Q+A: Why do Catholics call our priests Father?

A: For a longer and more complete answer to this question please visit www.catholic.com.

The reason for priests receiving the title “Father” is based on the principle of “spiritual fatherhood.” The New Testament is full of examples of this (1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; 1 Tim 1:18; 2 Tim 2:1; Phil 2:22; Titus 1:4; 1 Cor. 4:14-15; 1 Pet 5:13; 2 Cor 12:14; Gal 4:19; 1 John 2:1).
Peter, Paul, and John refer to their role as spiritual fathers caring for their spiritual children. They took their responsibility for the spiritual care of the flock under their charge very seriously. Likewise priests, who follow the apostles in apostolic succession through the bishops continue that role of service.

One of the common objections to this practice comes from our Protestant brothers and sisters who quote Matthew 23:9 “call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven.” They argue that our practice is non-Scriptural. However, in the same place, Jesus also says not to call anyone teacher or master (depending on your translation) (v. 8, 10). But they still continue to call people by those titles. In that particular passage of Scripture Jesus is using hyperbole to get the point across to the Pharisees not to lord it over people or seek positions of authority for one’s own ego and self-gratification. All fathers are to be images of our Heavenly Father and all teachers and masters are to be images of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
All leaders are called to follow the example of Jesus Christ who “came not be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28).
“Call no man on earth your father..” (Matthew 23:9-13)

Fr. Andrew


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