Hosting unmarried couple; Call no man ‘father’

By Father Kenneth Doyle

Catholic News Service

Question Corner

Question: When grandchildren who have been living together for years without being married come to visit, do I put them in separate bedrooms? People laugh at me for this, but I have a real problem: Is living together no longer a sin? (Sorry -- I can't move on from my upbringing.) (City and state withheld)

Answer: I am glad that you haven't "moved on from your upbringing." The value you are upholding is a perennial one. Yes, living together without being married is still a sin and always will be. You have every right, if unmarried grandchildren come to visit you, to assign them to separate bedrooms -- and you should.

And it would be helpful to explain to them the reason: that you love them deeply and are glad to see them, but not at the expense of the values you cherish and choose to live by. If they are close to you and respect you, it might also be good, once in a while, to mention the prospect of their marriage (in a church-approved ceremony).

Question: When I came into the church a few years ago, one of the hurdles I had to get past was addressing the priest as "Father." My understanding of the prohibition against this was based on Jesus' comment in Matthew 23:9, "Call no one on earth your father." What is the wider Catholic understanding of this verse? (Indiana)

Answer: Let's put Jesus' directive that you reference into context by quoting the surrounding verses (Mt 23:8-10): "As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one father in heaven. Do not be called 'master'; you have but one master, the Messiah."

The "Catholic understanding" of this passage is that it was not meant to be taken literally. Otherwise, it would contradict other significant verses in the Scriptures. Doesn't the Lord instruct us (in Dt 5:16): "Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord, your God, has commanded you"?

So it seems reasonable to conclude that God himself considers others to be "fathers." And doesn't Paul say (in 1 Cor 4:15): "Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel"?

The passage from Matthew to which you refer (23:9) came in the context of Christ's criticizing the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day, the scribes and the Pharisees, because they were doing all they could to achieve rank and standing because they (23:6-7) "love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces and the salutation, 'Rabbi.'"

The focus of that entire passage was on humility and servanthood (23:11-12): "The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

So as a priest, when parishioners call me "Father," I don't feel it grants me status; instead, it serves as a reminder that I am there to serve them, as any father is pledged to serve his family.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.