Sunday, March 21, 2010
Why do Catholics call priests "Father"?
Dear Rev. Know it all,
My neighbor, a member of the First Fire-Baptized Church of God in Christ with Signs and Wonders Following Inc., says that Catholics are in violation of the Holy Scriptures because they call their pastors “father” but the Bible says “Call no man father!” Can you explain this or should I join their church?
When people hit me with this I always ask them, “If you should call no man father, what do you call that man who married your mother?” People who use the Bible that way are about as deep as a puddle. They take individual verses out of context, and a text without a context is a pretext. They are looking for a fight. They sound like they know the Bible, but they’ve only interiorized certain parts of it — the parts that are fun in a fight. It’s the same spirit that motivated pseudo-liberalism. It is allows you to be virtuous and cantankerous at the same time. I call it the baptized anger.
Let’s look at the passage in the 23rd chapter of Matthew. “Then Jesus said… ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat..... but everything they do is done for men to see.....they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.... They love..... to have men call them Rabbi....But you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth father, for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called teacher, for you have one Teacher, the Christ.’ ”
First of all, the word Rabbi means “my great one” or “my revered one” — “reverend” in English and the word “doctor” is Latin for teacher. I don’t know a single Christian group that doesn’t use one of those three titles. For instance, we have, the Rev. Doctor Billy Graham. And we have the Rev. Ernst Angely (Oh Lord, heal my toupee!) All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, as St. Paul says.
St. Paul tells the Corinthians (1Cor.4:15 ) “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” Actually, in Greek it reads “I begot you” and not “I have become your father,” but he does concede that they have fathers in Christ, though not many among whom he clearly counts himself. Apparently St. Paul doesn’t realize this title is forbidden.
What’s really going on here? Some rabbis at the time of Christ really believed they deserved perks. The question was asked, “If your father and your rabbi were drowning, and you could only save one of them, who should you save?” The correct answer was, of course, your rabbi, since a father confers only physical life and your rabbi confers spiritual life. People vied to dress their rabbis, to tie their shoes, in general, to be at their beck and call. Even in our own time, the fuss made over great rabbis is amazing. The great Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the last of the Lubavitcher Rebbes, was followed and fawned over like a rock star and, from people who knew the Rebbe, I have gotten the impression that the Rebbe was pretty sick of it. Little orthodox Jewish kids even have “Gedolim” cards, literally “great men cards.” These are famous Rabbi trading cards, similar to baseball cards.!!!
This is what Jesus is referring to, not so much the idea of titles. I have known people in some really weird wacky sects that would never dream of calling their ministers “father,” but their preachers and pastors tell them whom to marry, what to say, how to eat and how to dress. Believe me. Few Catholic priests are in danger of this kind of status.
What Jesus is saying here is that your salvation should never be dependent on any one human being. People leave the Church over the darndest things. The priest yelled at them or missed an appointment or didn’t attend their third cousin twice removed’s funeral. Far more serious is scandal. We get so discouraged when we hear of priestly scandal. Jesus warned us that scandal was inevitable. Priests are not only weak men, but they are under unusual pressure. I don’t just mean day-to-day stress; I mean demonic attack. St. Paul says that it isn’t against flesh and blood that we war, but against powers and principalities. (Eph.6:12)Jesus said that “...they will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.” (Mark14:27) In other words, if the devil can ruin a priest, he has done a good day’s work, at least what he would call a good day.
If you are a Catholic because you met the perfect priest or deacon or nun, I would suggest you leave the Church now and avoid the delay. You may have been led to the Catholic faith by a good man or woman, but trust me, they aren’t perfect. God alone is good, as Jesus tells us. The rest of us are original sinners. This includes the clergy. The reason to be a Catholic is that the Catholic Church holds the truth and that it is the Church founded by Jesus. However, it is to be remembered that Jesus founded the Church through the ministry of the apostles, that bunch of cowardly reprobates. We, the clergy, have been walking in their footsteps ever since.