It being that this blog has much to do with priests, and fatherliness of the same, I thought it best to write a post about the Fatherhood of Priests…
I took this picture of the statue of Saint John Marie Vianney, patron of parish priests, outside the Confessions Chapel in Lourdes, France, when I was a chaplain there for a couple of years. He expressed his fatherhood as a priest best when hearing confessions sometimes even 18 hours a day.
- Parish, from πάροικος, more or less, the life of a family home, the family of faith.
- Diocese, from διοικος, more or less, the life of a group of family homes making up the life of a larger scale family home, the family of faith in a region.
- Church, from ecclesia, from εκκλεσια, from קהל, more or less, those called individually to be together before the Lord, which can refer to a parish or diocese or, indeed, to the all the dioceses together, to the universal, that is, Catholic Church.
So, there is much about families of faith, families which, note well, have fathers:
- The Holy Father, Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome, with fatherly governance, is directly over all other Catholic families of faith, both dioceses and parishes (and individuals!), though he can’t be held accountable for them beyond his call to faith, all are accountable to him. He can only teach what the Church has always taught, particularly when he speaks as the Successor of Peter to the Universal Church on matters of faith and morals. He is accountable to Christ Jesus alone. We have been fortunate to have very many holy Pontiffs in our lifetime.
- The bishop of the diocese is the father in faith for all in the diocese, for his priests and Christ’s faithful. Bishops also have an eye on the universal Church in their own way. The bishop’s fatherhood is authentic only inasmuch as he is in union with the Holy Father, the successor of Saint Peter. We are very fortunate in the Diocese of Charlotte to have a bishop who is most eager to be a devout son of the Church in every way. Bishop Jugis is a great example of lived faith for his flock.
- The priest of the parish is the father in faith for all in the parish, the very local family of faith. The priest’s fatherhood is authentic only inasmuch as he is union with the bishop and the Holy Father.
What is a father as a priest, as a father of a parish family of faith?
- A father is the head of the family, he has fatherly governance over the family, a fatherly love springing from the wedding vows to the Church which he repeats, in the Person of Christ, every time he offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: This is my body, given in sacrifice for you — This is the chalice of my blood poured out in sacrifice for you. In other words, his fatherly governance springs from his priesthood. With this priestly and kingly mandate, he is also fatherly in a prophetic living out of the Sacrifice of the Mass which he offers. He should be speaking the truth in all charity, reflecting, hopefully, the goodness and kindness of Jesus, who did not hesitate, in that goodness and kindness, to even severely reprimand those who were falling to the wayside and making others twice the children of Satan as they were, not to be cruel, but in hopes of bringing them to salvation.
- Mind you, our Lord teaches us to call no one on earth your father, for we have one Father, who is in heaven. But then Saint Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, calls himself a father in the family of faith regarding his priestly ministry among those he has evangelized. Jesus wasn’t forbidding such as Paul to use such an appellative as father, for that usage is meant to reflect the work of our Heavenly Father in Jesus. Our Lord was forbidding the feuding that goes on when people like to trump each other for stupid reasons, you know, the old “I’m better than you are and I’m right because my father is better than your father.” That’s just tiresome and gets no one anywhere. When, instead, a priest is called Father, it is meant to remind him that he is to reflect the goodness and kindness of Jesus, to reflect the truth in all charity. When a priest hears his name called out with this title, it should be an examination of conscience for him. Such a title will be his condemnation if he is not faithful to his calling to reflect the goodness and kindness of our Heavenly Father.
What does it mean to have a father, to have a father of the parish family of faith?
- It is the duty of parishioners, those who belong to a very local family of faith, to accept the priest as their father in the family of faith, encouraging him to pray, to be faithful to the Bishop and to the Successor of Saint Peter, our Holy Father. They are to support him in his following of the discipline of the Church in matters liturgical and in every other way. They are to accept his fatherly governance, his priesthood, his prophetic voice. They are to defend him against all nay-sayers.
- Nay-sayers, who want nothing to do with a family of faith, especially a family of faith headed up by a father, a priest, are to convert to the truth in all charity. Nay-sayers reject fatherliness because they claim that only the nay-sayers alone can impose a dictatorship of relativism, that is, relative to their own small desires, to their own self-congratulatory stomping on others, to their proclamation of democracy in doctrine, morals and in the life of the parish, even while the whole time they are only promoting themselves instead of the Church, instead of the Diocese, instead of the parish, instead of the family of faith, which, instead, does have a Father, a priest, heading it up.
Why be so pedantic?
- Over the decades, having seen so very many parishes on so very many continents in so very many countries, from the inside out, I must say that there has sometimes been a crisis in parishes because of a less than fatherly understanding of the priesthood. With no helpful direction from the father of the family of faith, the parish turns to that which is unhelpful. The old “core team” for this and that is born. Power groups flourish in power instead of service, claiming to be all inclusive, they marginalize everyone except for themselves. Monstrous personalities are said to be sophisticated for fear of being stomped on. All live in fear. There is no love. There is no faith. There is certainly no rejoicing as a family at all.
How does a parish lose its faith, its sense of being a family of faith?
- There are many reasons, of course. Prayer is not emphasized at all. Devotions are ridiculed at worst and ignored at best.
- The Sacraments are de-emphasized altogether. Baptism is put off even for years. Many are never baptized. Confession is almost unheard of, or even mocked. Truly. Holy Communion is not said to be the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, but is simply another power moment. Confirmation is held to be a psychological affirmation of the Church on the part of the candidate, instead of that grace helping him to be a soldier in this Church Militant, instead of a recognition of the warfare going on on Calvary. Marriage is almost unheard of, with couples living together, and with same-sex whatever-the-hell-it-is getting a blessing. Anointing is done by whoever brings Holy Communion to the sick (never the priest), all such anointing being invalid of course… poor sick people! And the only mention of anything about the priesthood is about pushing for women’s ordination, as if a woman standing at the altar and invalidly saying the consecrations, the marriage vows of Christ Jesus to His Bride, the Church, so that a woman pronounces these vows to the Bride — what a lesbian fiasco — is what we all need and want. Blech!
- A very quick way for the parish to lose the faith is for the priest to be a clericalist, that is, one who hands the prerogatives of the priest over to the laity. This is like a father of a family telling his kids: “Damn you all! You be the father!” And he gains their accolades by giving them responsibilities only he can have, or lauds them for stomping on others, making it all about power instead of service, about self-glorification instead of about praising the Lord Jesus. People are alienated. The priesthood is not seen as having anything to do with fatherhood, but is instead seen as power, power which is to be taken and used brutally. Not good, that.
How does a parish regain it’s identity as a family of faith?
- Prayer to our Heavenly FATHER.
- Humble participation in the Sacraments of the Church.
- The acceptance of the priesthood with all of its fatherliness.
Will there be rebellion?
Sure! There will be those who will say that the Lord’s goodness and kindness is not what they want, that they want anything but that backward faith. They will say that Father is turning the clock back, not knowing that his turning the clock back to the moment of the Last Supper and Calvary and the Resurrection and Pentecost is actually turning the clock right back to the present, for the true faith is ever ancient, ever new, ever living and active and having us rejoice in humble thanksgiving. But they will say that Father is a meanie, and that they are nice, and that they don’t like meanies, and that they will mold the priest into their own image, however brutally, however much as dictators in their tyranny of relativism, in their self-glorification: “It’s our parish, damn it! Priests come and go!” Instead, the parish belongs to Christ Jesus, Son of God and Son of the Immaculate Conception. Period.
But isn’t the priest then glorifying himself, being, like, you know, a father?
Not if he is given to fidelity, fidelity, fidelity. A faithful priest will present nothing of his own. He will point to the Church, to Jesus. He will shun all novelty. He will follow the rubrics, for instance, at Mass, knowing that the Mass belongs to Jesus, to the Church, to the faithful, and is not an instrument of his self-glorification. But instead of being boring, stodgy, this fidelity will free him to rejoice in the family of faith which has been entrusted to him, so that even if there are rebels, he will desire nothing more than their salvation in all goodness and kindness, in all truth in all charity.
So, it’s great to have a priest who knows he is a father of the family of faith, who has some priestly identity?
So, a resolution: Thank your priest for his fatherliness today.
P.S. Just to repeat. It has been quite a long time in some parishes that I’ve been in right around the world where there has been a priest who knows why he is a priest, that is, to bring people to The Priest, Christ Jesus. But they are due for a priest who has some Catholic identity, some priestly identity, some fatherly identity. Some will say that instead of pointing to the doctrine and morals of the Church in all truth and charity, he ought to be a consensus builder with the world, the flesh and the devil: no sign of contradition, no cross, no christianity, just the, you know, wishy-washy namby-pamby Let’s-just-be-nice-together-in-our-divisions kind of rubbish, because that’s what they are used to seeing and… controlling. Well, no more! Most young priests today are on fire for the Lord Jesus, and want to share the greatest love of their lives, even and especially with those who have been wasted by the false consensus building with all that is evil. It is good to be a sign of unity, but the best way to do that is to be a sign of contradiction, with the cross, not in reactionary mode — no, not at all — just by continuing to bring people to the love of Christ no matter what. And when I see that in a priest, I rejoice the rejoicing of those who rejoice before Jesus Himself.
You know why: because Jesus is just so good and just so kind!