Two Paths

Response to Married Priests – Doing One Thing

Benjamin Priesthood

There is an African proverb that says, “He who chases two rabbits will catch none.” Recently I cut my finger because I was talking on the phone and trying to trim the wax off a candle at the same time. Because neither of the tasks needed my full attention, I thought I could do them both at the same time. This, by the way, is the root of the problem of texting while driving. Since neither task uses your full brain power, in theory you can do them both at once, but in reality it is impossible.

Today’s computers can simultaneously run Word, Skype, e-mail, iTunes, and several web sites, but the human mind cannot run in several directions without becoming scattered. Having unintentionally trained myself not to focus, I found it was almost impossible to do papers. As soon as my brain would start to ruminate, my fingers would surf to something else. My writing quality suffered because I never achieved the depth that I needed. The mind needs focus in order to achieve something excellent.

If a scattered mind is a problem, a scattered heart is a disaster. The heart cannot go in two directions at the same time, and this is why the commitment of marriage liberates the heart by allowing it to focus. Marriage is fundamentally a “Yes” to dedicating your life and affection towards a single relationship. Married couples need to say “No” to other possibilities which undermine this commitment, in order to protect the original “Yes.” This does not mean that a married person cannot love many people, but that none of these loves can be allowed to threaten the fundamental commitment.

Like marriage, priesthood indicates a direction of the heart, it is a way of giving your life in love. The more we describe priesthood as a life of self-sacrificing love, the more people say, “That’s exactly what marriage is meant to be.” The issue is not that priesthood and marriage are different but precisely their similarity. Both are paths of love that demand complete dedication. This is the reason why, by ancient tradition, once a man was ordained he was no longer permitted to marry. It is not the Church which limits his freedom, but the “Yes” he has given to a call from God, which directs his life in a way that excludes a subsequent marriage.

I am not saying that it is impossible to be married and to serve God as a priest, but I am saying that it is better to dedicate yourself to one or the other. This is what St. Paul means in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, when he says, “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided.” It is not that married love and priestly love are incompatible, but that it is much better for the heart to be focused in one direction.

One could argue that, since it is possible to do marriage and ministry, candidates for the priesthood should not be challenged to adopt celibacy but should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to be married or not. The root of this objection is the fear that the Catholic Church is setting the bar too high, demanding more than the human capacity to give. This, exactly, is the foolish genius of the Catholic faith, that nothing short of giving your whole heart, mind, soul and strength will do. In being so demanding the Catholic Church imitates Jesus Christ, who said,
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'”
(Luke 14:26-30)

Celibacy is the insistence that a man who wishes to be a herald of the Gospel must first decide to invest all his bricks in one tower, and place the service of God before all other commitments. In this, I believe, celibacy is a visible sign that the man who preaches has understood the demands of the Gospel which he claims to proclaim.

Homily for Trinity Sunday by Fr. Joel

Fr. Joel Homilies

A Community of Love (8.5mb)

Trinity Sunday. We believe in One God. We believe that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. But we don’t believe in 3 gods, we believe in One God. How is this possible? It is a mystery, which means that it doesn’t fit inside our heads, but we can still try to understand it. God is One not because he is alone, but because he is a Community of Love. The Father pours himself out in love to the Son, and the Son pours himself back, making the Spirit. God pours himself out to us too, and invites us to do the same. (30 May 2010)

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Novena of Prayer for Priestly Ordination

Fr. Joel Priesthood

Saturday, June 5th, the Diocese of Green Bay will ordain two men to the priesthood:
Jose Castaneda and Dan Viertel. Please join me in praying for them. You can read more about their journey here:

Novena of Prayer for Priestly Ordination

God our Father,
you appointed Jesus Christ High Priest of the new and eternal covenant.
By grace you allow men to share in this priesthood and in his saving work.

We ask you to pour out your Holy Spirit on the men you have chosen for priesthood.
May they preach the Gospel worthily and wisely, celebrate the sacraments faithfully and reverently, and pray without ceasing. May they be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice.

Bless, sanctify, and consecrate the men whom you have chosen and called to the sacred order of Priesthood. Through the Holy Spirit make their lives worthy of the mysteries they celebrate.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Priest and Lord.

Response to Married Priests – Celibacy

Fr. Joel Priesthood

Many, many people favor married priests. They believe that the Church started priestly celibacy for practical reasons: priests are too busy to have a family, it used to cause problems with inheritance of church buildings, and most Catholics don’t give enough to the church to support both a priest and his family. They believe that for practical reasons, now is the time to make a change. Here are some of the arguments:

  1. Celibacy emerged from a negative view of sex that it was something bad. Now we know better, and a priest doesn’t need to avoid marital relations in order to stay pure.
  2. Some people might be called to be priests but not given the gift of celibacy (perhaps in the case of our author above). Why not have married priests too?
  3. Maintaining priestly celibacy may be a beautiful thing, but if it causes a shortage of priests and a lack of the Eucharist, it needs to go.
  4. Celibacy is contrary to human nature; it condemns a priest to life a life of loneliness and isolation.
  5. How could a young man at the age of 24 or 25, maybe one who has never even had a serious girlfriend, make such a big decision as this for the rest of his life?
These five objections are taken up by Pope Paul VI in his beautiful (and forgotten) encyclical on the celibacy of the priesthood, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, from 24 June 1967. How does the Pope respond to such damning arguments? Very simply:
Jesus Christ is the Answer
Christian priesthood takes its origin from Jesus Christ. Jesus came with a mission to love us and to be our heavenly bridegroom. He lived a life of complete celibacy, why? Because sex was bad? No, because it was good, but he was offering us something better – the unconditional love of God. He remained his whole life celibate in complete, dedicated service to God and man. In doing so, he opened up for us a new way of loving. Celibacy signifies “love without reservations”. As Paul VI says, “celibacy is and ought to be a rare and very meaningful example of a life motivated by love.” Jesus provides us the model for the priesthood.
Life of Self-giving Love
A priest cannot be married because, quite simply, he has already given himself to someone else. He has given himself to the Church and to Christ. Priesthood is a life of self-giving love. This is why it is a permanent commitment, this is why a man cannot be un-ordained. This is also why a man, once ordained, cannot marry. Some people look at the life of a priest and say, “I couldn’t do that.” What they generally mean is, “I couldn’t live without love.” I completely agree with them; I couldn’t live without love either. But priesthood is not the invitation to a life without love. Rather, it is an invitation to love without reservations. Celibacy is a radical way of living based on two simple truths:
  1. You are worth it.
    You were worth the death of the Son of God. God loves you so much, he is giving you men who are completely dedicated to serving you. That is celibate priesthood.
  2. God is enough.
    God alone satisfies, as St. Teresa of Avila says. Our ultimate happiness in heaven comes from being satisfied by God himself and his unconditional love for us. By his life, the priest is testifying that in the end, the only thing we truly need is God.
Answers to the Objections
Here are some very short answers to the above objections:
  1. Celibacy is not about ritual purity. A conjugal relationship is beautiful when it expresses a true gift of self. Celibacy, when lived out of love, does the same thing.
  2. The Western church has a very beautiful and very fruitful tradition of celibate priests. It is a poignant witness to God’s love and the power of grace. Would it not be arrogant for us to throw away something beautiful because we are afraid of a lack of priests? Does this show that we do not trust God to supply what we need?
  3. Celibacy is more necessary now than ever. People are attacking it because they fear it; it shows how hollow is the world of glorified, self-gratifying sexual encounters. 
  4. Celibacy is a super-natural gift which rises from the fact that God himself loves each of us. Rather than attacking nature, it shows us that the true nature of every human being is to be loved by God.
  5. This is not a commitment to be made lightly, and it requires careful and proper formation. But a man can give his life to defend his country at the age of 18, and a man can give his life to defend his family at any age. Can he not also give his life out of love even at the age of 25? So many of our young people do not see their true capacity to love and be loved and they settle for using and being used. Let’s start a revolution of purity and manliness.
Now I have given you a beautiful vision, but you will tell me that it isn’t possible. Celibacy may testify to God’s love, but I man really cannot live this beautiful vision in the real world. In the words of U2: “I believe in love.” I still believe that real, self-giving love is not only possible, but even necessary for our survival as human beings. Paul VI says:
Of this [the Church] is certain: if she is prompter and more persevering in her response to grace, if she relies more openly and more fully on its secret but invincible power, if, in short, she bears more exemplary witness to the mystery of Christ, then she will never fall short in the performance of her salvific mission to the world—no matter how much opposition she faces from human ways of thinking or misrepresentations. We must all realize that we can do all things in Him who alone gives strength to souls and increase to His Church.

Read more here:

Encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus

Wordcast Fire

Fr. Joel’s homily for Pentecost

Fr. Joel Homilies

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)

I wasn’t able to think of anything for this homily, so I thought maybe God wanted me to trust the Holy Spirit.Here is a little explanation.

Response to Married Priests – Lifetime Commitment

Fr. Joel Priesthood

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.

An argument for married priests

Benjamin Priesthood

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

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]

Fr. Joel’s homily for Ascension Sunday

Fr. Joel Homilies

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)

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Fr. Joel’s homily for Easter VI

Fr. Joel Homilies

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)

Fr. Joel’s homily for May 2

Fr. Joel Homilies

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)