Saturday, October 2, 2010

An Undivided Heart: Marriage & The Priesthood

A One dollar bill and a Twenty dollar bill met one day. "Hey, I haven't seen you in a long time," said the Dollar bill. "Where have you been?"
"Lots of places," replied the Twenty dollar bill. "Vegas, the race track, baseball games, concerts, places like that. And you?"
The One Dollar bill answered, " To church."

The joke brings a question to light,  "Who would support the families of married priests?"  &  this post asks, "Should priests marry?"
I can give you historical reasons, reasons that our church forefathers prayed about, discerned and decided was fitting for our great faith on why priests should not marry, but I'd rather give logical, practical and modern reasons, ones we can relate to.

I worked for the Episcopal Church. It was a wonderful experience. Episcopal priests marry, yet in some cases, it takes years to fill a post. Secularism and materialism are the main reason priests and pastors of all denominations are scarce. Being a pastor's family is like living in a fish bowl. The kids are held to a different standard than other kids, similar to children of law officers and judges. Gone are the days when the pastor's wife heads the strawberry festival, teas and quilting committees. They're college educated, career-minded women shaped in a generation where "me" comes first. I know one wife who called her pastor husband a half hour before the All Saints Evening (All Hallows Eve) service and complained that it was his turn to take the kids Trick or Treating because, "I did it last year and that's not fair!" Secretaries are privy to many things...and this was one conversation I wish I hadn't heard. Do you think the good pastor was distracted from his spiritual duties? Oh, BTW...that same wife tried to commit suicide, the pressure was so great.

So there's usually 2-3 priests living in one Rectory. Hmmm, 2-3 wives and without birth control about many kids would there be? All in one house...just picture that! Or the Church can just buy a home for each family, yeah that's the ticket. Let's throw in the mix.... cars/car insurance and the cost, education and the cost, ordinary living expenses like clothing, medical, food, vacations and teens can & do get into trouble and what that may cost...this is just the tip of the iceberg. Then there's the spousal and family problems...and the possibility of a divorce. How should that be dealt with?

Oh yeah...priests can get jobs to pay part of these expenses. "Excuse me Mr. Boss, but Mrs. So & So is dying...can I have an hour off to anoint her?" or "Ms Boss Lady, I have to do pastoral service at the hospital on Tuesdays, can I have those mornings off and please don't schedule me after 4 on Tuesdays & Thursdays that's when I help with our Religious Education program." Then there's Confirmation and Communion practices, Diocesan meetings, Passion Week & Christmas services and programs, Weddings (now also held on Thursdays & Fridays at 3 PM) oh, and Funerals...lets ask everyone to die when it's convenient. Don't get me started...

Sex...ohhhhh that, It's not normal for a man to be deprived of sex...priests have to get married. A guy once said to me, "If I don't have sex by day 3 I go screwy in the head" Huh? Where does the workings of the Holy Spirit fit in? So a man can't give up sex for the sake of God...God can't give a man the graces needed to be celibate? Come on people, what a tiny box we fit our Great God in when we try to use that reasoning. A lifetime of self-control...a lifetime of satisfaction serving the Supreme Being. Why that can't be! Could all those books, all those TV chat shows and sex therapists be wrong? And dear St. Joseph knowing the the Blessed Mother was the precious vessel that held the Christ within her...he couldn't possibly refrain from sex...after day 3 he would have gone screwy!
St. Paul, who was unmarried, wrote in Holy Scriptures on remaining single and being married.  In 1 Cor 7:20, he wrote "Everyone should remain in the state in which he was called." Considering it is God the Holy Spirit Who calls a man into the priesthood, He would also endow this man with the graces needed to remain celibate. *Theologically, the Church desires to imitate the life of Jesus with regard to chastity and the sacrifice of married life for the "sake of the Kingdom" (Luke 18:28–30, Matthew 19:27–30; Mark:10:20–21), and to follow the example of Jesus Christ in being "married" to the Church, viewed by Catholicism and many Christian traditions as the "Bride of Christ". (*from Wikipedia)

An aside: Isn't it odd that we rarely hear this argument about nuns? Does that mean women don't need marriage to feel fulfilled...complete? Do women have more self-control, less of an urge to have sex? Not according to statistics where virgins are few and far between, where droves of women have casual sex and a shocking number of married women cheat on their husbands. At a town-hall type meeting of a group of women ages 18-25, the gals agreed that sex with a man and or another woman was no big deal..according to was, well, just sex, and variety is the spice of life. No one mentioned companionship, relationship, commitment or it was sex. My question, "How long before a nun denied sex goes screwy?" And contrary to popular belief....there are secular, single women who don't engage in sex because of their moral beliefs....nuns aren't the only ones blessed with grace & God-given self control. 

Now, this is not all about money and sex. When I have a bad day at home, my mind isn't on my work, and it's not on the "things of God". Though it should be, it's not. I'm terribly distracted. I can only imagine what it would be like for a married priest having problems with the kids, problems with his wife or in-laws. What about having an ill wife, an ill child? Can he serve his parishioners in the manner that God has set for him? Can he tend his flock properly? He is called to have "an undivided heart". Paul says in  1 Cor 7: 32-33 "The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife" Married, just getting centered and in a prayerful state to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would be difficult....ring, ring, it's his wife on the cell-phone. Son Dennis just broke up with Millie for the 4th time, he needs manly advice before he takes to drinking. Don't get me started...  What do you mean you have to say the Liturgy of the Hours and the Don't you know Sara has soccer practice at 4 and I'm getting a pedicure, you have to take her! And so it goes...distracted? Do ya think?  And no, Protestant pastors don't have the same commitments....most churches have one, maybe two, services on Sunday, not 8-10 Masses on a weekend. They don't have 800 kids in their Religious Education classes...the ones I dealt with had a Sunday school program with 2 adult parishioners teaching the First Holy Communion program or First Penance programs to oversee. Our priests are unique and special. No one seems to have a problem with a closing pitcher in baseball playing only one inning and not being asked to be more than a Closer. Why do we ask priests to concentrate on anything other than being a priest? Isn't it good enough that they are shepherds of lost sheep, prayer-centered clergy, counselors of the dismayed, doctors of injured souls, warriors for God?
In his 1973 book, The Priesthood, Karl Rahner discusses his interpretation of the awesome mission of the priest.
"In a sense, he (a priest) is always on duty," said Karl Rahner. "In the light of this sociological aspect of his life, the priest must clearly understand that he belongs body and soul, with all that he is, to this church, to her task, to her mission, her work, her destiny, and he can never disassociate himself from these things." (Rahner, page 101.)  
Should Priests Marry? They already are...they are married to Christ and His Church. It's a monogamous and life-long love affair.


  1. Hi Nannette, I can see where you're coming from, but something that always is a stumbling block for me is that the Roman Catholic rite, as well as other Catholic rites recognized by the pope, have married clergy. My high school english teacher's husband was a roman catholic priest who had converted from the episcopal church. If the Church truly felt that priests must be celibate, then they simply would not allow married priests, but they do. And I don't think that the celibacy within the priesthood has necessarily to do with the convenience or logistics of it - parish priests live on a salary - they can own their own property, car, etc. - so that wouldn't change. And the Roman Catholic priests who do have wives and families don't live in rectories, they live in their own homes.
    This isn't to say that I agree with priests being celibate or not - I just think that the Church is maybe more ambivalent about it than it seems at face value. If I HAD to have an opinion, I guess I would say that maybe priests could have the option of what they felt called to: married life as a priest or celibate life as a priest. Because, for the roman catholic priests who are married and in the church today, I imagine that both those vocations are real, and it would seem like that might be true for others, as well.

  2. nice to hear from you, always a delight! There are not many former Episcopal priests who are now Catholic priests, I think between 5-8 in the diocese of NY. The Arcdiocese picks up the tab for these priests and their families. It would be cruel not to accept an Episcopal priest into the RC church esp. with both sides working to unite. Yet, I don't believe that the RC Church would accept lets say Scott Hahn(a convert)who was a Presbyterian pastor (married w/children) into the priesthood. Funny, how with the Catholic church they are damned if they do; and damned if they don't. A Msgr. of 40 years makes (in NY) less than $28,000 and yes if he wants to drive, he must buy his own car. He pays for his own clothes, vacation, etc. and many do invest in property/home so they have someplace to live in retirement (age 75!)other than in a diocese run retirement home. If a priest is a Religious Order, he is not allowed to own ANYTHING, not even a typewriter unless the Prior allows him to keep one given as a gift. Yes, married priests do live in a house along with his family, that's my point...there are only a few. Financially, it would be impossible for priests if they married to have their own homes. And celibacy isn't the whole issue as to whether priests should/shouldn't be married. How about just the choice...get married or be a priest? I believe the "Undivided Heart" part of the issue is really the issue. It seems that no one wants to sacrifice these day...everyone wants his cake and eat it too.
    Thanks, Maria, for hearing me out, again. God Bless! Always, N

  3. I'm getting used to your blunt ways, Nanette ;) I won't get you started because - I'm in agreement with you that priests shouldn't marry. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  4. Oh, Mary...thanks for loving me warts and all! Thank you for taking time to comment. There's an important e-protest (Oct 5 blog) on an art display in CO, please, please, pass it on to all your followers. Appreciate it. How's Dad?
    And to any readers..correction.. the word in my reply to Maria is Archdiocese, duh.

  5. I don't have a strong opinion one way or another about it, but if you declared tomorrow that priests could marry, you'd get priests who are half as productive as those we have now, just due to the needs of a wife and family.

  6. Yes...half as productive. Thanks for getting my point. And thanks for taking the time to read this post. Always nice to have you visit. N