Why Are Priests Called Father?

Why Are Priests Called Father?

We refer to people by particular titles all the time in daily life. 

We call people "Mister," an old form of "Master."  We call physicians and professors "Doctor," coming from the Latin word for "teacher."  We call ministers "Reverend" and "Pastor," titles meaning "holy" and "shepherd."  And Catholics usually refer to their priests by the title "Father." 

Is Jesus against these sorts of titles?  Condemning the Jewish leaders of his day for their hypocrisy and corruption, he teaches in Matthew 23: "You are not to be called teacher, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.  And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is heaven.  Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ." 

At first, it appears that Jesus is outlawing religious titles. And yet we see Jesus call Nicodemus "master" or "teacher" of Israel in John 3:10, and he refers to Abraham as "Father Abraham" in his parable of Luke 16. Similarly, Saint Paul refers to Abraham as a spiritual father, "the father of us all" (Rom 4:18). And writing to his "beloved children" the Corinthians, Paul even says that they do not have countless fathers but rather one, " for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel" {I Cor 4:15). 

The New Testament has many similar examples of religious titles being used, so clearly the Lord is not condemning such titles outright in Matthew 23.  Rather, looking at the verse in context, it seems that he is using a dramatic way of speaking in order to teach that we should not make false idols of our earthly leaders. Spiritual leaders are not  there for their own sake; they are meant to be an instrument to help those they serve to grow closer to God. 

The custom has developed of calling priests by the title "father" in much the same way that Paul refers to himself as a spiritual father throughout his letters.  Like a father, a priest helps bring new life into the world through Baptism.  Like a father, he feeds his spiritual children with the Word of God and with the Bread of Life, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.  Like a father, a priest brings the healing and forgiveness of Christ to those he serves. And just as a father gives his life to serve his family, so too a priest is called to give his life to serve his spiritual family. 

The priesthood is one of the most beautiful gifts given to us by Jesus. To read more about the Catholic Church and our beliefs, visit www.CatholicBridge.com. And if you would like to learn more about the Catholic faith in a laid-back setting, give us a call: special introductory presentations are beginning now! 



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