5 Things To Know About Spiritual Fatherhood
1. God the Father is the almighty spiritual father of all humanity, and the principle and source of fatherhood.
God fathers us all; there are no spiritual orphans. The most compelling sign of the greatness of God the Father's infinite love for us is the most precious gift of His Son Jesus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Jesus taught us to call God “our Father” and gave us the Lord's Prayer, "the most perfect of prayers" (St. Thomas Aquinas).
2. The Pope is the Holy Father because God entrusts the keys of the Church to every successor of St. Peter, making him the spiritual shepherd of the People of God.
The Church is a spiritual mother of souls and the members are her children. Likewise, the Holy Father is the spiritual father of all those same members. The bishops, in union with the Pope, are sacramentally ordained to be additional spiritual fathers who perpetuate the love, life and work of the first apostles ordained by Christ. The Holy Father is also called to be a spiritual father to the bishops, who in turn are called to be spiritual fathers to their priests and to all souls under their care. In this way, the love of the Trinity permeates down through the Church to birth generations of spiritual children.
3. The priest is "another Christ," a bridegroom of the Church, and demonstrates his spiritual fatherhood through his service to the people of God as spiritual head and shepherd.
The ordained priesthood is the only vocation by which the man is sacramentally marked with an indelible sign that enables him to participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest. The priest is anointed and empowered to be a real spiritual father in nourishing and forming spiritual children, who are called to become saints. The priest begets spiritual children in the way that Jesus did—by evangelizing the faithful (preaching and teaching), by offering sacrifices on their behalf (the Holy Mass), and by laying down his life (dying to self in the service of others) so that his spiritual children may return safely to the Father’s house.
4. The spiritual fatherhood of a Christian layman derives from his baptismal identity with Jesus Christ.
In the vocation of a layman, baptismal gifts develop in a way that is reflected in his spiritual fatherhood. At baptism, the layman is plunged into the life and love of the Trinity, and enters the common priesthood of the faithful. He is anointed for the duty to sanctify (help in the formation of holiness), like Jesus did as Priest. He is anointed for the duty to teach (spiritual formation), like Jesus did as Prophet. And he is anointed for the duty to shepherd, like Jesus did as King. His primary responsibility lies with (but is not limited to) his family.
5. St. Joseph is the icon of spiritual fatherhood for laymen.
St. Joseph’s spiritual fatherhood models for all laymen the rediscovery of the masculine ideal. God the Father entrusted the life of His Son Jesus to an ordinary layman. St. Joseph was not spared from original sin, and he humbly accepted the authority the Eternal Father gave him to be head of the Holy Family. Jesus counted on St. Joseph for fatherly love, protection, and human formation, especially during his years in Nazareth. St. Joseph models for all men the ideal of the masculine vocation—to protect the precious gift of life and to beget more life, physically and spiritually. And just as St. Joseph was a father to Jesus, laymen can be spiritual fathers to priests by generously supporting, in various ways, those who are called to the priesthood. In a culture that is losing its sense of authentic masculinity and fatherhood, this facet of spiritual fatherhood is needed now more than ever.