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In the name of the Father

Fathers’ Day is an opportunity to give thanks for all the good father figures, familial and spiritual, writes Fr Jamie McMorrin

One of the strangest things that a newly ordained priest has to get used to is people calling him ‘father.’

With time, and almost constant use, the title loses its force: the gruff ‘alright, father’ from the builder eating his lunch on the cathedral steps, the excited calling for your attention of the children in the classroom (‘father, father, look at my new slime ball!’) and the person on the phone in a crisis, looking for a priest, any priest (‘can I speak to one of the fathers?’).

 

Identity

‘Father’ has become an almost inseparable appendage to my name; like my priestly identity, it has become a part of who I am.

When I was a high school chaplain, some of the children, meeting a priest for the first time, used to address me as ‘sir,’ like the other male members of staff.

They probably weren’t aware that there are parts of the world where Catholic priests are indeed known by that word’s equivalent, and times in our country’s past when priests were addressed in exactly that way.

 

Spiritual family

In asking them to call me not ‘sir’ but ‘father,’ I was reminding these young people that my relationship to them was different to the relationship they had with their teachers: the Church is a hierarchy, but it is most fundamentally a spiritual family in which authority is inseparable from love.

Don’t get me wrong: although I always introduce myself as ‘Father Jamie’ and, if asked, would always prefer to be known in this way, I don’t make a point of insisting on it.

I understand that there are lots of reasons why some people, and some priests, don’t use it: a fear of clericalism, an expression of friendliness, a more general informality in wider society, or even a Biblical scruple about ‘calling no-one on earth your father.’

 

Earned respect

As I’ve written here before, I do think there is something to be said for the idea that respect is to be earned rather than demanded.

But I also think that there’s something richly significant in our custom of giving priests this very special title.

It’s a reminder to the priest that in his leadership, he’s not to be a manager, an administrator or a functionary. He’s to be a father.

He’s to see the various tasks of his day, some of them rather tedious, not as meaningless duties but as acts of love for his spiritual family.

 

A Father’s duty

This covers so many things: putting a roof over their heads, making sure the bills are paid on time, nourishing them with good spiritual food.

Teaching them by word and example, protecting them from what is harmful but also allowing them to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives, working together with them towards a common goal.

To be strong, but also gentle; to work hard, but also to make to time to laugh and have fun; to encourage, to support, to advise and to love.

I’m fortunate to have learned all these lessons from my own father. I also know that many people—sadly more and more each year—have not been so fortunate.

Many children and young people grow up with absent fathers, or, what is surely worse, with fathers who are violent, or abusive, or simply unreliable.

 

Authentic fatherhood

All the more reason for us as Catholics to cultivate an authentic vision of fatherhood, both natural and spiritual, both in the Church and in the home.

It’s for us to work towards and to celebrate a virtuous masculinity, in opposition to the toxicity of so many people’s experience.

To set a good example for young men to imitate, and a standard of behaviour that young women have a right to expect.

 

The Lord

Of course, the most perfect example is Our Lord Himself.

He knew the dignity of hard work done in service of others, knew when to speak and when to be silent, knew how to treat people, and especially women, with respect.

He knew how to be a friend and a brother, a bridegroom and a lover, the Son of God but also the son of Mary and her carpenter husband from whom He too learned so much.

It’s perhaps significant that we celebrate Fathers’ Day this year on Trinity Sunday.

 

Father and Son

The doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that the Christian God is a Father and Son relationship, united in the Spirit that proceeds from them both.

Jesus said that He had come to reveal to the world the Father’s merciful heart; He shares with all of us, whatever our life experience, the relationship that He enjoys eternally with His Father, inviting us to call upon Him in our every need.

I remember once seeing an internet meme with a picture of a clerical collar and the caption ‘not all fathers wear ties.’

So, this Fathers’ Day, let’s give thanks to God—‘the Father Almighty’—for all the fathers in our lives, asking Him to bless them, reward them and inspire them with His own, constant, all-powerful fatherly love. Happy Fathers’ Day!

 

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