Sunday, December 24, 2017

Simbang Gabi 3: The Spiritual Fatherhood of Priests

DECEMBER 18, 2017

Jesus, I trust in you!

“Live with me and be my father and my priest!” (Judges 17: 10)

Definitely St. Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. The Gospel reading was clear: “Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” To allay doubts of the involvement of a third party, through a dream, the angel assured Joseph: “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home, for it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived.” However, even though he was not the biological father, St. Joseph was entrusted with the responsibility of being a father to God’s only Son. “You are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Although Jesus did not come from his loins, he was still called “father” by our Lord. When the child Jesus was found in the temple, our Lady said to him, “Your father and I have been distressed looking for you.”
Is it not strange that on account of the discipline of celibacy, the priest has no biological children of his own and yet he is called “Father” by so many people. In the parish, I am even amused by the fact that people older than me still call me “Father.” Many still call me “father” even without knowing my name. I left the possibility to have a wife and children of my own and yet turned out to be father to so many people…so much more than I could ever beget for myself.

Why do Catholics call priests “father”? Christ is the true priest of the New Testament. As the first-born sons were the priests before the Levitical priesthood, so Christ, who is the first-born of all creation, is the priest of the new covenant. As the first-born is a fatherly relationship with his brothers, so Christ, the first-born, exercises a fatherly role with all of us.

All priests of the New Covenant pattern themselves after Jesus. They share in the priesthood of Christ. Thus, St. Paul says: “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (1 Cor. 4:14-15)  The fatherhood of priests is a spiritual fatherhood. Fatherhood is a life-giving task. Through Baptism, the priest brings about the rebirth of the children of God. In the Eucharist, the priest provides the Bread of life for his spiritual children. In Confession, the priest forgives sins and restores the penitent to the communion of the family of God. In the Anointing of the sick, the priest provides consolation and strength in times of bodily weakness. Acting in the person of Christ, the priest becomes the first-born son, and therefore, he exercises a fatherly role towards his brethren. He does not replace the one Father of all. Rather, he has been handed a share in the Fatherly role of God in the lives of his children.

The man who has given up marriage has become the eldest brother of the Christian family. Renouncing the possibility of having biological children of his own, the priest receives more brothers and sisters, more sons and daughters that he can ever have on his own. Thus, like what he did to Joseph, God has made the priest the head of his household and ruler over the King’s possession. (Ps. 105:2)

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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