[gtranslate] Spiritual Paternity & How It Is Exercised - Eglise Catholique Saint James (Saint Jacques)

Spiritual Paternity & How It Is Exercised

Spiritual Paternity & How It Is Exercised

As human persons we are all called to be fertile and to multiply. This was God’s first command to humanity. Man and woman who unite in the marital bond and become one flesh can, with the help of God’s grace, be instrumental in bringing forth new life. They can be father and mother; God Himself infuses the immortal soul in the moment of conception. What a sublime and glorious vocation, Holy Matrimony, and the ability and gift of bringing forth new life in collaboration with God.

However, it must be asserted with utmost clarity that there is another form of engendering life, the kind that is raised to the level of the supernatural order of priesthood. These ordained men have the gift and obligation to be spiritual fathers to their congregations and to all spiritual children who our Lord brings to them.

The Importance of the Name

Both father and mother by the very nature and essence of their name give life to a new human being, of course with the help of God. While a natural father is called “Dad,” a priest, when addressed by people, is not addressed as “Hey priest,” but rather as “Father.” In fact, the priest truly is the spiritual father to those who are entrusted to his care.

Spiritual Generation: The Nature of Spiritual Fatherhood

How then is it that a priest engenders, generates, and brings forth new life—life in the spirit? Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Unless one be born of water and the spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God, the flesh profits nothing; it is the spirit that brings forth life” (Jn 3:5-6). In fact, there are various ways that the priest, the spiritual father brings forth spiritual life, with two of the most prominent ways being: through the administration of the sacraments and through the teaching, preaching, and explanation of the Bible, the living Word of God.

Spiritual Paternity in Baptism

Every time the priest pours the water over the head of an individual and pronounces the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” the priest exercises in a very simple but sublime way his spiritual paternity. That individual, through the instrumentality of the priest, has become a son of God, brother to Jesus Christ, friend of the Holy Spirit, and living temple of the Blessed Trinity. As Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Born of water and the Holy Spirit.”

Spiritual Paternity in Confessions

Mortal sin deprives the soul of God’s life, that is sanctifying grace. When the sinner, immersed in grave sin (mortal sin) makes a sincere sacramental confession to the priest, this person passes from death to life, from the death caused by mortal sin to a life restored in sanctifying grace through the Sacrament of Confession. Indeed, the priest is the divine instrument that God has chosen to bring the sinner from death to life! What a marvel!

Spiritual Paternity in the Consecration in Mass

Another most solemn and sublime moment in the exercise of spiritual paternity is in the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When the words that Jesus pronounced at the Last Supper, “Take and eat, this is my Body; take and drink this is my Blood; do this in memory of me,” are repeated by the priest, in that precise moment the Real Presence of Jesus Christ is truly being born in the hands of the ordained priest. As Mary brought forth Jesus in Bethlehem, so Jesus is born in the hands of the priest in the very moment of Consecration. At that moment, we can sing with the angels who bowed down and worshipped Him: “O come let us adore Him. O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ Jesus the Lord.”

Spiritual Paternity in Holy Communion

One more step in the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the sublime moment of Holy Communion. At the moment when the priest lifts up the Host before you and says, “The Body of Christ,” you respond “Amen,” and Jesus enters your mouth, you become one with the Eucharistic Lord in mind, heart, body, and soul. There is no more important action on this side of heaven than receiving Jesus in Holy Communion with love. Once again, the priest is the spiritual Father, instrumental in this sublime action that even the angels are not capable of exercising.

Spiritual Paternity in Anointing of the Sick

This Sacrament expresses spiritual paternity in the sense that it serves to heal, comfort, fortify, and bolster the virtue of hope in the midst of illness, sickness, and struggles with old age. Furthermore, if it is God’s will that the infirm person be taken from this life to the next, it serves to prepare the person for this last stage of their life by ensuring that they are in a state of grace before their passing so that they can have access to the Home of the Father for all eternity.

Preaching/Teaching: The Ministry of the Word

The two basic and fundamental roles of the priest are to pray for the people of God, as well as to preach the fullness of the truth by explaining the Word of God and advising on how to put it into practice. Saint Augustine offers us an enlightening and inspiring dynamic with respect to the Word of God preached and the Word of God accepted and assimilated into the hearts of the people. This is the progression of the dynamic. The priest prayerfully reads and meditates upon the Bible, the Word of God. The Word passes from the Bible page to his eyes, and from his eyes to his mind. Then the Word sinks from his mind into his heart. When he preaches the Word of God, the priest digs into his own inner being and speaks the Word from his mind and heart; the Word resounds through time and space and enters into the ears of the listeners. From their ears, the Word ascends to their minds and then descends into their very hearts and souls. What the priest had in his own mind and heart has been shared and is now in the minds and hearts of all listeners! What a miracle of grace! This indeed is spiritual paternity, because the Word has been born in the hearts of the faithful through the spiritual paternity of the priest whom we call Father.

Spiritual Paternity in Spiritual Direction

Finally, and of paramount importance, is the role that the priest, the spiritual father has in the context of spiritual direction. A true spiritual father is a teacher. By transmitting the truth, the priest as teacher enlightens, comforts, consoles, corrects, exhorts, encourages, lifts up, edifies, and sincerely cares for and loves his spiritual children.

Let us pray fervently for bishops, priests, and future priests that they will take seriously their role as spiritual father to those who are entrusted to their care. May they be true fathers, good shepherds, and spiritual leaders and guides to the flock entrusted to their care. May they also have the heart of the Good Shepherd: “The Lord is my Shepherd there is nothing I shall lack” (Psalm 23:1).

Photo by Anna Hecker on Unsplash

Seeking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary through prayer