The Catholic Defender: An Evening on a Cold Winter Night in Germany 1987
It was a cold Friday night and I was home for the weekend. I rented a class B movie on Hercules fighting some kind of monster and this particular evening we were having hot dogs. This was great as the boys all liked Hercules and hot dogs. My youngest Son Jason, about two years old by this time, had compacted a portion of a hot dog bun into a little ball and tried to swallow it. Fortunately my attention was taken away from Hercules fighting the Cretan Bull, father of Minotaur when Jason was showing the classic sign of choking.
I quickly grabbed Jason and placed him in an upside down position and gave him about three back blows when this hot dog bun became dislodged and what was a potential critical moment thankfully quickly died down. I observed Jason until I knew he was OK. It is important to have an understanding what to do when an emergency situation happens.
About 20 minutes later, there was a knocking at the door, when two of our Soldiers from the Medical Company was standing at the door. They were wanting to get out of the barracks, at least that was the initial reason of coming over. I took them to the table where we could talk and I left the boys with Hercules. I could watch that later!
It was not long before I realized what these two were looking to do. They had just left the "Hospitality House" where Soldiers can go to have some good food, music, fellowship. They were interested in my Catholic faith and had some questions about it. Something they had heard at the Hospitality House was that Catholics call their priests "Father" which they learned Jesus spoke against. They quoted Matthew 23:9 to me:
"Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven."
Coming from the Hospitality House, which is Protestant base, and giving such an opportunity to hit me with what they thought was a bomb shell, I realized where they were coming from so I took them to the very beginning. I knew that Catholics have left the faith over such arguments.
First, it is interesting that Jesus recognized the authority of the "chair of Moses"! The chair is an office that God established with Moses (Exodus 18:13) to judge the people, but because of the Pharisees turning from God's purpose to serve and follow Him, they were under the curse of the seven woes. The Seat of Moses is alluded in Exodus, but technically is not found in the Old Testament, but it is found in the “Mishna“ (oral tradition). This is an example that Jesus did recognize sacred tradition.
My next point that I shared was leadership is a call to service, Jesus saw through the Pharisees who expected high honor among the people because of their position among them. The Pharisees wore the expected titles and went before the people judging them from their powerful positions, "rabbi" (teacher), "father", and "Master".
The problem with the usage of these titles is that they are not understood from the position of a Hebrew family room, but the Pharisees used the titles as a noose over the people. "Father" is a title coming from the Old Testament which depicts God's love for his creation. The greatest example is when God changed Abram's name to Abraham. Abram meaning "father", Abraham meaning "Father of many nations". Jesus referred to Abraham as "Father" when challenging the Pharisees (read John 8:39-59). The Pharisees abused their privilege for personal honor which should be given to God.
Luke Chapter 16:24 Jesus literally refer to Abraham as "Father Abraham"! I shared with them from their own bibles these examples and they had no response to what Jesus said. They became confused at the whole question. That's why I continued on making my point.
Calling our Catholic priest's "Father" is not an apparent contradiction to what Jesus was talking about. It is not positions of authority that Jesus took exception to, but the abuse of that authority. Jesus clearly established within the Church positions of authority, but they should be servants of the people, not their lords.
I took this down to a family understanding, the family structure gives the greatest understanding of where this authority comes from. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor 4:15) describing himself as a “Father” to his followers. His positions are fatherly, his teachings are fatherly. St. Stephen referred to those who persecuted him as his brothers and Father’s (Acts 7:2). St. John refers to “Fathers” as those knowing Jesus from the beginning, the leadership (1 John 2:14).
This is the spirit in which Catholics call our priest's "father", it is a position of service that reflects the creation of God the Father. The priest gives us life through the grace of the Sacraments that come from God. This is seen from a biblical Hebrew family room as God's judgments are fatherly, not specifically a court house though in extreme situations there are purposes of having tribunals (Matthew 18:15-20) to safeguard the faithful.
St. Paul writes about “Fathers” as heads of households. I love the story of the Prodigal Son. The image of the Father in this parable is really God the Father receiving all of us home! The use of the titles "rabbi", "father", and "master" as positions of service is not disobedience to Jesus word, but a calling out the Pharisees who used those titles as leverage. To Jesus Apostles, it is all about service (John 13:13-17).
On this particular night I shared this biblical text:
St Paul writes: "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen"
Then I turned the question back with my two friends, "What do you guys call our Chaplin?" Chaplin, they responded. Well, based on your version of Matthew 23:9, don't you now think you yourselves break Matthew 23:8 which says, "As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers."
After winning this point with my two new friends, the rest of the night was over the Catholic Faith and it's claims. What a great night this ended up being! Yes, Hercules would have to entertain me on a different night. Both these fine young men would eventually be received into the Catholic Faith and I would make my way to the Hospitality House, a story for another time.
Jesus said to St. Faustina, “I desire that you know more profoundly the love that burns in My Heart for souls, and you will understand this when you meditate upon My Passion. Call upon My mercy on behalf of sinners; I desire their salvation. When you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith on behalf of some sinner, I will give him the grace of conversion. This is the prayer: O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.“