Saturday, June 19, 2010
Blog #13 FATHER!
FATHER! …I love the Father…” (Jn 14:31). The response of Jesus to the Father was love. Jesus was like us in all but sin. Jesus, though divine, and from all eternity united with the Father in divine love, like us was called to discover and respond as well to the Father’s Presence here on earth in the physical world, in people, and in the human experience of prayer. It was this response to which Jesus was referring when on the night before he died in obedience to the Father’s plan, He said his obedience was evidence to all that He loved the Father. His invitation for all was to join Him in that love. Not all would understand. Not all would be willing. So in the course of Jesus’ life as given in the Gospels, we find Him so perfectly obedient to the Father’s will that all who heard Him speak and saw Him act should have known His love for the Father was the supreme value in His life. This was true because He knew, as God, and believed, as one of us, there is but One God. There is no other. His response to the Father, and ours, could only be total love. Nothing and no-one could take the Father’s place as Creator of all. No-one assume His authority, or His Name. Do not call anyone on earth your Father. “Only one is your Father, the one in heaven.” (Mt 23:9). What, the, of the practice in the Catholic Church of referring to a priest as Father? Is this idolatry, arrogance, disobedience, stupidity, or what? It is certainly a long and well established tradition. Particularly here in the southern part of the United States it has been and continues to be a problem of such major proportions as to preclude on the part of many any serious possibility of investigating and discovering the richness of our Catholic faith, history, and tradition. It should be quite evident the theme of our Gospel reading today is not the phrase about using the word Father for anyone other than God. Rather Jesus is speaking against the false pride, arrogance and hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees to whom He addressed His words. However, since the practice of referring to a priest as Father is such an obstacle for many believing Christians around us, it might be well for us to take this occasion to address the problem. With little effort I think we can find basic agreement. Our apparent disagreement would seem to stem from lack of information rather than actual differences in theology or disobedience to the word of God in the Bible. All that we would ask of anyone who would want to enter into discussion with us with regard to any justification of the practice on our part is an open mind, a willingness to accept our word as sincere, and a prayer for the light of truth. First of all it should be very clear we as Catholics profess a faith in One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no other God. Statues are not God. Mary, the Mother of Jesus is not God. Angles and Saints are not God. The Pope, priests, nuns rituals are not God. Not being God they neither deserve nor are offered the praise, thanks, adoration, and worship we offer to God alone. We do not accept or believe in any competitor for God’s gory. We don’t even come close to being tempted away from our conviction or practice here. The official text of the Mass illustrates and gives clear evidence of our consciousness of the Father’s place in our life and our love and our devotedness to Him. Here are some samples from that text. “Father, it is our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks…” “Father, it is right we should give you thanks and glory; you are the One God, living and true.” “We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son.” “Father, you are holy indeed, and all Creation rightly gives you praise.” “Our Father…hallowed be Thy Name…Thy will be done…” And the final words of the most solemn part of the Mass: “Through Him (Jesus), with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, All glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever. Amen!” We are in direct personal relationship with the Father through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. We recognize in the Father a worthiness of our entire love. This Jesus has taught us. In His Name we believe, and respond to Our Father in awe. Yet we do have to take Matthew 23:9 into account. The King James version has it this way: “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father which is in heaven.” On face value, those words are certainly clear. Is there even room, in the light of them, for the question as to whether Catholics disobey the Bible in continuing our practice of referring to a priest as “Father”? We would hardly be fair to ourselves and honest in our pursuit of the truth in the matter if we did not take note of the fact the text we are considering is immediately followed by the additional injunction of Jesus not to call anyone teacher. This seems to be commonly done, even by those who object to our practice, without a qualm or the batting of an eye. What is the difference: It seems to lie merely in the objection to our practice rather than in a concern for carrying out the entire mandate of the Bible. Further, if what we do is wrong, the Bible itself is guilty of the same, and this certainly cannot be true. In the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) there are more than seven hundred references to the word father. Only ten of these are in reference to Yahweh (God). In the New Testament, there are more than three hundred and fifty references to the word father. Of these only two hundred and twenty -nine are in relation to God. The rest refer to men. Samples: Rom 4:18; 8:10; Acts 7:2; 2:29, 4:25; James 2:21. In the early ages of the Church, before and during the time the New Testament was being composed, there was no problem. Nor was there a problem as the Church moved through the centuries until on the American scene fundamentalist preachers developed it into a major issue. It is not a problem among Scripture scholars, nor is it a problem in other parts of the world where the American influence has not prevailed. Certainly the Catholic Church knows the words of the Gospel with regard to Jesus’ statement. We know, however, as well, the meaning of the statement. Taken out of context, we would no more have taken up the custom of calling the priest Father, let alone tolerate it for centuries, than we would have taken up or tolerated a custom of stealing, telling lies, or murder. The true meaning of and value of our custom begins to show in the light of 1 Cor 4: 14-17. “I am writing to you in this way not to shame you but to admonish you as My beloved children.” Grated you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you have only one father. It was I who begot you in Christ Jesus through my preaching of the Gospel…This is why I sent you Timothy, My beloved and faithful Son in the Lord.” For St. Paul, who explicitly in the Bible refers to himself as a father of believers, the use of the term father in reference to himself was a blessing rather than a wedge between himself and God. This is because for him and the first Christians it was a definite reminder and proclamation of the fact a Christian believer through faith and Baptism receives from God through Jesus a second birth, into a new life, becoming children of God, heirs with Christ of eternal life. Our use of the term for the ordinary minister of Baptism is the same. Lack of knowledge, both of the meaning of Scripture in this instance, and of the meaning of our tradition and of the reasons we retain the tradition are at the root of any problem a sincere Bible reading person might have with it. It would be apparently so easy to solve the problem by doing away with the custom. But that would seem to be similar to the “problem” some of the people at the foot of the Cross brought to Jesus when they did not realize or understand the meaning of His suffering and said “Come down from the Cross and we will believe!” He stayed. I remember an old priest years ago who, when confronted with our problem would say “OK call me “Frank’, “Fred”, “Father”, “Mister”, “Brother”, whatever you think is best, but please don’t call me before six o’clock in the morning!.