Celibacy is indeed a gift for some, but when contemplating the future of the priestless parish within the Catholic Church, I think we have to consider why it is that less priests are being called to the priesthood. I know that numbers are on the rise once again, but sadly we are loosing more priests each year due to retirement and death than we are currently recruiting new ones. From my own point of view it would be far more preferable to extend the priesthood to allow for married priests who bring with their lives such a rich ministry, rather than to have priests decreasing in numbers. Married priest are needed as a committed living example of Faithful Catholic family living, which the Catholic Church so fervently upholds and promotes. We know that Peter was a married man, and that it was Jesus’ Will that he was to become the rock on which His church was to be built. How ‘we’ ever thought ‘we’ had the right to re-define this ministry exclusively other, when Jesus showed us the way, I shall never understand.
We absolutely have to address the reasons for the decline of vocations to the priesthood. If priests just come into a parish to administer the Sacraments, the integrity and the wholesomeness of their vocation is put in grave jeopardy. The shepherd of each flock will cease to be a pastoral presence fulfilling their pastoral ministry, and therefore the priesthood ceases to be the vocation that is written and defined in the scriptures. If a priest is absent how will he intimately know his flock, let alone be able to find the ones who stray or are lost.
Luke 15:3-7 – The parable of the lost sheep. – ‘Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.’
Although this parable is about repentance, I think it is important for us to understand and acknowledge that without a priest being present in the parish it would be very difficult for him as pastoral leader to build up any trust within his relationships, especially new ones. An absent priest could not find people whom are lost. It is his pastoral care, observation, spiritual understanding and loyalty to his parishioners that allows the parishioners to place their trust in the priest, and this trust then allows him to be intimately aware of where people are in the development of their practical personal and spiritual lives.
When working on this reflection, I found a piece of scripture which really challenged me, and I realised at times just how much I struggle with some of the content of scripture alone, and also of how I struggle with tradition picking and choosing which parts of scripture it wants to uphold and follow as absolute, whilst choosing not to uphold and follow other clearly laid out scripture. Dei Verbum 24 from Vatican II says that the Sacred Scriptures not only contain the Word of God but ‘really are the Word of God’ (‘vere verbum Dei sunt’) and yet when I read the book of Lectivus 21 I found I had several issues with it, which I cannot apparently ignore.
I consider myself to be in an infinitely deep and committed relationship with God and much of what I found in Lectivus 21 has so very much judgmental human nature in it, far different from the nature that I have met in Christ and His teachings. In the broadest sense I do see the inspiration of God in Lectivus 21 in the beauty of having priests who are God-fearing men who strive to be pure and who are not ‘ceremonially unclean’. However the fallible human error that comes through the writing of Lectivus 21 for me makes this one of the least God inspired books that I have discovered in the bible so far.
If we were to follow Lectivus 21 absolutely as the authoritative word of God, tradition would still allow for priests to marry as in (1 Corinthians 9:5) rightly so. But should their daughters sadly fall into prostitution they should be burned in a fire as in (Lectivus 21:9). For a God who is Love this does not equate. We would discriminate against people with a physical disability (even poor eyesight or an eye defect, and height and deformity) despite the fact that a man could be a most holy man, and called to his vocation by God, as in (Lectivus 21:18-23) his interior life is regarded far less than his physical imperfections. Priests would neither be able to enter a room with a dead person in it, or to be cleanly shaven, and all our priests according to (Lectivus 21:5-6) would be bearded.
These issues inspire me to want to find out how these contradictions are dealt with in today’s Catholic Church and who in authority raises and addresses them? I am interested to know who is having these discussions or if they remain unchallenged and unaddressed in the church of today. It is of course a concern that we as a Catholic Church have possibly hindered the course of history year upon year by failing to allow priests to be married. Especially when we know that Peter had a mother-in-law therefore was married, and that it was Especially a married man who was appointed by Christ to be the rock on which the church was built. This is backed up when it tells us in Lectivus 21 whom priests are to marry. This is surely an opportunity for us to re-look at these books and re-open fresh conversations about the relationship between scripture and Tradition when it comes to the Sacrament of marriage and the priesthood.
The two pieces of scripture below both point us towards the apostles and their wives.
Matthew 8:14-15 – When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.
1 Corinthians 9:5 – Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?
God intended that priests were to live a life which represented the richest life of holiness in the fullness of their humanity, an example of chaste Christian living for us all. I am sure He did not intend for priests to be unrepresentative of family life, by remaining single and solely celibate at the heart of our communities. Our priesthood can surely not continue to flourish, else continue to aid the church to grow by living one lifestyle, and yet preaching the benefits of another lifestyle whilst professing the Truth of the scriptures, and yet being made to live out only part of that Truth
It surprises me how strongly I feel about the fact that in the bible I can see with so much clarity the exulted example of both male and female in relationship, friendship and companionship being lived out in such an interdependent way together. Jesus appointed Peter who was a married man, and then there is the example of the apostles and their companions in the upper room, and the example of ‘the women that ministered unto Jesus and His disciples of their substance’, and yet the Catholic Church has segregated male from female and made the priesthood a bastion of celibate males, this surely undermines God’s example of males and females complementing and interdependently living and being a help-mate for each other.
The implications of this are far-reaching: a priesthood in decline, a Catholic Church that appears out of date and out of touch with the contemporary world, preaching one way and living another, and then there is the women who feel the need to become women priests. I am almost sure that this would not have been the case, had women rightfully not have been excluded from the conversation and community life of the ‘priesthood’ in the first instance. It is apparent from scripture that at the very roots of Jesus’ ‘Church’ women and men were both present in the upper room and elsewhere supporting one another.
There are more conversations to be had, and a voice that needs to be heard within the Tradition of the Catholic Church. I have also learned that this voice does not have to be academic, but that it just needs to be able to see with certain clarity and to be brave enough to speak out and expect answers with the same clarity. There is still much scripture I need to contemplate and have yet to discover, and how when I do contemplate on scripture led by the Holy Spirit, so much more insight is received. Tradition has for many years been set in its ways, and these ways are not always God’s intentions as recorded clearly in the bible, yet they will continue to be lived out and unaddressed if we do not re-imagine the relationship between tradition and scripture.
Lectivus 21 is the main piece of scripture that I choose for this reflection, because it covers all of the points on the marriage of a priest, and is perfect scripture to support the above reflection.
1 Corinthians 9:5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?
Matthew 8:14-15 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
Pray for us All †