One of the members in a discussion group that I belong to is a Catholic priest. He isn’t the leader of the group, just one interested in the topic. I call him by his first name as do other members. He never wears his priestly garb so someone new coming in would not really know that he is a priest unless something is said like if his home were referred to as a rectory instead of a home. There is one woman who always refers to him as “Father”. After a few meetings, she apologized. “I was raised Catholic,” she said. “I can’t help it.” I suppose. My priest friend doesn’t seem to care what he is called, so we let it slide.
I don’t know why the rest of the folks don’t call the man “Father”but I do know that I don’t because of a conscious decision that I made years ago. I remember reading in the Bible the verse in Matthew’s gospel that said, “…you must not call anyone on earth ‘Father’, because you have only one Father in heaven.” It was a long time before I got over the father-calling habit. It is probably getting old that contributed most to my feeling free in this regard. Most priests are younger than I am and those my age or older don’t care.
The second reason is that I worked with priests professionally. Most of the ones I knew best were my bosses, in fact. Most of these, in fact, didn’t really deserve to be referred to by such a respectful title. It isn’t that they were bad people. I guess I would say they were not any holier or stainless as myself. They were my equals, in fact, when it came to the goodness or badness of being a human being. “We are all sinner,” it says somewhere else.
The third reason is that I like putting people down a peg. I get special pleasure when a person is haughty about their status. So much pleasure, in fact, that you might begin to question my character. Truthfully, I think it is good for them. It is not good for anyone to feel superior to others and people who really care about them will be sure to remind them of that fact. One priest I worked for, the only one who came close to deserving the title was said to be humble because he had a sister who went out of her way to remind him that he was just an ordinary guy and shame on him if he ever forgets it. So, I call priests by their first names as a form of service to them. We are all equal and it does their souls good to remember that.
I avoid other titles that set people apart, as well. I usually don’t refer to a college teacher as “Professor” to their face once I get to know their names. I try to replace the word “Doctor” with a person’s name especially when I see them outside of their professional role. It may seem naughty to some, but I claim that the right to do what I want in this regard.
A fourth reason I resist using titles is that I believe in living out life in the world as one wants the world to be. If you want a world that is peaceful, be at peace with those around you. If you want a world in which people don’t judge one another for their color or place of origin, use words that honor them as individuals with hopes and dreams much like your own.
I dream of a world in which everyone is equal. For me that means choosing words that are equalizers, that lift the lowly and bring down the haughty. Most often it is simply the name they were given when as they came into the world, the one moment when all are equal.