On Celibate and Married Priests

A friend shared an article on facebook today, written by a married Catholic priest in Dallas, Texas, discussing priestly ministry and the debate of celibacy versus married life for the priest.  It’s an article well worth reading, as he gently puts forward the pros and cons of each lifestyle while emphasizing the centrality of the teaching of the Church on this topic. It’s also an article that spoke to many areas that I’ve been quietly pondering since my entry into the Catholic church almost three years ago, after growing up the daughter of a Protestant pastor.

The first time I ever sat down to meet with a Catholic priest, to discuss beginning the process of entry into the church, somehow we came around to the topic of priestly celibacy, and in typical Lisa fashion, without particularly considering that this priest didn’t know me well enough to know when my tongue was partially in my cheek, blurted out, “growing up as a pastor’s kid is a pretty good argument for priestly celibacy if you ask me.” I don’t remember what that gracious pastor replied, but I do remember his stunned look, followed by slightly nervous laughter! The more distance I have from my childhood, the more I appreciate my dad’s vocation to the ministry, and now the vocation that my brother has also followed.  There were great gifts, and great sacrifices to that life, and I am thankful for the former and still work at times to be grateful rather than resentful of the latter.

In response to my friend’s post of the article, I commented the following:

I have so many thoughts about this after growing up the daughter of a pastor. This writer stated it well – there are advantages and disadvantages to a married priesthood – I think perhaps the best case scenario might be a mixture in parishes, that includes priests in both states of life, giving a more full experience to the clergy, but also minimizing the sometimes overwhelming (and at times damaging) impact that the life of the clergyman can have on his wife and children.
I would add that the sacrifices that the clergy (whether married or celibate) are very real, and that your pastor’s (protestant or Catholic, married or celibate) need your prayers, and if you happen to be praying for a married pastor, pray for his wife and children as well.

I’ve been thinking lately about the way many Catholics I know treat male and female religious as something truly extraordinary – as those who have somehow partaken in “the best” sacrament.  I’ve been thinking too, about how if we actually believe that marriage is a sacrament, we don’t act like it as Catholics – those who choose a married life get far less kudos for their choices than those who choose the religious life.

And of all that has me thinking about the seventh chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which he discusses some of this very topic. I particularly appreciate Eugene Peterson’s translation of this chapter in The Message, for the clarity of language it brings to St. Paul’s comments. It’s well worth going taking the time to read the entirety of the chapter, rather than just the few excerpts I’m going to share here.
And so, let me leave you with a few of St. Paul’s words on both marriage and celibacy. He celebrates marriage, but also points out (much like the author of the article that inspired this post) the advantages that the celibate have with their time and energy. They are challenging me all over again, in the life I lead as a single woman, not called to the religious life, and as I pray for my friends in the religious life and priesthood, and my married friends and family living out a vocation to the ministry of Christ in the protestant world.
vs. 7: Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me – a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.
vs. 29-31: I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple – in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things – your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you know it is on it’s way out.
vs. 32-35: I want you to live as free of complications as possible. When you’re unmarried, you’re free to concentrate on simply pleasing the Master. Marriage involves you in all the nuts and bolts of domestic life and in wanting to please your spouse, leading to so many more demands on your attention. The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend in becoming whole and holy instruments of God. I’m trying to be helpful and make it as easy as possible for you, not make things harder. All I want is for you to be able to develop a way of life in which you can spend plenty of time together with the Master without a lot of distractions.
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This entry was posted in Catholicism, Journeying, sacraments, Spiritual Life. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On Celibate and Married Priests

  1. larryzb says:

    The Catholic Church had married priests for centuries. The Church forbid priests from marrying at the Second Lateran Council in 1141. Married men were forbidden from becoming priests at the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563). Men were marrying in secret and then becoming priests. But, the context is important. During Scholastic Times, the Church’s animosity towards sex reached a hysterical zenith, and it was in that period that priests were prohibited from marrying.

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