2016-07-17 Homily. Father François Beyrouti. Father in Heaven and fathers on earth.
July 17, 2016. Homily. Father François Beyrouti.
Father in Heaven and fathers on earth.
Sunday of the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils.
Gospel: Matthew 5:14-19.
The Lord said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but upon the lamp-stand, so as to give light to all in the house. Even so let your light shine before men, in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Do not think I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For amen I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one letter or one stroke shall be lost from the Law till all things have been accomplished. Therefore whoever does away with one of these least commandments, and so teaches men, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever carries them out and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
I called a friend at work and his secretary asked for my name. I told her “Father Francois.” When he got on the phone he was laughing and said: “My secretary told me that my father is calling.” He then added, but she is right, “You are my father.” His secretary did not know me and she must not have known that Catholics call their priests ‘father.’
Today is the Sunday of the Fathers of the first ecumenical councils. So in a sense it is ‘Father’s day.’ We use the word father to refer to priests and the early saints who taught the faith. So it is ‘fathers’ day in a spiritual sense.
I’m sure it might seem strange for some people that we call someone ‘father’ who is not our biological father. Have you ever wondered why in the Catholic Church we use the word ‘father’ spiritually to refer to priests?
In the Bible, the word ‘father’ is used in three different ways.
The first time the word ‘father’ is found in the Bible is in Genesis 2:24. There we read: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Of the 2075 times the Bible uses the word ‘father,’ most often it refers to a family relationship. However, this is not the only way.
The second way the Bible uses the word ‘father’ is to refer to the spiritual relationship and commitment that we have with God our heavenly Father. Jesus also tells us: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Also, the Prophet Malachai says: “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Malachai 2:10) In this sense, God is called ‘father’ because he created all of us and since God created us, we are all God’s children and we are all brothers and sisters to each other.
Saint Paul also reminds us that we call God ‘father’ because we are not slaves but beloved children of God. He says in his letter to the Galatians: “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’  So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir” (Galatians 4:6-7).
The third way the Bible uses the word ‘father’ is to refer to a spiritual relationship. It is impossible to have more than one biological father, but it is possible to have many spiritual fathers. That is why God is often referred to as the “God of our fathers.”
In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter uses this phrase when he says: “The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him” (Acts. 3:13).
Jesus and the apostles also use family language to refer to people although they did not have any biological children. For example, Jesus tells the paralyzed man “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). Saint Paul uses the phrase ‘my son’ to refer to Timothy and Titus (1 Corinthians 4:14 and 1 Tim. 1:18) and Saint Peter refers Mark as ‘my son’ (1 Pet.5:13).
Saint Paul also says in his first letter to the Corinthians: “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.  For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:14-15).
Therefore, the Bible uses the word ‘father’ in three distinct ways: First to refer biological fathers, second to our spiritual relationship with God our father, and third to spiritual leaders who lead us to God the father.
At the heart of why we use this word is to refer to priests is that the Church is a family. When I called my friend and his secretary told him “Your father is on the phone” she was actually right. Although he is older than me, by calling me ‘father’ he acknowledges me as his spiritual father because the priest is not the president or manager of an organization. Rather the priest is a spiritual father to a family that comes together to worship God our heavenly father.
Father François Beyrouti
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church
451 West Madison Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870