by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This past Saturday was a bishop’s dream day! It was my privilege to ordain a new priest — Father Justin Hamilton.
Our newly minted priest has been serving as a transitional deacon at Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood and as chaplain for Bishop Miege High School. He will continue in both assignments, only now as a priest.
At the reception following the ordination, I was conversing with some Bishop Miege students, who were thrilled to participate in the ordination ceremony. They commented that it will take some time to get used to calling their chaplain “Father” instead of deacon.
Ironically, the readings for last Sunday’s Mass contained the admonition by Jesus to his disciples: “As for you, do not be called Rabbi. You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called Master; you have but one master, the Christ.”
Protestants will sometimes cite this passage from the 23rd Chapter of Matthew to challenge Catholics regarding our custom of calling our priests “Father.” They believe that we are directly ignoring the request of Jesus.
It is somewhat ironic that these same Catholic critics have no difficulty calling biological fathers — “father.” They also seem unaware that the early Christians did not interpret this teaching by Jesus to eliminate the use of the word “father” from the Christian lexicon for the leaders of their communities.
St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians addresses the recipients of the letter as “my children.”
St. Paul writes: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For, I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. I urge you then to be imitators of me” (4: 15-16).
St. Paul understood that his spiritual fatherhood of the church in Corinth was a result of his union with the divine fatherhood of God.
From her very beginning, the church has used the title “Father” for the spiritual leaders within the community. In part, one of the reasons “Father” has been for Catholics the preferred title for our pastors is because it expresses the familial character of the church.
The church is called to be a family, not a corporation or bureaucratic organization. We are united not because of some contractual relationship, but because we share the same life of Jesus Christ.
Through the waters of baptism, we became brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ and adopted sons and daughters of his Father. Naturally, we call “Father” those human instruments God uses to make us his children and to lead our spiritual families.
For priests, the title “Father” communicates our responsibility to protect and provide for the spiritual families entrusted to our care. Just as a biological father is willing to make any sacrifice for the welfare of his children, so priests are called to be willing to make any sacrifice for the spiritual benefit of their spiritual children.
Biological fathers will work several jobs to provide well for their family and give up personal comforts and pleasures for the good of their children. Priests are called to be willing to make similar heroic sacrifices for the welfare of their parishioners.
Recently, I was at an event where one of our lay leaders in the archdiocese shared that part of his motivation for his high level of involvement in the church is the result of the fatherly care extended to his family by his childhood pastor.
His mother was a widow with several small children. The pastor of the parish made certain that he and his siblings were able to attend the parochial school. This pastor made certain that his mother received the necessary support from her parish family.
One of the special patrons for our archdiocese is St. John Mary Vianney, often popularly referred to as the Curé of Ars. To conclude my homily at the Mass of ordination for Father Justin Hamilton, I read the following passage from what is considered the definitive biography of St. John Vianney:
“Long before the first rays of dawn appeared on the horizon, whilst Ars was as yet plunged in deep sleep, a flickering light might have been seen in the cemetery that surrounded the church. At that hour Father Vianney, lantern in hand, passed from his house into the church. The good soldier of Jesus Christ was going to his post of intercessor for the people. He went straight up to the chancel (sanctuary), where he prostrated himself on the ground. There he poured out his heart, full of ardent desires, heavy already with many sorrows. During these silent hours of the night, he prayed aloud that the Lord would show pity to pastor and flock alike. My God, he pleaded, grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer all my life whatsoever it may please you to lay upon me; yes, even for a hundred years am I prepared to endure the sharpest pains, only let my people be converted. And he bathed the pavement with his tears. At break of day, he was still at his post.”
Please pray for me, Father Justin Hamilton, and all our Kansas City, Kansas, priests that we may have this same burning passion for the spiritual welfare of our parishioners.
Pray that we may deserve the title “Father” because of our willingness to make any sacrifice for the holiness and therefore authentic and enduring happiness of those entrusted to our care.