Priestly vocations: Celibacy and productivity

This piece was intended to be a ‘letter to the editor’, wherein the newspaper in question is mentioned, but like most of my attempts it ended up too long. It was at this point that I thought of reviving my blog, so subsequently I finished the now-post and edited the first part to suit.

Several months ago, meeting with a priest as he waited to accompany his Confirmation class to a ‘Generation S’ youth expo, I went through his Catholic News in advance of my duty to purchase one later at Mass. It was only on seeing an article about this vocations movement that I mentioned to Father my doubt that it would work.

I begin with this consideration in order to be proven wrong, a possibility I immediately acknowledged before Father, asking why, had to end the conversation in the same breath since everyone could finally get going. My direct answer to that question is perhaps for another post, but this story may still be relevant.

See, Father is (almost) singular as a priest openly speaking about clerical celibacy and personally, because at times he appears to question it, I wanted to share some thoughts on the value of this tradition. Strange enough, they came to me from a local morning show’s discussion of local productivity in the wake of the Global Competitiveness Forum.

It began with the usual rhetoric that, to the extent that people are paid, people must work, but the fact that this doesn’t happen seemed to be framed as exclusively Trinbagonian. Dismissing this, the question in me naturally arose as to why some economies are successful despite a perceivable lack of productivity.

From passion to practicality I ended up thinking that a good economy bases itself on what people want, but I was stuck on practicality, wondering if it is really possible for everyone in a country to hold the same profession. The example of passion that came to me, after the doctor who heals physically, is the priest who heals spiritually.

At last this convoluted thinking gets to clerical celibacy…and then some…all of which would go out the window if every Trinbagonian, for example, became a Roman Catholic priest. Yet for half our population this is impossible, even with Luke 1: 37 and the like, because ‘salvation history’, as the term goes, is the basis of Ordinatio sacerdotalis.

However it would be a mistake to accept that, just because the other half consists of all males, they can be priests. This is how proponents of women’s ordination think, but if it were so, not only should married men be ordained but also minors. Of course minors would not be so elevated – canon law forbids it anyway under age twenty-five.

But to ordain married men would be to eliminate obligatory celibacy; and given that we just theorised that this should happen, the question we must ask is: why? The reason most touted presently is that more young people might offer themselves for priesthood if they could still pursue happiness as promised in raising a family.

Returning at last to the realm of productivity, what this says is that priesthood is never a (fully) happy prospect like marriage. This reduces its appearance to a fact (of doing) – a job – down from a state (of being) – a vocation. In other words: we are open to taking up the priest’s action, but not his tradition, since we are already interested in another tradition.

Have ‘we’ considered, though, just why we are already so interested? The truth is we feel expected to marry, it’s the default, and so we have to consider the vocational aspect. Go back firstly to priesthood, really all sacred orders, as “a state (of being)”, which marriage also is; but whereas the former is sacramental, descended to the natural in and from Christ (cf. Letter to the Hebrews), the latter reverses this, being natural yet ‘raised to the dignity of a sacrament’ by Christ (cf. Baltimore Catechism).

'Anachronism' aside, see how Christ's divinity is emphasised in ordination and his humanity in marriage. If you will, too, this series (use the numbers, not the arrows) is the poster child for continuity...unless something else happens sacramentally in the reformed rites... Anyone?
‘Anachronism’ aside, see how Christ’s divinity is emphasised in ordination and his humanity in marriage.

If you will, too, this series (use the numbers, not the arrows) is the poster child for continuity…unless something else happens sacramentally in the reformed rites… Anyone?

This is not to say, then, that one is better than the other – again, that’s how proponents of women’s ordination think. Hierarchy has its place, but not here. Rather think that, while it is natural to want marriage, it is OK, instead of or in tandem with this, to desire priesthood. The question then becomes, for each state: is God calling me to it?

Either way we don’t want to get into anything only to lose interest eventually: that is the crux of productivity; and the truth, to answer my earlier question, is that an economy (and by now the term isn’t just financial) just can’t be successful within those sectors where lack of productivity is real. If, then, God calls us to a certain state, it is because he wants us there: it is his will.

As such, people who would still insist on eliminating clerical celibacy may not appreciate the importance of vocation, if not of sacramentality either. Certainly they ignore, if not disregard, the importance of tradition. Or their appreciation/understanding is convenient: how else could advocates cite Eastern/Orthodox custom, but not that of Anglicans and other Western groups? Both (save the Eastern) are schismatic, but they know the latter is more heretical.

Nevertheless Catholic practice (in the West) does accommodate married clergy in the permanent diaconate, but I would not be surprised if some who call for this across the board are unaware that those already ordained cannot marry even if celibacy is eliminated. Such a move would not be retroactive, because what would have been removed is really just the extension of an earlier tradition concerning sacred orders to entry therein.

I am also concerned, as such, that where the permanent diaconate is institutionalised, young men might take interest in it with the ‘best of both worlds’ mentality. Again: it is by God’s will that we are married and/or ordained (as a deacon) or not, so we must always discern it even after agreeing or contending, since we are just as much subject to change. But God works with what he has.

Yes, his will is better, such that understanding it, we might be compelled to follow, but we can’t let anyone, even ourselves, consider us brainless or believe that we are forced – an especially illogical conclusion on the part of those who don’t believe God even exists! Rather: in moments like these we all have the last say; amen or fiat just happens to be the short answer.

I have thought of doing a follow-up for the sake of length, despite disregarding bit by bit my ‘thousand words’ hang-up (1100+ here), so comments would encourage/guide it.


NOTE: While in the caption I link (in acknowledgement) the webpage whence the images were obtained, in no way does this constitute endorsement of its website.

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