The Priest as Spiritual Father

by Tim Drake

Imagine someone rushing toward the altar after the consecration during Mass, with the intent of profaning the Eucharist. The priest would instinctively move to protect the Eucharist, acting with fatherly concern for the sacred host that is entrusted to him in a unique way.

While this scene is rare, it is nonetheless true that we have lost sight of an important aspect of Catholic life called the Church militant, which recognizes that the Church is still engaged in a battle against forces of evil. On the night of his arrest, Christ ordered Peter to sheath his sword drawn against Roman soldiers. Christ then went to the cross, and with the sword of salvation, slew death and descended into hell, mortally wounding Satan. But the battle against evil still rages and will continue until Christ returns.

How often do we recall that Christ is a king, and that sometimes kings must lead in battle. The Church is assembled and waiting for that final battle. It’s a fight that doesn’t depend on human strength, but entirely on God.

This is why we need priests, to lead us in this battle and to feed us with the sacraments, the source of divine life and strength in our souls.

Fraternal Communion

There are many examples in the world and media today of disordered male relationships. The priesthood, based on the life of Christ, is the supreme example of rightly ordered male communion.

Whenever Catholics gather at Mass to remember (“Do this in remembrance of me”) the central event of salvation history, they are gathered by a male in the priestly fraternity – men who have sacrificed both marriage and children to give witness to the truth that eternal life comes from sacramental union with Christ.

They forgo marriage to better carry out Christ’s mission in the hierarchical structure of the Church that Christ founded.

The Mystery of Paternity

“Authority ... obedience: To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays,” said Pope Benedict XVI during Mass at Yankee Stadium on April 20, 2008. “Words like these represent a ‘stumbling stone’ for many of our contemporaries. ... Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ ... we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words."

Just as male authority and fatherhood have fallen on difficult times, so the fatherhood and authority of the priest has suffered.

We’ve lost the capacity to see that ecclesial patriarchy – or priestly “fatherhood” – is a reflection of a natural good. The Church, through its structure, is teaching the world a truth that is difficult to accept.

Christ built the Church upon a body of men who entered into a new relationship at the Last Supper. Like the Trinity, the Church’s hierarchy is a relationship of persons made up of the pope, bishops, and priests centered on Christ.

Just like biological fathers, they may not all be perfect, but they carry an image of God the Father that reaches beyond their human limitations.

We call priests “Father” because they engender new life within us and lead us to our home in heaven.

This article was adapted from the  National Catholic Register . Copyright (c) 2007 Circle Media, Inc.

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