Sublime Grandeur of the Priest’s Fatherhood: the highest degree of fatherhood a man can possess
All fatherhood – biological, spiritual and supernatural – owes its existence to God the Father “from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name”( Eph 3:15). Of course though all originate in God as Creator, not all possess the same rank. The degrees of ontological dignity starting from the utterly sublime fatherhood of God who eternally begets the Second person of the Most Holy Trinity is followed by the New Adam, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who fathers a new humanity with the status of sons and daughters of God. Next – intrinsically linked to the fatherhood of Jesus Christ – is the fatherhood of the priest since his priestly ordination empowers him to act in mystical identification with Christ the Head of the Mystical Body in order to father souls for eternal life.
This ontological superiority of priestly fatherhood in no way lessens the greatness of biological fatherhood nor does it mean that priests as men are morally better than such fathers: it’s enough to think of the countless saintly husbands and fathers who have reached holiness by heroically fulfilling their duties within marriage and family.
The man who is husband and father also derives his fatherhood from God. However his fatherhood exists for the sake of supernatural fatherhood! It exists in order to fulfill God’s plan: “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ..” (Eph 1:5) for that is “his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”(Eph 1:9-10). Biological fatherhood is meant ultimately to go on to be fulfilled in supernatural fatherhood! This is the all-encompassing plan which explains the ultimate purpose of everything: the entire universe was created by God to be one giant “machine” for the sake of “making” men and women into his adopted sons and daughters in order to have them with Him eternally in Heaven in unscathed happiness!
Awesome and sublime dignity! To be called to share so intimately in bringing to fulfillment the Great Blueprint for man’s undying happiness! By giving birth to the supernatural life in souls, the priest’s fatherhood enables man to conquer biological death and live eternally in Heaven.. Indeed as St. Augustine remarked: “What good would it do to be born if it were not given us to live eternally?” And eternal means to live with perfection of life – not just interminably – with supreme, pure, unrestricted joy! His fatherhood is therefore an even deeper, more intense and more enduring fatherhood than that of biological fatherhood.
To derive your supernatural fatherhood from God who is eternally and infinitely father through the eternal begetting of His Beloved Son, the Eternal Word, in whom he is “well pleased”! To share in the fatherhood of Him who “fathered” the “Big Bang”, “fathering” all the galaxies, the wonders of ocean, lake and mountain, animal and bird, tree, flower and sky – and man!
Could there exist a more sublime fatherhood?
Scott Hahn, a renowned Biblical scholar who is also a married man with several children commenting on the fatherhood of the priest said:
“This permanent character, this communion with Christ, this share of God’s fatherhood, is not merely metaphorical. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that my fatherhood is metaphorical. The truth is that both priests and dads are fathers. In different ways, their fatherhood is a metaphysical and theological reality. It is something sacramental, a living sign of God’s presence and power.
“If this comes as news today, it’s only because so many of us have unwittingly become religious empiricists. Since a sacramental character is invisible, we may be tempted think of it as less real, less permanent, merely propositional. But because it is sacramental, it is more real, more permanent, and much more than propositional.
“This demands of us a deep faith, an act of faith sustained over a lifetime. St. Thomas Aquinas said: “We do not believe in formulas, but in those realities they express, which faith allows us to touch. The believer’s act of faith does not terminate in the propositions, but in the realities which they express” (Catechism, no. 170). We do not put our faith in theories or abstractions, but in realities.
“The New Covenant is itself a sacramental economy of the supernatural order that is more real than the world we see around us. The reality of a priest’s fatherhood, like the reality of my fatherhood, should be more real than an oncoming tractor-trailer. Such realities are powerful. They demand our attention. We ignore them at our peril.” (Scott Hahn, article in Lay Witness magazine, May-June 2012)
And this is your identity! To have the privilege of reflecting the image of the perfect Father! “My God!”, as Lacordaire exclaimed, “ What a life! And it is yours, O Priest of Jesus Christ!”
Priest and Father! No Greater or more Sublime Honor!
What a glorious mission is yours, o priest of Jesus Christ and The Eternal Father! How awesome to have the privilege of influencing the eternal destiny of your brothers and sisters to the point that they become your spiritual sons and daughters! No wonder that the lay faithful in so many countries address the priest with the title “Father” accompanying it with veneration and affection, born of their knowledge of his identity and of the centuries-old track record of dedicated priests. And is there a greater title than “Father” available to man? I sometimes think that we should reverse the order of titles “monsignor” and “father”: every newly ordained priest should be given the title “monsignor” and then fifteen years later, the people of God should be asked the same question asked at ordination “ Has he been found worthy?” and if the answer is affirmative, then let him be given the awesome title “Father”!
Sublime dignity of the priest! What greatness can compare with yours! No wonder St. Francis felt he could not receive the priesthood. No wonder the great priest of Ars said that if we were to see the reality of the priesthood as it really is without the present ‘fog’over our intellect, we would die of awe!
Agnosce dignitatem tuam [Recognize your dignity]! “Between God and man”, said Pope Leo the Great, “comes the priest”. The priest, by the quality of his sacramental character represents the lofty height of human possibility: no higher dignity exists, no greater responsibility can be given to man! It follows therefore that the priest is called to associate himself intimately in thoughts, words and actions with the Eternal Father’s plan as his lieutenant and ambassador. Indeed the majesty of the priest’s fatherhood lays a great weight of responsibility on his shoulders for which he will answer before the face of Christ at the Last Judgment: “To whom much has been given much will be expected” (Lk.12:48).