Some years ago a young Catholic girl who had become involved in a baptist youth group wanted to see me to ask me questions about Catholicism because she had been challenged on these by her evangelical friends. There were questions about why Catholic’s worship Mary, and why do we have a Pope.
One question she had related to today’s Gospel; Why do people call you father when Jesus says in Matthew 23, “You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven.?”
The context was that Jesus was castigating the Scribes and Pharisees for neglecting their responsibility to serve and they were giving themselves honours and putting themselves first. So he was saying not to call anyone on earth by the title “Rabbi,” “Father,” or “teacher,” in the sense of arrogating to oneself an authority which rests with God and of forgetting the responsibility of the title.
I was told by a parishioner that they could not call me “father” because I was not their father. I have never insisted on anyone calling me Father. As one priest says of the title “The title for me is very humbling. As a priest, “Father” reminds me that I am entrusted with a grave responsibility by our Lord — His faithful people.” I agree with him. My relationship with the people of the parish is not one of superiority but one of service, nourishment and care.
Please pray for all priests today who are called to be men who care and feed their people. May we priests never forget our calling is to humble service rather than earthly honours and power.