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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Revisit: Why do Catholics call priests "Father" when Scripture specifically says, "Call no man father!" (Matt 23:9)

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
                                 and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

In light of this Sunday's Gospel which proclaims Matthew 23:9:  "Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven," this is a re-visit of a previously posted discussion.  New/updated comments in green.

This is an odd objection to Catholicism, in my humble opinion.  Clearly, those who criticize the Catholic Church's tradition of calling priests "father" because it seemingly contradicts Matt 23:9, do not take it literally in other contexts.  That is, we never hear non-Catholic Christians objecting to "Father's Day".  We often have heard a Christian say, "My father used to read the Bible to me."  Indeed, some even teach their children a Bible song about "Father Abraham".

So it does seem inconsistent that there is an objection to the Catholic tradition of calling priests "father".

It appears that the objection is to calling a living man a spiritual father, as it equates a priest with God the Father.

Clearly, when Catholics call priests "father" we are acknowledging his spiritual fatherhood, i.e. his spiritual leadership, to us.  We are not elevating the priest to the level of God the Father.  Catholics, of course, recognize the sovereign Fatherhood of God alone!

There are many, many verses in Scripture in which the inspired writers call spiritual leaders "father".
Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel  -1 Cor 4:15
I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have conquered the evil one. -1 John 2:13

Incidentally, in Matt 23 Jesus also invokes us not to call anyone "teacher" or "master".  "
As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers." Yet many non-Catholics have no problem calling someone "teacher"; and use the word "doctor", which is Latin for "teacher". 

If you want to interpret the above verses to mean that Catholics are woefully sinning by calling their priests "Father," and that Jesus meant we are to never literally call anyone "father," "rabbi," "master," or "teacher," then for consistency's sake you'd better stop using the following words and phrases: Mister (means "Master"), Master of Ceremonies, Maitre d', master of the house, master sergeant, magistrate (from the Latin "magistratus" for "master"), Master of Arts (M.A.), founding father, city father, snake doctor, and witch doctor, teacher, substitute teacher, student teacher, and so forth. And you'd best never let me hear you calling your Dad "father" and you'd better start addressing the guy who works at the synagogue as "hey, you" and wax as indignant toward Jews who won't buy your ideas as you are toward Catholics. You might also want to start getting extremely indignant at the forced blasphemy every time you fill in a government form asking for "Father's Name." source.

Finally, just a little off-the-subject comment related to an earlier passage in this Sunday's Gospel:  "Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example."  This verse, I think, speaks volumes about the command Jesus gives us to obey our leaders (that is, our priests, bishops and pope)--even in their great sinfulness, even if they are as hypocritical as the pharisees.  We understand that they may be great sinners, and perhaps even mistaken, but as the Israelites followed Moses into the desert, even when he was often going the wrong way, we, too, as faithful sheep, must follow the visible Shepherds (the pope/bishops) here on earth. (Note:  this is within the purview of faith/morals.  If a bishop, even in his role as a successor to the Apostles, were to, say,  command us to give him the keys to our car, well, of course we need not obey!)
For more in-depth study visit these websites:
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why are we not bound by all the laws in the Old Testament? Doesn't it seem arbitrary that some of the things in there we follow (i.e. "Thou shalt not kill"--Exodus 20:13) but not the other things ("Do not clip your hair at the temples, nor spoil the edges of your beard."--Lev. 19:27)

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
                                                  and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

So this question arose out of a discussion one of my daughters was having with a neighbor's daughter, who are evangelical Christians, regarding tattoos.  The neighbor's daughter said, "The Bible says that tattoos are wrong." 

And indeed the Bible does say this regarding tattoos: 
"Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves.  I am the LORD."--Leviticus 19:28.

Yet the Catholic Church does not forbid tattoos. 

Is this a case of:

a)the Church teaching something contrary to the Scriptures?


b) the Old Testament admonitions needing to be understood in light of the New Testament?

Of course, as the Church cannot teach anything contrary to Scripture, the answer is B.

The precepts given in Leviticus (regarding tattoos as well as the example of not clipping "your hair at the temples" given in the original question) are part of the Mosaic Law**.  We are not bound by the Mosaic Law.  The Mosaic Law was given in order to separate the Israelites from their pagan neighbors.  They were required to eat a certain way, look a certain way, worship a certain way in order to say, "We are NOT like the others!".  It was a way of making the Israelites culturally distinct from the Canaanites and other pagan tribes.  There were ceremonial laws, dietary laws, sacrificial laws and moral laws, all designed to separate and elevate God's Chosen People from the rest of the world.

Those laws in the Old Testament which transcend culture and time--that is, the moral laws--are the ones to which we are bound.  Thus, the OT injunction to "Keep holy the Sabbath day" is binding to all Christians, even if it would have been mentioned only in the OT and not the NT.  The OT law "Thou shalt not kill" is binding on Christians as it is a moral law, not a ceremonial or dietary prohibition. 

So how do we discern which prohibitions/law are still binding on us and which are part of the Mosaic Law which have been fulfilled (not eliminated) in Christ?  Firstly, I think some common sense would apply.  Thus, the injunction in Deuteronomy 22:8 that states, "
When you build a new house, put a parapet around the roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt upon your house if someone falls off" can reasonably be determined to be a cultural prohibition that is not applicable to us today.  However, "Keep Holy the Sabbath day", is indeed binding on all Christians.  It proclaims "the moral obligation to set aside adequate time for the purpose of divine worship. This could never be abrogated, as it is rooted in the natural law." source

In the end, if we are unsure whether a verse in the Old Testament is binding or not, all we have to do is seek counsel in the Church, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15).  It's nice that when we don't really know, we can indeed be assured that someone (that is, no less than  a successor to the Apostles--the bishops of the Catholic Church) has made the correct decision and pronounced it authoritatively for us.

So, for example, in this Sunday's responsorial psalm we proclaim from Psalm 96 in the Old Testament:  Worship the LORD, in holy attire; tremble before him, all the earth.  There may be a Christian who reads this verse and decides that it's a command from God for men to dress in suit/ties and women in long-sleeved dresses when worshiping. He feels so strongly that the Holy Spirit is commanding him to start a new church, "one that actually follows the Bible", that he leaves his current congregation and becomes pastor of a his own church.  According to the Protestant paradigm, he's certainly right to do this.  He is simply following his own interpretation of the Bible.  According to the Catholic paradigm, he is separating himself from the One Flock, creating disunity and splintering among the Body of Christ.  For there is only "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5).

**Mosaic Law:  The Mosaic law begins with the Ten Commandments and includes the many rules of religious observance given in the first five books of the Old Testament. In Judaism, these books are called the Torah, or “the Law.” source

For more in-depth study visit these websites:
Why We Are Not Bound by Everything in the Old Law
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Friday, October 7, 2011

Didn't the Catholic Church used to forbid the reading of the Bible?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
                                 and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Short answer:  No, the Church never forbade the reading of the Bible.

Now, it is a sad testament that many a Catholic, prior to the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s, hardly ever opened a Bible. And I do remember a beloved uncle telling me, "No, we're not supposed to read the Bible because we may be danger of misinterpreting it."

So, somehow the message was getting out to the flock that we were forbidden to open the Bible, but it was never a teaching of the Church. 

And it's true that most of our Protestant brethren can run rings around Catholics when it comes to quoting Scripture--this is something we Catholics could learn from our Protestant brothers and sisters.  (That, and the wonderful, welcoming atmosphere many Protestant churches have in comparison to the often un-friendly faces that fill many Catholic churches.  I remember hearing Catholic apologist and convert Tim Staples say, when he first went to Mass, "Why does everyone look so mad??" Sadly, this seems to be quite common in our Catholic churches.)

However, it is also true that most Catholics who attend Mass regularly can quote Scriptures, even if they don't know they can, and even if they can't cite the chapter and verse--we know it through the beautiful hymns we sing, which are often taken directly from the Bible (i.e. "You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day"--Psalm 91).  And the prayers we recite at Mass ("Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth!"--Luke 2:14) are lifted from the pages of Sacred Scripture.  In fact, practically everything the priest and the laity recite at Mass comes from the Bible!

So why is there the misconception that Catholics aren't supposed to read the Bible?

Firstly, it's because from the earliest days of Christianity most folks were illiterate, so no one (relatively speaking) read the Bible.  The gospel was orally transmitted during the Liturgy and pictorially depicted through the beautiful stained glass windows, statues and other religious artwork that the illiterate masses could view.  Secondly, before the invention of the printing press most Bibles would cost up to 3 years' wages.  Thus, very, very few Catholics were fortunate enough to have a Bible in their homes.

Also, partially in response to the Protestant Reformation, many Catholics, rightly or wrongly, had a reactionary attitude about reading the Bible--"Protestants believe we're supposed to be able to read the Bible and interpret it ourselves.  Well, we're going to respond by saying, 'No, we can't interpret it ourselves' because we're stopping this Protestant movement in its tracks!"

And while the Church may never have banned the laity from reading/owning a Bible, perhaps a parish priest, in a misguided attempt to steer his parishioners away the chaos and confusion of tens of thousands of Christian denominations that arose out of this error-saturated private interpretation paradigm, may have told his parish not to read the Bible. 

What the Catholic Church actually professes is Catholics see that the Scriptures as "strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life." Dei Verbum Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation  We can read and personally interpret what a chapter/verse is speaking to us. What we can't do, however, is interpret it independent of the voice of the Church.  That is, we are free to read about, say, the Multiplication of the Loaves and interpret it personally as saying, "I need not worry about having enough food for my dinner party.  God is telling me to chill out!" But not to read it and say, "Well, I now believe that the Eucharist is simply a symbolic multiplication of the loaves and Jesus was speaking only figuratively about the Eucharist." 

Here's some examples of the Church encouraging the reading of Scripture:
Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ--St. Jerome, 4th century
“Nothing would please us more than to see our beloved children form the habit of reading the Gospels - not merely from time to time, but every day.” --Pope Pius X
"...earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8).--Dei Verbum
In fact, the Catholic Church even grants indulgences for reading Scripture. The Handbook of Indulgences states, "A partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who read Sacred Scripture with the veneration due God’s word and as a form of spiritual reading. The indulgence will be a plenary one when such reading is for at least one-half hour" (p. 80).

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Papal Encyclical:  On the Study of Holy Scripture

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15