Since the mid-1990s, more than 1,000 Protestant ministers and church leaders have come into the Catholic Church.* Many former Protestant leaders, who discovered the truths of the Catholic faith, tell how they used to lure Catholics out of the Church by telling them Jesus said: Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven (Mt.23:9). Then they would ask Catholics how they could be a part of a church that disobeys this order from Christ Himself. Here are the facts:
Jesus could have said, Call no man on earth your spiritual father but He did not say this. A literal interpretation of Matthew 23:9 would prohibit all Christians from calling their dads father, but this is not what Jesus meant. Jesus used the word father in re-stating the 4th Commandment, Honor your father and mother. (Mt.19:19, Mk.10:19) If Matthew 23:9 were to be taken literally, Jesus Himself would be contradicting His own so-called command.
Jesus also used father in the sense of spiritual fatherhood when He said: And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father…’ (Mt.3:9) Jesus also referred to father Abraham on other occasions. (See Lk.1:73, Lk.3:8, Lk.16:24-30, Jn.8:56) If Jesus meant for Matthew 23:9 to apply to spiritual fatherhood, He would again have been contradicting His own so-called command. Jesus NEVER ONCEcommented that there was anything wrong with considering Abraham to be a spiritual father.
St. Paul also uses father in the sense of spiritual fatherhood when he says to the Corinthians: I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel… (1Cor.4:14) St. Paul refers to his converts in like manner: …whose father I have become. (Philemon 10) In addition, he is emphasizing his spiritual fatherhood in 1Thessalonians which refers to himself as, a father exhorting his own children. (1Thess.2:11) St. Paul did not disobey any so-called commandment by calling himself father.
St. Paul says Abraham is, the father of all the uncircumcised who believe…as well as the father of the circumcised…” (Rom.4:11-12). St. Paul also speaks of our father Isaac. (Rom.9:10) St. Stephen refers to the ancestors as fathers in his speech in chapter 7 of Acts. Timothy is instructed, Do not rebuke a presbyter, but exhort him as a father.(1Tim.5:1) St. James calls Abraham our father. (Js.2:21) Would these earliest leaders of the Church disobey the so-called command of Christ in Matthew 23:9?
If anyone says that Jesus meant to prohibit the title of father being used for Catholic priests, let them know that this is a recent tradition and invention of Protestants mis-interpreting the Scriptures this way, because NO WHERE DOES THE BIBLE SAY THIS.
In Matthew 23:8-10, Jesus is emphasizing that all authority comes from God. Jesus said, You are not to be called rabbi for you have one teacher…, one Father who is in heaven…, one master, the Christ. Jesus was also warning against seeking places or seats of honor (Mt. 23:6) and mis-using position to exalt oneself. He warned those who exalt themselves will be humbled (Mt. 23:12). Many times, He speaks about the need for love and humility. He is also saying that no person on earth should be worshiped.
In Matthew 23:9-10, Jesus is using hyperbole. He is exaggerating to make a point, just as He does when He says, If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out… (Mt.5:29) This is also not for literal interpretation.
Priests are spiritual fathers because they baptize, giving re-birth, as the Bible says. (Mk.16:16, Tit.3:5) They nourish the faithful by celebrating Mass, administering the Sacraments, and preaching the Gospel of Christ. Our spiritual leaders deserve our honor and respect. The Scriptures even call us to honor priests as spiritual fathers, just as St. Paul referred to himself and the Prophets many times, and just as Jesus honored the Prophets as spiritual fathers.
The Catholic Church has the fullness of the Christian faith. (See Vat. II: LG 8, UR 4) The Catholic Church has been given a feast of many blessings. Catholics are called to share these and to let others know the Truth. Many biases against Catholics go back centuries. If other Christians were living on bread and water, we would help them. Then, let us help them know the Truths about the Catholic faith. Some day, they will be most thankful for our love, charity, and true ecumenism.
*For more information about a Catholic ministry to Protestant ministers, see: Coming Home Network at: www.chnetwork.org/
NOTE: Top photo is St. Damien, leper priest who gave his life ministering to lepers in Molokai, Hawaii.
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