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Eastern Catholics explain tradition, value of married priests

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — In Eastern Christianity — among both Catholics and Orthodox — a dual vocation to marriage and priesthood are seen as a call “to love more” and to broaden the boundaries of what a priest considers to be his family, said Russian Catholic Father Lawrence Cross.

Father Cross, a professor at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, was one of the speakers at the Chrysostom Seminar in Rome Nov. 13, a seminar focused on the history and present practice of married priests in the Eastern churches.

The Code of Canons of the Eastern (Catholic) Churches insist that “in the way they lead their family life and educate their children, married clergy are to show an outstanding example to other Christian faithful.”

Speakers at the Rome conference — sponsored by the Australian Catholic University and the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at St. Paul University in Ottawa — insisted the vocation of married priests in the Eastern churches cannot be understood apart from an understanding of the sacramental vocation of married couples.

“Those who are called to the married priesthood are, in reality, called to a spiritual path that in the first place is characterized by a conjugal, family form of life,” he said, and priestly ordination builds on the vocation they have as married men.

Father Cross and other speakers at the conference urged participants to understand the dignity of the vocation of marriage in the way Blessed John Paul II did: as a sacramental expression of God’s love and as a path to holiness made up of daily acts of self-giving and sacrifices made for the good of the other.

“Married life and family life are not in contradiction with the priestly ministry,” Father Cross said. A married man who is ordained is called “to love more, to widen his capacity to love, and the boundaries of his family are widened, his paternity is widened as he acquires more sons and daughters; the community becomes his family.”

Father Basilio Petra, an expert in Eastern Christianity and professor of theology in Florence, told the conference, “God does not give one person two competing calls.”

If the church teaches — as it does — that marriage is more than a natural institution aimed at procreation because it is “a sign and continuation of God’s love in the world,” then the vocations of marriage and priesthood “have an internal harmony,” he said.

Father Petra, who is a celibate priest, told the conference that in the last 30 or 40 years some theologians and researchers have been making a big push to “elaborate the idea that celibacy is the only way to fully configure oneself to Christ,” but such a position denies the tradition of married priests, configured to Christ, who have served the church since the time of the apostles.

Father Thomas J. Loya, a Byzantine Catholic priest and member of the Tabor Life Institute in Chicago, told the conference it would be a betrayal of Eastern tradition and spirituality to support the married priesthood simply as a practical solution to a priest shortage or to try to expand the married priesthood without, at the same time, trying to strengthen Eastern monasticism, which traditionally was the source of the celibate clergy.

He called for a renewed look at what the creation of human beings as male and female and their vocations says about God to the world.

Father Peter Galadza of the Sheptytsky Institute told conference participants that the problem of “cafeteria Catholics” who pick and choose which church teachings they accept is found not just among Catholics who reject the authority of the church’s leaders; “those who believe they are faithful to the magisterium” also seem to pick and choose when it comes to the church’s official recognition of and respect for the Eastern tradition of married priests.

“We know we are only 1 percent of the world’s Catholics, but Eastern Catholics have a right to be themselves,” he said.

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, we hope the same Holy Spirit who guided the authors of its decrees would guide us in implementing them,” he said, referring specifically to Vatican II’s affirmation of the equality of the Latin and Eastern churches and its call that Eastern churches recover their traditions.

“There has been a long history of confusing ‘Latin’ and ‘Catholic,'” he said, and that confusion has extended to an assumption that the Latin church’s general discipline of having celibate priests is better or holier than the Eastern tradition of having both married and celibate priests.

The speakers unanimously called for the universal revocation of a 1929 Vatican directive that banned the ordination and ministry of married Eastern Catholic priests outside the traditional territories of their churches. The directive, still technically in force, generally is upheld only when requested by local Latin-rite bishops.

Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
http://www.uscatholic.org/news/2012/11/eastern-catholics-explain-tradition-value-married-priests

A Tridentine wedding and “How not to” homiletics

Two friends of mine were recently married, according to the “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite, better known as the Tridentine Rite. It was the first nuptial mass of its kind in Rome since Pope Benedict XVI published Summorum Pontificum and established a personal parish in the Eternal City for the followers of the pre-Vatican II liturgies.

This is one of the unanticipated gifts of being in Rome, being able to time travel and see what the various sacraments and rites were like for the four centuries before Vatican II went digging around the scriptural and patristic sources to bring back the older traditions while simultaneously brining everything “up to date”.

It was a beautiful day. The weather was perfect, the liturgical chant was beautifully sung, the bride was radiant, the bridesmaids beautiful, and the reception was a masterpiece of hospitality and conviviality. The liturgy was observed at church of Santissima Trinita dei Peligrini, and the reception was hosted in the gardens of the Passionist Retreat of John and Paul, home of the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas. About 70 guests were present, some from as far as Vancouver, BC or Johannesburg, South Africa.

The people I met were wonderful, and though I did not get as much time to get to know the wedding party – between their hard work preparing for the wedding, and their deserved socializing afterwards – I had some great conversations and met some fascinating people.

It was, overall, one of the most beautiful wedding weekends to which I have been invited.

It is therefore all the more to the credit of the bride and groom, and their assembled guests, that they did not let the one black mark on the day ruin the rest: It was the worst wedding homily I have ever heard. I can honestly say it nearly had me in tears.

(I debated whether to write about this or not – hopefully my choice to do so is not interpreted as disrespect to my friends who were married, but serves as a lesson for those of us in preaching ministries!)

The priest began by comparing marriage to investing in the stock market – risks and rewards. I do not find financial analogies to personal relationships generally helpful, but he might have been able to move on to something meaningful. Instead, the meandering sermon – decidedly not a genuine homily – stumbled from one faux pas to another.

The proper epistle for the nuptial mass in the Tridentine form is the passage from Ephesians that admonishes “wives be submissive to your husbands, husband love your wife.” This was the starting point for an anecdote that seemed to be titled “how not to preach on this passage”. He made his point, but probably not the way he intended:

“Let me tell you about the wrong way to read this passage. I was at a parish in the diocese of Rochester [New York] when this was the reading of the day. Now for those of you not from the U.S., or not in the ecclesiastical scene, Rochester is one of the five worst dioceses in the country. …”

Anybody want to bet he was thinking of Seattle among the other four? Rochester’s bishop usually gets critiqued for, among other ‘liberal tendencies’, his support of lay people in ministry. Hmm… strike one against a crowd of lay students at pontifical universities preparing for ministry.

“… the priest could have talked about the proper attitude of husbands and wives, but instead started talking about the ‘context’ and ‘historical criticism’ of the text! As if what scripture said then and what it says now are ‘historically conditioned’ and must be understood differently! Of course, this priest was a Jesuit, and you cannot expect anything orthodox from them!”

So… actual scripture study and the Jesuits in one blow. Poor Biblicum students.

“… Now, I am not saying that wives should be slaves to their husbands, like the Muslims believe….”

And our resident imam, friend and housemate of the bride, sitting right in front of me. Ouch.

“… there is something the Muslims get right. Their women wear a veil. Here too, we see a veil. It marks what is set aside, what is restricted. The tabernacle is veiled, to show that only the priest can enter it, just like the bride is veiled …”

Thankfully, he did not explicitly complete that thought, but the parallel was not lost. A little uncomfortable, but not quite offensive like the previous statements.

Then the meandering somehow landed on Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, on which it stayed for a while. I honestly cannot remember what the point of that was, I was trying too hard to keep a straight face by focusing on the image of the Holy Trinity above the altar. The whole thing went on for about 20 minutes, though i felt like an eternity.

As someone intimately connected with the wedding mentioned afterwards, “there was nothing about love, nothing really about marriage… what the hell was he thinking!?”

At least the pastor, during the “admonishment on the responsibilities of the married state” at the exchange of vows before the mass, spoke of “procreation and the upbringing of offspring”. Maybe not how I would have put it, but more apropos than purely partisan preaching!

The Challenge of Priesthood

This should not be the topic of my first blog touching on the Year of the Priest. Maybe it should a story of vocation, or a theological reflection on the priesthood of Christ and his church. Perhaps an ecclesiological exposition of the ministerial priesthood of the bishop, presbyter, and deacon, with ecumenical emphasis. That is the price of procrastination, however. Those will come in time.

I came across both of these articles yesterday evening, and it was too powerful to avoid.  

Very Rev. K. Scott Connolly

The first is from my diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Northwest Progress, in part of a series highlighting the presbyterate of the archdiocese in honor of the Year of the Priest; they provide brief profiles of five pastors each issue. This week’s issue includes five whom I know personally. Two were in seminary formation with me; two have worked with me as collaborators for the pastoral leadership of a parish; I have had several conversations with each, and have known most of them since I was 17 or 18.

Given that familiarity, I was mostly skimming the profiles. What priest does not think the greatest joy of being a priest is celebrating the sacraments, anyway? (Well, OK, there was one). I almost missed “the greatest challenge as a priest” on my first read, but that is the most telling part. Most of us who are or have been in pastoral ministry find that time-management and administration is an omnipresent challenge, and legitimately so. Yet, one response truly stands out, and calls us to remember what ministry, and the presbyterate, is really about.

Achbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin

To then turn to the next article only confirmed that read. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin addressed this week’s release of the national investigation of the sexual abuse of children and its systematic cover-up by the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland. The report itself reads much like the reports in the States over the last ten years. What reads differently is the response of the archbishop himself, which should be read in full and is available here:

Three times, the archbishop repeats that “No words of apology will ever be sufficient.”

He acknowledges not only the profoundly sinful nature of the acts of abuse by priests, but also the abject failure of the bishops and religious superiors to act for good:

“One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the Report is that while Church leaders – Bishops and religious superiors – failed, almost every parent who came to the diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what has involved.  Almost exclusively their primary motivation was to try to ensure that what happened to their child, or in some case to themselves, did not happen to other children.”

He does not equivocate, blame the media, secular society or anti-Catholic bias; he does not claim that they ‘did not understand’ the nature of the pedophile and the ephebophile thirty years ago, or that they needed a ‘learning curve’ to adequetely deal with these problems. He makes no excuse for the culture of clericalism and institutionalism that allowed and encouraged the perpetuation of grave sin:

“Efforts made to “protect the Church” and to “avoid scandal” have had the ironic result of bringing this horrendous scandal on the Church today.”

In his interview he refers to the people making these excuses as a ‘caste’, a group who thought they could do anything and get away with it – which makes the crimes all the more horrendous because they were perpetuated by those who serve in the name of Jesus Christ.

There may be a long way to go before all remnants of that caste-mentality are eradicated from the Church, but our prayers and dedicated efforts to that end must never cease. Structures of sin have no place in the Body of Christ.

It reminds me of a parishioner whose daily intercession at Mass was for the “holiness of our priests” – simultaneously a prayer of gratitude for the many holy men who serve the Church, and a plea for the conversion of the rest.

Amen, indeed.

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