As we pause to give thanks today for our fathers, those with us and those who have gone before us, let us take a moment to thank our spiritual fathers, the priests in our parish and those who have made a positive impact on our lives. This article highlights three aspects of the spiritual fatherhood of the priesthood.
Priests Are Life-Givers
Being a father is purely a relational identity. A man cannot be a father without a child. Just as the existence of God the Father necessitates the existence of God the Son, so too, a man is only called a father when he has a child.
Similarly, we rightly call priests “fathers” for their spiritual fatherhood because they are spiritual fathers to the many souls entrusted to their care. Priests, as in persona Christi, are able to mediate the gift of eternal life. Priests are present at the beginning of our spiritual lives as the ordinary minister of Baptism, much like the father of any family. Through baptism, we have the Christ-life within us and are given a particular life in God.
This is also done in the role of a priest as confessor. In his power to offer absolution from sin, the priest is able to revive us when we are spiritually dead in sin. The priest is there to help reunite us to God, much like the father of a family helps settle disputes among family members. Like a father who listens to his child, a priests listens to his spiritual children, offering them counsel to live a virtuous life.
Finally, the priest is able to bring to us the Eucharist, the very “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen gentium, no. 11). Through reception of the Eucharist, we are fortified and strengthened and are united more closely to Christ. Without the priest, we could not have the very presence of Christ in the Eucharist. How sad that would be!
Priests Are Exemplars
I was a kid when the acronym “WWJD” started appearing everywhere: on bracelets, T-shirts, journal covers, wall art. It was meant to be a “cool” reminder to pause and consider “what would Jesus do?” Personally, I thought it was pretty silly. While I believed in Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church, it was pretty hard for me to envision what Jesus would do when watching TV or sending emails to my friends or doing any of the other things that occupied my 21st century life.
Even the lives of the saints fell short, in some ways, of being an image of what to do. St. Francis, St. Therese, and St. Joan of Arc seemed to live in a world so remote and unlike mine that I couldn’t imagine how they could inform my actions today. I didn’t have a wealthy family’s money to give to the poor or have the desire to beg a Pope to let me enter the convent or speak with kings.
Somewhere along the way, however, it hit me that I did have a model: my parish priest. In the priest, I could tangibly see what Jesus would do. I saw what Christ would do in the priest who, after spending hours preparing, assisting, and cleaning up after a bishop’s Mass, is still willing to sit in the confessional for an hour to hear the confessions during a young adult holy hour, forgoing his usual dinner hour. I realized that I could see what Christ would do in the priest who gave his own money to help a single mother pay for her kids’ school supplies when she was unexpectedly laid off. I knew what Christ would do today in the priest who would sit quietly praying in the chapel early in the morning. Over the years, I have been able to see Christ’s love for his Church made visible through the actions of the many priests I have encountered.
When I need encouragement or inspiration to do the “hard stuff” or make a sacrifice, I can draw on these countless living examples of what Christ would do, embodied in the priests I have known. While priests are not perfect, in them is an energizing desire to show forth Christ in their lives, whether or not it is recognized by anyone. Their commitment to serve Christ provides us an example of sacrificial heroism.
Priests Are Sacrificial
I recall being at one of the local outdoor ice cream stands with a priest friend one day when a complete stranger came up to the priest to ask for a blessing. The stranger, it turns out, was on a cross-country trip and wasn’t even Catholic, but saw the priest in his clerics and was moved to approach the priest. Of course, my priest friend gave him a blessing for his travels and chatted with him for a few more minutes before the stranger departed.
While the gesture from my priest friend was not grandiose, it reminded me of the numerous hidden sacrifices priests make for the good of souls. How often their slumber is interrupted by the need to be by the bedside of a dying person or how often are they called away from a brief hour of leisure by a parishioner’s need! Even greater, they have sacrificed their personal ambitions, worldly possessions and honors, and time with loved ones to answer God’s call to serve his people. It is certainly not a “job” that carries with it a great paycheck or public platitudes; however, the priest sees the greater good in their sacrifice.
Indeed, the very presence of a priest is a reminder to us that there is something greater than what is valued by our society; there is something beyond consumerism and competitiveness. Priests remind us that our goal is to become like Christ and so to spend eternity in the joy of heaven. It is a reminder to us that, like the priest, all of us are called to surrender ourselves in service as Christ did.
Thank You, Priests!
Too often, we can forget the meaning behind the title “Father” we used to address a priest. The priest, however, is very much a father in ways we often take for granted. On this Father’s Day, remember to thank a priest who has made a difference in your life. Thank them for their spiritual fatherhood to the Church. And remember to pray for them!