I was born and raised Catholic, and over the years I’ve been a member of many parishes. For almost six decades every parish priest I had was older than me. When I was a grade school kid, I remember that our parish priest was even older than my parents! So, in my mind he must’ve been something like 150 years old. (But, you know, he didn’t look a day over 145!)
In recent years my parish priest was only about five years older than me, which at this point in life is not much of difference at all. But since he is a wise and scholarly man, and I’m, well, I’m still the same immature guy whose sense of humor never advance beyond the 6th grade, it’s always seemed like he was a lot older.
About a year and a half ago we got a new pastor at our parish, a young priest who was ordained only a few years before. So, after going my whole life having priests who were older than me, I suddenly had a parish priest who was younger than me. And not just younger, but WAY younger. And not just way younger, but younger than one of my daughters.
Suddenly, the man I have to call “Father” seems more like a son to me. It’s a very weird feeling. It’s a good thing he, too, is a wise and scholarly man, so it actually does not feel like he’s 30 years younger than me; more like only 27 years.
I fully understand the reason we call our priests “Father.” They are the parish’s spiritual leader and guide. They have dedicated their lives to being the religious shepherd for the laypeople, and the title “Father” indicates the spiritual relationship they have over their flock.
By the way, I’m also aware of the statement Jesus made in the Gospels, “Call no man on earth ‘Father,’” which is often cited by Fundamentalists to accuse Catholics of violating the commands of the Lord. If you’ve ever heard this claim, don’t worry, Catholics are not violating the words of Jesus. First, Jesus also told the people not to call anyone “teacher” or “rabbi.” The Fundamentalists don’t seem to be bothered by this. Second, during that episode in the Gospels, it’s clear Jesus spoke figuratively while criticizing the Pharisees for being obsessed with titles and honors.
Finally, here are a few direct quotes from the Bible: St. Stephen said, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me!” (Acts 7:2). St. John wrote, “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him…” (1 John 2:13). St. Paul wrote, “In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15).
Here’s a simple question: Were these holy saints all violating Jesus’ command by referring to men as “father”? The plain answer is: of course not.
Anyway, getting back to the main subject here, having a pastor who was just entering high school when the year 2000 arrived is somewhat strange. I have to keep reminding myself that most Catholic laypeople nowadays have parish priests who entered high school when the year 1900 arrived. No, I’m kidding. But many priests were in high school when Eisenhower and JFK were president. It’s doubly sad that we have such a severe priest shortage these days and that the men who have devoted their lives to serving God’s people are needed to work well into their 70s and even 80s.
I have to keep reminding myself that having a young, energetic pastor is quite a blessing—even if he has no idea what a rotary phone is.
No matter how much I respect and like our new young priest, I understand that it would not be proper for me to call him, “Sonny,” “Youngster,” or, “Hey kid.” He is my spiritual leader and it’s completely fitting that I should refer to him as “Father.”
But it still feels weird. Maybe he won’t mind if I call him “Father Kiddo.”