Homily for August 23rd, 2014: Mathew 23:1-12.
“Call no one on earth father,” Jesus says. Evangelical Christians charge that the practice of calling Catholic priests “Father” violates Jesus’ command. There is a simple response to this charge. Taking Jesus’ words literally would forbid us to use this word for our biological fathers. Nor can we take literally the following verse: “Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ.” Taken literally this would forbid us to call anyone “Mister,” since this title is merely a variation of the English word “master.” If despite this passage, it is legitimate to call men in our society “Mister,” and to call our biological fathers “Father,” why should it be wrong to call priests “Father”?
All this is true. But we make things too easy for ourselves if we leave the matter there. We need to see the principle behind Jesus’ rejection of titles like “Father” and “Master.” What Jesus is condemning is not the titles themselves but an underlying mentality. Jesus is warning against the temptation of those who have spiritual authority in his Church to forget that they are first of all servants; and that they will themselves be judged by the authority they represent to others. The scramble for titles is alive and well in the Lord’s Church. There is a saying in
which confirms this:
“If it rained miters, not one would touch the ground.” Rome
Jesus’ warnings in today’s gospel have an obvious application to us clergy. Do they apply, however, only to Church leaders? Who are the people today of whom it could be said: “They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.”
It is not hard to find people in public life to whom those words apply. Many public officials are truly public servants. Sadly there are also many exceptions. Hypocrisy, the yawning credibility gap between words and deeds, is a danger for all of us. The American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne writes: “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
It is God’s love, and his love alone, that gives us the courage to throw away our masks, to stop pretending to be other than we are. That is what God wants for us. Deep in our hearts that is what we too desire: just to be ourselves; to know that we are loved not in spite of what we are, but for who we are: daughters and sons of our heavenly Father, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ.
Once we stop pretending and truly accept the love God offers us as a free gift, we begin to discover what Jesus called “the peace which the world cannot give.”