Jan/Feb 2023 Two weeks, eight funerals and lessons learned. By Fr. Stephen Durkee, Director of…
Fatherhood is a beautiful vocation.
We typically think of fatherhood as a husband married to a wife, where the two are now one flesh and give life to their own children. Fatherhood is the total and selfless love for one’s bride and children.
As Catholics, we also call our priests “Father” – not because they are fathers in the same way, but because priestly love mirrors earthly fatherhood. Priests are called to have a total, faithful, fruitful and exclusive love for the Church and the people, its spiritual children. Priests are spiritual fathers.
My brother once shared with me the overwhelming joy he has experienced as a father. Yet he would not say it has been easy. My brother recalled when his newborn daughter woke at 3 a.m. needing to be comforted, fed and have her diaper changed. “Here I am in this moment, tired and weary, where I think I literally have nothing left and the tank is empty,” he recalled. “And then I see my baby girl. This child of mine, that I have given life, who is totally dependent on me to live.” As he went back to bed, he was in awe of God’s grace. Rather than having an empty tank, he discovered that God gave him the grace to give even more to his children.
It is not dissimilar in priesthood. Though priests do not have biological children, we share a similar experience and relationship with God’s people as a father or mother has with his or her children. Priesthood, as St. John Vianney says, is the “love of the heart of Jesus.” This love is exhaustive, a word synonymous with “all-out.” Similarly, the Apostle John articulates Christ’s love for us – his people – in this way: “Jesus loved his own and he loved them to the end.” This is what it means for priests to be spiritual fathers.
As priests, our love for the Church ought to mirror a husband’s love for his bride and his children. Our love should be faithful, exclusive, total and fruitful. Everything we do as priests is a gift for all of you faithful members of God’s Church. Our lives are meant to be devoted to loving service to you, the people of God. The purpose of this sacrificial love is to bring new life. Recently, I read a beautiful story about Father Lam Le, pastor of St. John Paul II Parish in Cedar Springs. A waitress at a local restaurant told a parishioner that “there is something about that priest, he just might make me Catholic.” Priests are fathers precisely because they are called to bring others into new life with Christ.
Here are a few moments where I have felt that sense of fatherhood in my own priestly ministry:
- When I am with a family after they have lost a loved one and am called to remind them of God’s presence, I experience fatherhood of one called to comfort his children.
- When I am called to anoint someone who is actively dying after it has been a full day of ministry and it feels like the tank is empty, I experience father-hood where in this moment of sacrifice God gives the grace to remain faithful to my call to be radically available to his people.
- When I encounter a person in the sacrament of penance, I experience fatherhood as one called to be an icon of the Father’s love in a moment where mercy and forgiveness are needed.
- When I baptize a baby or an adult, I experience the joy of one who has become a father.
- When I celebrate Mass, I experience the responsibility of a father to pray and care for his people by bringing their needs to our Lord.
As priests, we imitate Christ’s total love, so that those who come to know and believe in Jesus may have the “power to become children of God … who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.” (Jn 1:12-13) We love being priests because, as spiritual fathers, we have the privilege and honor, with God’s grace and aid, to bring others into new life in Christ.
In Christ’s Friendship,