This past week I attended our diocese June Priest Retreat at Abbey of the Hills. It was a joy to have Fr. Marty Schaefer from the Diocese of Winona directing the retreat. He is the Vice Rector and Dean of Formation at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, MN. (Our diocese sends some college seminarians there.) He was in my priest support group about fifteen years ago.
I give thanks to God the Father that he spent one day focused on the spiritual fatherhood of priests, at times analogous to biological fatherhood. The timing of this was wonderful too since this Sunday we celebrate Father’s Day. I was expecting to have difficulty in my homily this weekend to relate Father’s Day to also celebrating the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). It turns out to be quite straight forward. It was surprising to me to find out that in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition Jesus was not only seen as the Son of the Father, but also, being the new Adam who gives new life to the humanity He redeems by giving us His Body & Blood, means He secondarily is “Father Christ” as prayed to in the Eastern Churches. (This, of course, reaffirms that we can and should call Roman Catholic priests “father.”)
We have to be careful as to how we understand Jesus and priests as fathers. Jesus warned in the Gospel of Matthew 23:9 (RSV): “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” Obviously, this is not to be taken literally, as if no one on earth can be called “father.” Only in as much as we priests are extensions of “Father Christ” and God the Father, can we be called “father.” This same point applies to biological fathers this Father’s Day who are also called to be spiritual fathers. We celebrate their fatherhood, to the extent that they are extensions of God the Father in giving life, protecting life, and providing for their children’s natural and supernatural lives as God the Father provides for His children through them. On Father’s Day we celebrate our father’s helping their children through example, affirmation and affection realize their true identity, human and religious rights, and right to life; ability to receive unconditional love, and the goal of heaven by fostering their supernatural lives. Happy Father’s Day!