In the Bible, Jesus says, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven (Matthew 23:9).” What did Jesus mean when he said this. Are we to take this saying literally? Are we not allowed to refer to our dad as father? Of course not!
If you would look up the word father in a Bible concordance, you would discover 124 instances in the New Testament alone where human beings are called “father” (Greek: pater). Here are a few examples from Jesus Christ himself:
(1) “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish” (Luke 11:11).
(2) “…a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father…(Luke 12:53).
(3) “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother…he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
(4) “honor your father and your mother…” (Matt. 19:19).
Maybe Jesus was speaking about calling no man father in a spiritual sense? Well, St. Paul didn’t seem to think so. St. Paul calls Abraham “father”: “…Follow the path of faith that our father Abraham walked…” (Romans 4:12). In Romans 4:16-17, St. Paul refers to Abraham as “…the father of us all…” Even though St. Paul was a celibate Christian minister who did not have any natural born-children of his own (cf. 1 Cor. 7:8), he uses the title “father” to refer to himself: “…For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me. For this reason I am sending you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful son in the lord…” (1 Cor. 4:15-17). St. Stephen calls human beings “father”, in the Acts of the Apostles: “…My brothers and fathers , listen. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was in Mesopotamia…” (Acts 7:2).
(1) Provides food for his family.
(2) Brings new life into the world.
(3) Counsels and encourages members of his family to lead good lives.
In calling priest “father”, the Catholic community is recognizing that he:
(1) Feeds them with God’s Word in the Holy Scriptures (cf. Acts 6:4) and with Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist (cf. Luke 22:19-20).
(2) At the baptismal font, he is, supernaturally, bringing new Christians into the world (cf. John 3:1-5, 22).
(3) Counsels and encourages members of the faith community just as what St. Paul talks about: “As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his children, exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you conduct yourselves as worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11-12).
When Jesus says “call no man your Father” in Matthew 23:9, he appears to be restating the 1st Commandment: “You shall not have other Gods besides me (cf. Exodus20:3; Deut 5:7).” It is as if he is saying, remember that there is only one “heavenly” father. So, when Catholics call their priests “father,’ they are not making them equal with God. Just like St. Paul has a God given role as a spiritual “father,” the priest is also exercising his role as a “spiritual father” to his congregation. Until next time, God bless.