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Too Young To Be a Father?

Catholics  have a habit of addressing their priests as 'father'.  The habit is so ingrained that I never think about it.  I certainly don't think of priests as being anything like my father.  I never called my father 'father' anyway.  That would have made me think he was like a priest.  Which would have been quite weird.

My father didn't live beyond my childhood.  I always called him 'daddy', like most kids do in Ireland, becoming 'dad' as one gets older (or 'da', a Dublin variant, just 'dad' with the last 'd' missing).  I called my late father-in-law 'Papaji'.  Just the English word 'papa' with the respectful term 'ji' attached.  The English word 'father' doesn't mean a real father to me.

What is a priest?   A spiritual guide or leader?    According to the Bible, a priest is a holy person set apart from the community whose role is to offer sacrifices to God to expiate the sins of the community.  Before Christ came on earth, the role of the Jewish priests was to offer animal sacrifices.  After Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the Father in Heaven (God the father) the priest's role in offering the symbolic sacrifice of the Eucharist (body of Christ) which was a one-time sacrifice for the sins of mankind is a continuance of that. 

But why call the priest father? Tradition. The trouble with traditions is that they begin for a valid reason and often end up looking ridiculous.  People end up not knowing why they do things.

In India, we don't only address the priest as father.  We call him a 'father'.  So this led to a difficult situation in my life over here in India.

My husband and in-laws are Hindus.  I continue to be a practising Catholic.  I attend my local Church for spiritual matters and contribute financially to it.  Obviously, the priests call in and visit me from time to time.  At Christmas, Easter and odd times.   They are always welcome to my home.  I would usually introduce the priest to my in-laws as 'the father from the Church'.

A few years back, a newly ordained  priest, Fr. Andrew, was posted to my Church.  Andrew was very young looking.  He entered the seminary straight from school.  When he came out, he looked like he was still in school.  I had a lot of chats with him and found him very deeply knowledgeable about Biblical scripture, and very mature for his age.  He was sincere about wanting to bring God to people and the people to God.  In my experience, many Catholic priests don't succeed in their mission to help people find God because they don't read the Bible very much.  I always reminded him to keep the Bible nearby and teach from that.

Andrew visited my house one day for a cup of tea and a chat.  Obviously, when a handsome young man is visiting you (Andrew is gorgeous looking!) you have to tell your father in law who he is.

"This is the father from the Church" I said.  Andrew does not wear clerical garb outside the Church, which added to Papaji's confusion.  He was polite and welcoming, but full of questions afterwards.

"Why do you call him father?" he asked.

"Tradition," I replied.

"How can he be a father?  He is only a young boy!" said Papaji."How can I call him father?  He's years younger than I am!"

I had to admit that Papaji had a point. In fact at seventeen years younger than me, Andrew is young enough to be my son.

So from that day on, I've stopped calling priests father unless they are over sixty or so.  It doesn't feel right.  Not anymore.  Brother would be more appropriate in my opinion.

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