Call No Man Father

(Homily for Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A)

Today’s Gospel contains an important verse, especially given our current situation:

“Call no man on earth your father.” (Mt 23:9)

It may surprise you I focus on this verse, since Protestants sometimes use it to cricitize the way we address priests. However, when Jesus says call no one rabbi, teacher, doctor, mister or father, he is not ruling out titles of respect.* After all, Jesus himself referred to “father Abraham” and tells us to honor our father and mother. St. Paul, who knew the mind of Jesus, told the Corinthians he is their father. (I Cor 4:15) Subsequent Christians have rightly honored their carnal and spiritual fathers.

Yet Jesus says, “call no man father.” What does he mean? As a starting point, consider Malachi’s questions: “Have we not all the one father? Has not one God created us?” (2:9) If you answer, “yes,” the implications are mind boggling.

To illustrate I sometimes ask engaged couples who is the most powerful man in the United States. They will quickly respond “President Bush,” though some will say “Bill Gates” or “Ted Turner.” But they are wrong. The most powerful man in this or any country is not the president or some billionaire or media mogul, but rather a father. Together with his wife he collaborates with God in the creation of a new human being. There is no greater power entrusted to us.

Someday Bill Gates’ fortune will vanish, Turner’s media empire will collapse and the United States will sink like mythical Atlantis. But that little baby making a fuss in the third pew will still be alive. He not only has a natural father, but also a supernatural origin. God breathed into him at the moment of his creation (Gen 2:7) endowing him with an immortal soul.

When Jesus said to call no man father, he was hardly demeaning fatherhood. Rather, he was indicating its source and goal. The Catechism puts it this way: “spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God.” (2367)

Fatherhood, physical and spiritual, is thus the most exalted vocation any man can have. In a sense it is the only vocation. Bishop Sheen said that, on the Day of Judgment, God will ask each of us, “Where are your children.” I hope you will be with me in that moment and I will be able to say, “These are my children.”

I know that many young men hesitate to take up this vocation, either as husbands or priests – or even as mentors.** All I can do is repeat Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid.” You may not be able to give your child a lot of material things, you may not have eloquent words, but you can still be a good father. Let me show you how.

Young fathers can do simple things which make a huge impact. For example, when they bring their child for baptism, the priest or deacon asks them to trace the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead. Why not continue that gesture when you say “good night” or later when you send him to school? If you do that every day, your child will have God’s protection and a deep bond with his father.

Do not be afraid. None of us deserves the exalted title of “father,” but by God’ grace we share in His fatherhood.


*Doctor is the Latin word for "teacher," mister a form of "master." Although Jesus does not mention titles like pastor or reverend, do we not ultimately have only one Pastor and a single Revered One? For a more in-depth discussion, see Call No Man Father? by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.

**I do not know if young men today are more irresponsible than previous generations, but I am certain they do not want to be. However, our culture of cohabitation makes it so easy for them to avoid the responsibilities of marriage and children. Perceptive young women, like Wendy Shalit recognize how this culture goes against their deepest interests and have called for a Return to Modesty. For an article on how "sexual liberation" has led to a worse oppression of women see The Lie behind Sexual "Liberation".

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-Ninth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2011: Against All Forms of Idolatry
2005: Have We Not One Father?
2002: Call No Man Father

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