A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Call no man Father

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:1-12) is often used by people to bash Catholics for calling priests "Father."

Such an interpretation of our Lord's words invariably misses his point and would have been foreign to the Apostles and the early Church, who continued to use the term "father." St. Paul himself claim spiritual paternity of the Corinthian church in 1 Cornithians 4:15.

When we look deeper, today's Gospel offers us several points that are critically important for our life in the Church.

The first thing Christ does is to remind us of the importance of offices within the community of the faithful. Some among us are entrusted with certain functions within the body of believers and we should be respectful of these functions, even if the behavior of certain people entrusted with these functions (God forbid) is not respectable. To be sure, immoral behavior must be dealt with in an appropriate way, but God’s promises to his people ensure that his grace is at work even if individuals fail. The personal failures of Church leaders do not diminish the truth or the inner power of Church teaching.

Then Christ tells us not to call people “Rabbi,” “Teacher,” or “Father.” Taken together with the rest of Scripture, the point here is that ultimately it is God who is our leader, our teacher, and our father. Earthly fathers beget only by the grace of God – parents are co-creators with God. Earthly teachers of faith are only instruments: it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us. Earthly leaders may derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed," but the ultimate source of authority and inalienable rights is God. We may use titles of respect for different people as appropriate, but must never forget that none of these people are anything more than instruments in the hand of God.

Our Lord also speaks of those who exalt themselves, meaning most particularly those who exalt themselves within the community of the faithful. It is easy here to point the finger at the clergy in this regard, but none of us are exempt from this danger. We may take just a little too much pleasure in being recognized as devout people. We may receive just a little too much satisfaction in having our good deeds recognized and appreciated by others. We may be just a little too confident that we are the virtuous ones who can do a much better job than whoever is in power right now.

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.

Finally, our Lord gives guidance to those who undertake the responsibilities necessary for the good of the people. Humble service must be the watchword of anyone who works in the Church. One of the greatest Popes of all time, Gregory the Great, used this Gospel passage to create his own job description, to always remind himself what he was doing, as he called himself "the servant of the servants of God."

Humility should not be confused with false modesty. Humility must be real. Nor should humility be confused with weakness or hesitancy regarding the truth or the power of God. We must be humble about ourselves, but strong in GodI am not worthy, but Jesus is Lord and his word is true.

The greatest among you
must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself
will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself

will be exalted.

(from an earlier post)