On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Mrs Smith, a Catholic, was taking a walk downtown with her neighbour Mrs Jones, a non-Catholic. As they passed Reverend Charles, the Pastor of the local Catholic Church, who was on his way to visit a parishioner, Mrs Smith greeted him by saying, “Good afternoon Father Charles, isn’t it a beautiful day?”
As they continued their walk, Mrs Jones asked Mrs Smith, “Are you not aware that Jesus forbids that we call anyone Father?” She continued by quoting verse 23:9 in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus said, “And call no one your Father on earth, for you have one Father, the one in Heaven.”
Many non-Catholic sincerely believe that when Catholics address a priest as “father,” they are engaging in an unbiblical practice that Jesus condemned. Was Mrs Jones, the non-Catholic, correct in condemning Mrs. Smith was using the word “father?”
Let us review the reasons as to why this belief of non-Catholics regarding the usage of the word “father” is incorrect.
1. To understand what Jesus meant, we have to review 5 consecutive verses, not just 1 as is done by those who distort the Sacred Words of the Lord Jesus. In Matthew 23:8-12, Jesus said, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, the one in Heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The great among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
When carefully examining the above verses, we see that Jesus did not only condemn the usage of the word “father,” but He also condemned the usage of the words “rabbi” and “instructors.” Why? It is because the Jewish leaders “loved to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market places, and to have people call them rabbi.” [Matthew 23:6-7] Jesus was condemning the Pharisees who were so full of pride, that they were doing all what was possible to achieve fame, success, rank. Their proud hearts were completely corrupt.
The Pharisees had elevated themselves above God as the ultimate authorities, as father image and teachers. Lacking humility, they failed to humbly look up to God as the source of all authority, fatherhood and teaching.
2. If we are to discontinue the usage of the word “father,” then we also have to discontinue using the word “doctor.” For “doctor” means a religious teacher, an adviser, a scholar, an instructor. The word doctor is Latin for the word “teacher.” It comes from doct-stem of docere which means “to show, teach,"
While it appears that Jesus condemned the usage of the word “teacher” in the above verses, in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus appointed some men to be teachers of His Church. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” It can be concluded that Jesus was not condemning the usage of the word “father,” “teacher,” or “rabbi.” He was telling the Pharisees to humble themselves and to stop seeking those titles for themselves.
3. If we are to condemn the usage of the word father, that means to deny every child in the world the right to make reference to his/her biological father. It means all the children will never be able to express that they love their father because such would be condemned.
4. If we are to condemn the usage of the word father, then no one would have the right to speak of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God the Father would become meaningless since it would be forbidden to refer to Him. The concept of Divine fatherhood would be none existent.
5. In the New Testament, there are numerous reference to the usage of the word “father.” In Acts 7:2-4, Stephen refers to the ancestors of Abraham, the word “father” being used. In Philippians 2:22, Paul said, “But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” St. Paul refers to himself as a spiritual father in Philemon 10, “I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.
Again, Saint Paul refers to himself as the father of believers in 1 Corinthians 4;14-15, “I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
The above biblical references to the word “father” are sufficient to show that Jesus was not forbidding everybody from using the word “father.”
Having proven that it is permitted to use the word “father,” let no one condemn you for making reference to your biological father, or to your spiritual father, your local priest, of even for making reference to the Holy Father, the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church on earth. Learn the above references and defend the Catholic faith for the glory of God.