Fr. Sweet and I after his ordination
A friend of mine from HS was talking to me about a mutual friend of ours who was blessed to be given the vocation of priesthood a few years back.
Every now and again he'll come up in conversation, and without fail, I refer to him as "Father Sweet" (replacing "Sweet" with his actual name, mind you).
Our mutual friend, however, consistently refers to this priest by his high school nickname.
I understand that due to our high school relationships, it's assumed that we continue to utilize the same familiarity we've espoused in the past. Fr. Sweet, I think, expects that, too, since on two separate occasions (when he and I spoke in prep for my wedding), he laughed off my attempts to call him "Deacon" (he was transitory at that point).
For this reason, I've never questioned our mutual high school friends when they've called Father Sweet by his first name / nickname. I, however, cannot bring myself to do that. I don't expect others to follow suit, but I was pretty surprised when our mutual friend came down kinda hard on me for "insisting on calling him 'Father' when he is the same as the rest of us except he has a collar around his neck."
Color me stupified. My view is this:
Jesus called Simon to become a disciple. He spent a couple years forming him, teaching him, and revealing to him the Truths of God's plan for salvation. Upon testing Simon with the question of "Who do YOU say that I am?" Simon was found to be inspired with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. This inspiration was a sign from God the Father that Simon was ready to be christened with the name of Peter... "Cephas" (which means "rock") in Greek. Interestingly, this same word translates to "firstborn" in Aramaic.
Thus, Peter became the first-born Christian... the first to declare Jesus' Divinity through His Sonship of the One, True God. Already christened with the Holy Spirit (signified by his Divine knowledge), Christ took it a step further and christened Simon (meaning "reed") with the dignified name of "Peter," the rock upon which Christianity would be built.
Name changes throughout the Bible are significant. Name changes signify not a physical alteration, but a spiritual one. God changes a person by marking their souls with His Promise. For Abram (who became Abraham) it was the promise of a family (not just physical, but spiritual). For Jacob (who became Israel) it was the promise of a nation. For Saul (who became Paul) it was the promise of salvation and a share in the kingship of Christ.
With the importance that God places on names, I sorta feel as though I, too, should pay attention when God, Himself, deems a person worthy of a name change. Priests, in my eyes, fall into this category.
Priests are called, just like St. Peter, to be marked by the Holy Spirit. They are marked as representatives of Christ. They are called to shepherd God's people back to Heaven. As such, upon ordination, they receive the title of "Father."
That title is GOD-GIVEN. He was blessed to be called by God to be a "Father" to His people. Far be it from me to call Father Sweet by any other name. It isn't just my respect for him that solicits my "formality." It's actually my familiarity with and respect for God that solicits the "Father."
It's not just my high school priest friend that seems to get this treatment anymore. I know of several people who think nothing of calling priests by their first name (sans title). I admit that it's always unsettling to me, but I've never said anything one way or another about it to those who do it because I do not know their relationship with the priest in question. Who knows? Maybe the particular priest WISHES to be called by his first name. I don't know, thus, I don't cast judgement.
However, I was very surprised to have judgement cast upon me. Even after explaining my stance, this person thought I was just being "stupid."
Eh, I'll take "stupid" over "disrespectful" any day of the week.
A priest isn't just "us with a collar." A priest is marked soul-deep in a way that none of us can imagine. They are set apart from us. They are fundamentally different. They are endowed with the power of God, Himself. Thus, I willingly - JOYFULLY - acknowledge that grace with the humble term "Father."
No amount of name-calling, scorn or ridicule will change my mind.
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