What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: December 10, 2009
“Do you mind if I call you Father?” was the question from one of my young servers in the sacristy before the Notre Dame Academy Thanksgiving week Mass. Just as the principal was about to tell the young man my formal title, I intervened and told him that Father would be just fine with me!
Later that same week, as I was pulling into Our Lady of Victory Catholic School to celebrate a Grandparents Day Mass, the young crossing guard who was busy assisting the kids as they entered the church called out to me, “Welcome, Mr. Archbishop!” I get lots of titles—especially from little ones! And none of them is ever unwelcome or intentionally impolite.
Since so many of our neighbors here in Atlanta are not themselves Catholic, they too are often confused by the formalities of our clerical titles. One lovely young lady at the drive-up window of my bank also calls me Mr. Archbishop. I just chuckle since a lengthy explanation of Roman Catholic clerical titles would certainly only serve to annoy the people in the cars behind me waiting their turn for the drive-through banking service.
This is the Year for Priests, as designated by Our Holy Father—a magnificent time to pray often for all those who are our priests. On our Archdiocesan Web site there is a calendar format that alphabetically lists all of the priests of the Archdiocese on a designated day with the hope that we will pray for each one of them individually on their designated day. We are simply listed as Father without any other additional formal or honorary title. I think that site is splendid! It reminds me and all of you that each one of us listed in this format in clerical service to this local Church is first and foremost a priest.
So Father John Donoghue and Father Wilton Gregory take our turns on the calendar of prayers alongside those who might also have an acquired title in ecclesiastical terminology. We all began our service to the Church as priests and in truth that is our most cherished title—the one that links us to the Church as members of Christ’s Priesthood. The titles that may have come our way over time and that redirect our service to the Church do not diminish or change that primary relationship that we enjoy with the Lord and His Church.
Isaiah the prophet is perhaps our most important source for titles for the Lord Jesus: “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Before Christ Jesus was born in time, Isaiah gave Him many titles that would reveal His mission and His destiny. Each title highlights some dimension of His messianic service.
We hear most of those titles often during the Advent season as we prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Titles are very important. They reveal a lot about a person. I’m glad that the youngster at Notre Dame Academy reminded me of a cherished title that I received 36 years ago and that still reminds me and calls me to care for God’s people as a Father. Isaiah also prophesied in another frequent Advent text that a little child will guide them (Isaiah 11:6)—as that youngster at Notre Dame Academy did for me a couple of weeks ago!