Driving the Metaphor Too Far On Fatherhood

In the discussion on maturity and masculinity, Tony takes a tumble on one of the over-used metaphors in Catholicism: the father image.

We should all keep in mind that metaphor is an artistic expression of language. When one attempts to apply it as a doctrinal tool, it will inevitably crumble under any theological or intellectual scrutiny. Does that mean that metaphors such as the Good Shepherd, or the Lamb of God, or the Prince of Peace are useless? Hardly. Religious metaphors help believers understand faith in a way more simple and direct and meaningful than the clutter of words alone.

In the thread in question, I wrote, “The appeal for more masculinity is always suspect. Sometimes, it’s just anti-gay pc-speak.”

Tony responded, “And that statement is ignorant liberal spin.”

I don’t think so.

Detaching a gay man from his masculinity is a common trick in the rough-and-tumble effort to dehumanize people some Catholics don’t understand. Or even know.

A man is masculine not only in reference to his expression of sexuality to a woman, but also in the many biological aspects that make him a male. I leave it for my gay friends to pile on that error. I want to deal with the mangled metaphors:

A priest is the spiritual father of his parish. When he celebrates the Mass he is Alter Christus (is Christ in the celebration of the Mass). He needs to understand Fatherhood in order to be an effective priest.

If this were literally true, the priest would be more of an image of the Father, rather than the Son. Are we confusing the Trinity like the CRS baptizers by saying an Alter Christus is a Father rather than a Son? Or a brother? If a man really wants to understand fatherhood, sorry, but there’s only one way: be a father.

Some priests have been fathers in the mentoring of children. But you never understand fatherhood until you become significantly and substantially responsible for a young person. Most priests have never had that experience heading into ordination. That’s not meant as an insult, but a fact.

A priest sacrifices the marital love of a woman and the possibility of fathering biological children of his own to become father to the faithful (that’s why we call him “father”).

As I hinted above, being a father is more, much more than a biological function. For most fathers, it starts with biology. But like Christ, it involves personal and occasionally painful sacrifice. Many priests know this, but not all. Being a real father is more about maturity than biology. Any man with functioning parts can contribute biologically to make a child. Real fatherhood begins with a spiritual and emotional intimacy with the mother of his child, and continues with actual relationships with the child.

A gay man who is not sacrificing these temporal goods, has no concept of or interest in being a father, is deficient when he approaches the Catholic Church for ordination.

In addition to the mangled metaphor above, we have a curious expression that some might call a bit ignorant. I’m not sure if Tony is trying to say that a gay man who does know sacrifice and has a nature interest in being a father is not deficient as a potential priest. Or if he’s blindly dismissing all gay men based on his limited knowledge of them.

These kinds of statements are dangerous to make. They unnecessarily churn up ill will. They don’t appear informed either in fact or charity.

Returning to my point that maturity is the key issue, not masculinity, I remain unconvinced by Tony’s argument or others like it. The appeal to a biological masculinity is limp: rapists, physical abuse and dominance, misogyny: these are all based on a perversion of male biology. In some cultures, they are accepted expressions of masculinity. I would also label them as pathologically immature, regardless of the culture.

Asking for mature priests instead of explicitly masculine ones is not equivalent to giving gay men a free pass into seminaries. It is a catch-all discernment for candidates to see if they will be effective, healthy, and fruitful in one of the Church’s most serious ministries. Sifting the bluster, brawn, and bullspit from our future priests is important for us to discern. It’s probably too important a discernment not to include lay people.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Driving the Metaphor Too Far On Fatherhood

  1. Liam says:

    “A priest sacrifices the marital love of a woman and the possibility of fathering biological children of his own to become father to the faithful (that’s why we call him ‘father’).”

    Not necessarily true. Priests who are married with children are also called father and no less treated as spiritual fathers. While few in number and exceptional in the Roman Rite, this is the norm in the Eastern Churches. Celibacy is associated with monasticism, rather than the priesthood, in those traditions, and bishops are chosen from the ranks of monastics.

    “A gay man who is not sacrificing these temporal goods, has no concept of or interest in being a father, is deficient when he approaches the Catholic Church for ordination.”

    Well, current official and semi-official statements from Rome that are in the background of that statement (the statemetn actually extrapolates from them) are not unfree of inconsistencies (for example, the sudden reliance on discredited neo-Freudian theories by curial offices that have otherwise always treated Freudianism as basically incompatible with Catholicism, among other things).

    Metaphors are not syllogisms.

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    Us gay men shore do like it when the rest of you tell us what we are and what we aren’t; what we do and what we don’t do. Glory be; it is so nice to hear from our Betters in Christ. And thank you so very much for birthing us in each generation.

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