My Dear Friends:
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the disciples, “Call no one on earth your father.” He does not mean this literally, for he is simply warning the disciples about the feeling of superiority that the Pharisees had gotten over all the titles they enjoyed being called. For me, the title “father” has never made me feel superior, but rather been a challenge and a reminder of the incredible responsibility that the Good Lord has given to me in calling me to be his priest. It is a challenge to be humble, selfless, and a servant above all else. “The greatest among you must be your servant.” Jesus reminds of us this in today’s gospel, but as a priest I was reminded of this on my ordination day when I lay prostrate on the cathedral floor. Above all else, I must be your servant.
In the summer of 2010 as I made my first pilgrimage to Rome, I read a great book by the biblical scholar Scott Hahn on the biblical origins of the priesthood titled, “Many Are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood.” Dr. Hahn echoes the words of Jesus in today’s gospel that we have one Father in heaven, but what this great scholar said next really moved me: “[God the Father’s] perfect fatherhood is a spiritual act. Celibate priests are living and life-giving images of God the Father, as they beget new children for the kingdom through baptism (p.129).” This week in his reflection on today’s readings, Dr. Hahn would finish that thought by saying: “The fatherhood of…the Church’s priests and bishops, is a spiritual paternity given to raise us as God’s children. Our fathers give us new life in baptism, and feed us the spiritual milk of the gospel and the Eucharist.” Very challenging indeed when I stop to think about my call to mirror the spiritual paternity of God our Father. It is a title that I do not take lightly, and I challenge for all of you not to take lightly either because it reminds my brother priests and I of the humble service that we have been called to and all the spiritual children that have been entrusted to our care.
When I am addressed as “Father,” I am reminded that I am a flawed human being who has been called by God to this extraordinary vocation of being a priest. I know I have a lot to go when it comes to being a reflection of our Father in heaven. There are days where priesthood is a joyful struggle as we try to make the Word of God come alive for a people distracted by the world. It is difficult, but there is no greater life, and it is your prayers that sustain us. We tend to forget that at Mass when the priest says, “This is my body which will be given up for you,” he is not simply repeating the words of Christ or dramatically re-enacting them. He is acting in the person of Christ and offering up his own life, as Christ did, for the people he is about to feed. He is offering his own body and blood for the salvation of us all.
All of us are thankful for the priests who have fed us and absolved us through the years. When I was a young priest, I remember getting a note from a parishioner on Friday after a pretty exhausting week when my pastor and the other priests were off on retreat, and I had to
basically celebrate the majority of the Masses that week. The note simply said: “Thank you for all the gifts of your priesthood this past week. Because of you, we were able to receive Jesus every day.”
We are indeed thankful and are truly blessed that we have an abundance of priests in this parish who feed us at this altar every single day. Yet while so many of you thank us for being priests, it is I who must thank all of you for allowing me to serve you at this altar and beyond as a priest of our Lord Jesus Christ and for serving as your pastor. You remind me every day, even on the difficult ones, of how richly blessed I am and how much I still need to go to be the perfect reflection of Our Father in heaven. That is why on this day, and every day, I ask you: never cease to pray for your priests. And pray for vocations as well because you never know: there may be a young man sitting in our midst that we will one day call “Father.”
God bless you all,
Prayer for Vocations
Lord Jesus: We ask you to send more servants to your people. Choose from our parishes, from our homes, from our schools and colleges, an abundant harvest of apostles for your Kingdom: priests, sisters, brothers, deacons, and lay ministers. We pray that those you call may never lose awareness of the dignity and need of their vocation. Amen.