Easter, Pentecost. The Holy Spirit’s presence gives us a second wind. He enters everywhere and moves us in the direction God wants us to go. He shares with us God’s own Divine Life. He inspires us with good homilies. Come Holy Spirit! (23 May 2010)
Many people believe that the Catholic Church is asks too much of her priests. Requiring a man to be celibate is no longer a reasonable expectation, they say. But they overlook an important fact: marriage isn’t popular either. Last year, 40% of babies in the US were born to unmarried women. We know anecdotally that more people are living together before marriage and waiting longer to get married. Half of marriages end in divorce. The problem is not celibacy; the problem is the lifetime commitment. People who make a commitment to marriage have a hard time sticking with it. People who make a commitment to priesthood have a hard time sticking with it. So why not change the lifetime commitment part? Priesthood could just as easily be a temporary job, right? A man could give 10 or 20 years. You get great job security, company-provided housing, and lots of free food from little old ladies. After a few years saying Mass and filling in for the shortage, a man could leave priesthood and life a normal life, much like military service. Why not?
God is Faithful
Being a priest is more than just celebrating Masses and hearing Confessions. It is a Sacrament. This means that the Priest himself reveals something about God. He is a sign of God’s presence and reveals something about God’s nature. So what does the lifetime commitment reveal about God? God is faithful. The Scriptures constantly remind the people of Israel that God has made a lifetime commitment to his people and will not abandon them even when they are unfaithful. Here is one example: Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)
The Priest must be Faithful
People love their priests very much because they know they can always call them. Night or day, good or bad, beautiful moments or trying ones – the priest is there for them. And he will be until he dies. A priest is a symbol to the people of God’s faithfulness. The lifetime commitment reminds people that God is always there for his people. The people of God deserve nothing less.
What if a priest is not faithful?
The Church has no power to “un-ordain” a man. Once someone has become a priest, we believe that he is irrevocably changed by the power of God. But it does happen that a man might enter into priesthood for the wrong reasons, or discover once he is a priest that he is completely unsuited for the job. In this case, it is possible to obtain special permission to no longer act as a priest. In other words, we believe that he remains forever a priest, but he no longer has the duties and obligations of a priest. So now we come to the issue in the letter. The author speaks of men who have made a lifetime commitment to celibacy and were ordained priests, then discovered that they were unable or unwilling to carry through on their promise. They “leave the priesthood”, meaning they no longer act as priests, and can even obtain permission to be married. Should such a man then be allowed to exercise his role as a priest?
My answer would be “No.” Will God’s power still act through such a man? Yes. Would the sacraments be valid (with the proper permissions)? Yes. But is the man a symbol to the people of God’s faithfulness? No. The witness of his life speaks louder than his homilies ever will.
The local newspaper published this letter today:
“A priest shortage is offered as a reason for transferring the Rev. G. from one local Catholic Church to another, each within throwing distance of the other. I believe there are more than 200,000 married priests worldwide, some of whom might be willing to help ease the critical mass of the shortage (not to use a pun) if an invitation was extended to them. Perhaps the diocese should conduct a survey (and several national surveys have been conducted) of the Catholic population to discern what percentage would be in favor of married priests helping to fill the gaps so to speak. My guess would be about 70 percent. Since I attend the Eucharist weekly, I would be more than happy to preside at the Eucharist as a married priest. I don’t think I would contaminate anything or anyone. And, I would give a fairly decent homily giving the word of God an added spiritual and sacramental dimension.
Will this happen in my lifetime or yours? Historically there was a change from married priests to celibate priests for various reasons. Maybe now it is time for us to return to our earlier Christian roots. – R.”
First it is important to notice what exactly the author is arguing for. The strongest possible argument against priestly celibacy would be that it is unnatural, that is, against God’s plan for man and woman. This argument does not hold up to examination, because of the words of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 7) and the clear witness of a great number of the world’s saints, such as St. John the Baptist, St. Francis of Assisi, Pope John Paul the Great, and especially Jesus himself. (For fundamentalist arguments against celibacy, see catholic.com).
The author of this letter is not arguing that married men be allowed to enter the seminary and be ordained priests. Both the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have a practice of ordaining married men to the priesthood. Men who are ordained priests, however, are not allowed to marry and a married priest whose wife dies cannot remarry. Also, bishops are required to be celibate, even in the Orthodox Churches. The rules would not go far enough for R.
The author is not arguing that married ministers who convert from other denominations should be ordained priests. The Catholic Church currently allows some Lutheran, Anglican, and Episcopal ministers who convert to Catholicism to be ordained as priests. The priest who vested me at my ordination was a married convert from the Episcopal church.
R. is arguing that men who were ordained Catholic priests and then left the priesthood in pursuit of marriage should be invited back to active or semi-active ministry. He himself is in that situation. His basic argument is that he is available, the Church is in desperate need, and it is better than nothing. Is he proposing an “open” priesthood, that priests can flaunt their promises and later return to ministry, with their wives in tow, as if nothing happened?
At first I was simply going to dismiss this letter as a faint whimper of a priesthood long buried, but I thought it would be an interesting spark into discussion on the role of celibacy in priesthood, and why once a man is ordained a priest, he is no longer free to marry.
Response #1: Lifetime Commitment [expired]
Response #2: Celibacy [expired]
Easter, Ascension of Our Lord. Jesus did not leave the Father when he came to Earth, and he does not leave us when he goes back to the Father. Christ is still present here. I felt his presence during Holy Week, and others have seen him too. Pray to see the presence of Jesus in your life. (16 May 2010)
The Woman is a Temple (9:30)
Easter, 6th Sunday. The Temple contained the presence of God so that the world could be transformed. The woman is the temple within the family and the home. She must nurture God’s presence to fill the world with the Light of Christ. (9 May 2010)
East5 – Keep Loving and Forgiving (8:40)
Easter, 5th Sunday. Christ loves us with self-giving love and He wants us to do the same. But loving in this world leads to hardship and requires forgiveness. I’ve had to live this in my own life, and we’ve seen it in the Amish community, and the life of Mother Mary. God promises good things to come and ultimately happiness in heaven, so it’s worth it to keep loving and forgiving. (2 May 2010)
Breakfast always has an air unreality about it, perhaps because a thin barrier of coffee is all that separates it from the dreamworld. My breakfast the other day was touched by the mystical when I stumbled on a quote in the comics:
“Outdoors is where the great mystery lies, so going into nature should be a searching and humbling experience, like going to church.” – Skip Whitcomb
Newspapers are filled with the whir and bustle of humanity, and the noise and smoke of modern civilization. Rarely are we still enough to hear the whispers of that great mystery which lurks beyond the fences of our towns.
The civilization we build and the activity it contains is a great comfort to us. We know that this human world is limited and artificial, but it wraps life in a blanket of familiarity and reduces the world to a size we can understand and comprehend. We instinctively know that the blanket is not reality, that its pressing demands are somewhat arbitrary, and we feel as much smothered as comforted by its constant weight. From time to time, in a moment of natural disaster or personal disaster, our warm blanket is torn off and we are left naked and shivering, facing the bitter truth of human life. We struggle to cope with that truth and to clean up the debris, bury the bodies, and return to “normal” as quickly as possible. At other times, through gaps in our ordinary life, we catch glimpses of something glorious that lies beyond, a world that only heroes inhabit, where life is lived to its fullest possibilities.
Unsure how to handle all this, we generally play it safe and only venture beyond the confines of our life in manageable ways. We take small expeditions to the wilderness beyond cell-phone reception or weekends at a cabin on the lake. The great mystery, however, does not appear predictably before our gaze, and one can venture into the wilderness without sensing its presence. Having not felt the mystery does not prove there is no mystery, much like having not sighted any deer does not prove they are extinct. The quote above notes that, in order to encounter the mystery, we must go into nature with the proper attitude, and the proper attitude is humility.
Perhaps the reason the mystery is so rarely mentioned is that the virtue of humility is hard to find. As our confidence in science grows, we dam the rivers and cut through the mountains, fell the trees and mine the valleys for ore and harvest the wind for power. As surely as the animals have retreated from our hubris, so has the great mystery.
Some of our most revered saints are the desert fathers, men and women who pursued the mystery of God by venturing into the wilderness alone. Being in the desert alone can easily drive you insane. Insanity is closing yourself off from the mystery you are unable to handle, and the mad man is the one who has reduced the world to simple rules, despite the fact that these rules are false. There is an air of insanity, however, in all of civilization, because we have constructed a comprehensible world which ultimately is not real. Because so many of us live in this insanity we presume it is true. But it is not true, and venturing into the wilderness alone is also a way to drive yourself sane, provided you have the courage to face the great mystery.
It struck me, in the quote above, that venturing into nature is compared to venturing into church. The great forests and the great cathedrals have a striking similarity, as if the builders of the cathedrals had lived so close to the mystery they felt comfortable with it. Those were wise people, and it was not by accident that they placed a shrine to the creator of the world in the middle of their busy towns, like a hole cut deliberately in the blanket of civilization. Just like observing the Sabbath as a day of rest, these holes in the world keep us from being smothered by our constructed life. They prop open the door of our human life to the infinite possibilities of the mystery, and so ultimately it is the churches that keep us sane.
Yet as surely as the forests have been cut down, our churches have been domesticated. No longer do they soar to mystical heights, tugging at the boundaries of human life. Instead they are carpeted, padded, restrained, and comfortable. Their services are familiar, interesting, and soothing. Yet, in the effort to be relevant, these churches have lost the very reason for their existence, which is to testify to the mystery of God. The Catholic Church has not been entirely domesticated, thanks to the power of the Eucharist. This sacramental presence means that even the most arrogant and insipid priest cannot prevent the infinite mystery from sneaking into his liturgy. It is this presence of mystery which has prevented the Catholic Church from following the path of so many other modern worship experiences.
Yet it is exactly this which makes the Catholic Church “insane.” So many people live in the false world we have constructed, the world of business and commerce and film, that we assume it is sane. The Church with its very different approach to life, with its testimony of desert monks and cloistered nuns, is an uncomfortable door through which untamed winds continue to blow. Secular society would rather shut the door, and keep out the winds of mystery, and every effort is being made to coax the Church into conformity. Yet the instant that door is shut, human life begins to suffocate and die. A life without mystery is too small to live.
East4 – The Power of Love (7:45)
Easter, 4th Sunday. Tyrants beware! Christ destroys the power of fear with the power of his self-giving love. There is nothing more powerful; if we will let Him into our lives, it will set us free. (25 Apr 2010)
This homily borrows generously from Fr. Robert Barron’s Word on Fire series.
Easter3 – Communion with God (13:30)
Easter, 3rd Sunday and First Communion. Jesus wants to feed his sheep with the gift only He can give – Himself. What is the point of being Christian? It is to be with the God whom we love and who loves us. The point of being Christian is Union with God. As we receive the gift of Jesus, let us give him the gift of ourselves. (18 Apr 2010)
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Easter Sunday – The Resurrection changes Everything (14:30)
Easter Sunday. Why is the empty tomb good news? Because it means that Christ is Risen, Truly Risen! No longer is the grave our ultimate destiny. The tomb becomes a launchpad to new life. By choosing Christ now we can begin to experience the New Life in our lives. Do you reject Satan? Do you believe in Christ? (4 Apr 2010)
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