest, two of the top reasons they give is 1. “no one ever asked me” or 2. “my family would not have supported it.” What about you? What are you going to do to ensure your children and grandchildren not only have the best biological parents but also the best spiritual parents to raise them?


[1] Mt 28:19-20

[2] Thomas Acklin, O.S.B. The Unchanging Heart of the Priesthood. Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2005.pg 49.

[3] Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium. Washington DC: USCCB. (2014) pg. 7.

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