11Aug “ Courage”! “ It is I. Don’t be afraid”

Pope Francis has made a call to the Conference of Bishops to take a courageous step and ordain married men, “vir probati” (proven married men). This call should not be forgotten.

Here we have the supreme representative of Our Lord making a direct request to the Bishops to find a solution to the shortage of priests which is affecting many countries. Pope Francis is a man of vast pastoral experience and would not make a request such as this without measuring its consequences.

There comes a time in life when we have to admit that we are not capable of solving a problem alone and that we need to look for help from others. This fact brings to mind that scene in the Gospel of Saint Luke chapter 5 v. 5 – 8, where the disciples catch so many fish that they are unable alone to bring them in “so they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them”.This was a great act of humility on the part of the disciples. Instead of trying to solve the problem alone they looked for help from other fishermen.

Today, due to the shortage of celibate priests, many communities are being left without the frequent access to the Eucharist. It is becoming humanly impossible due to increasing age for priests to get around to all their communities and celebrate mass. Priests in their 60s and 70s are being asked to take on more and more work, which they do willingly, but this is a dangerous policy as it can lead to exhaustion, burn out and stressed priests.

Some of the greatest men in the world, who carried enormous responsibilities, were married with a wife and family who supported them in their work and who were not a hindrance but a help and comfort to their husbands. There is a popular saying that behind every great man there is a great woman, there is great truth in this. In many professions men and women handle both a job and a family. Think of doctors, surgeons, counselors, teachers, social workers etc., all these have a very demanding life, in most cases though they benefit from the companionship and love of a partner. It is good to remember this for there will be the prophets of doom who will say that if a priest is married he will be divided both as regards his time and dedication.

It is calculated that there are around 150,000 thousand married priests in the world. Some of these are still doing pastoral work and serving the people even in spite of the canonical restrictions placed on them as married priests. However they are not allowed to celebrate public masses. Like the disciples in the Gospel mentioned above, these men could be called to help out. Not all married priests will answer this call but there are many who have never lost the spirit of priestly service.
Statistics are statistics and you can’t deny them. In some countries with the situation of the shortage of celibate priests, which due to old age and death will get worse in the not too far distant future, the celebration of the Eucharist will become a rare event. Surely then the most sensible and pastoral decision is to ordain married men and call back to ministry priests who have married. The image of celibate and married priests working together for the good of the Christian community is very powerful.

We have to ask the question , is it more important to demand that the Eucharist can only be celebrated by celibate priests or that it be made available to people frequently by allowing celibate or married priests celebrate it? The document Lumen Gentium says: “The Eucharist is the fountain and center of Christian life”, and Vatican 11 in its document Presbyterorum Ordinis says: “No Christian community can build itself without having its roots and center in the Eucharistic celebration”.

Some will say that where there is a shortage of priests the Eucharist can be substituted by Celebrations of the Word. These Celebrations of the Word are no doubt grace-filled celebrations. The remark was once said though that these celebrations are “Mass, bar the consecration”. This statement is misleading. A Celebration of the Word is not a mini-mass. If Celebrations of the Word are to become more common in the life of the church both the celebrants and the people will need to be prepared otherwise belief in the uniqueness of the Eucharist can be lost with time.
Let the Bishops take heart and with courage seriously consider ordaining married men and calling back to ministry married priests, if we have faith the church will stand to gain from this.

Brian Eyre, catholic married priest, Recife, Brazil
br_eyre@hotmail.com

22 Responses

  1. DOM

    This is a most important article. But, take hope there are already many married priests. Those Anglican Priests who converted to Roman Catholicism and became Roman Catholic Priests and who are married have kept that married state and live with their wives and families. In the Catholic Herald of 8th August 2014 it is reported that one in ten Catholic Clergy were formerly Anglican Vicars. So, married priests form a significant part of the priesthood in the U.K. Anyway, from Apostolic times there was initially no requirement for priests to be celibate, so it only requires a change in the man made rules of the Church to move this forward and ensure the availability of the Eucharist to the ordinary people of God.

  2. Sean O'Conaill

    “Pope Francis has made a call to the Conference of Bishops to take a courageous step and ordain married men, “vir probati” (proven married men). This call should not be forgotten.”

    This is surely a wishful exaggeration of an April 2014 report that the pope had suggested to a Brazilian Bishop, Erwin Kräutler, that “regional and national bishops’ conferences should seek and find consensus on reform and we should then bring up our suggestions for reform in Rome.” (Kräutler to the Tablet, 10th April 2014.)

    That’s far from being a permit to any national conference of bishops to act unilaterally – but it is certainly a clear prompt to all bishops to be discussing the possibility if they have a problem. The Irish Conference of Bishops appears to have turned this invitation down, judging from Bishop Boyce’s letter to the ACP of June 30th:

    “According to the teaching and tradition of the Church, the discipline of celibacy is ordinarily required for ordination to the priesthood in the Latin Rite. Therefore, the proposals suggested at the meeting are not feasible.”

    This seems to amount to a declaration that Irish bishops still don’t believe they are empowered to do any thinking for themselves about the Irish situation, that mandatory celibacy is seen by them as part of core Catholic teaching, rather than a matter of discipline – and maybe that they don’t even read the Tablet or Evangelii Gaudium! The era of Irish RCC collapse is ongoing.

  3. Fr. Kieren

    Can I just correct Brian, as I understand it Francis has not called for the ordination of married men, but rather has suggested that it is for Bishops to begin the discussion. I personally have no problem in ordaining married men to the priesthood, celibacy is after all a matter of discipline and not doctrine. In fact married lay Catholics are already ordained in the Latin Rite every time a former Anglican becomes a Catholic priest, furthermore those in the Eastern Rite of the Church has always ordained married men.

  4. Fr. Kieren

    Hi DOM,
    At present in my own Diocese we have 3 former Anglican priests now serving as Diocesan priests (2 are married), we also have an Ordinariate priest serving in the Diocese, the 3 (now) Diocesan priests are great assets, although only one has children. I often look at the married men in the parish and reflect that some would be wonderful priests!

  5. Darlene Starrs

    Here comes this foreign voice crying in the wilderness again! Any pastoral concern ought to be discussed by the local conferences of Catholic bishops, and suggestions for change, taken to Rome! While the ordination of married men might look like a viable solution to the priest shortage, and possible Eucharistic famine, I doubt very much that such ordinations will turn the tide of the ‘overhaul’ of the Church Institution. Our greater issue, regarding, who, celebrates at Eucharistic, is the felonious belief, that “Christ would not grace women with the vocation, to teach, preach, and sanctify”……God’s “Holy Orders” include women. Without women, the Church continues to miss THE ministerial and evangelical moment!(Ordaining more men, whether married or celebate further strangles, the women’s role as “priest”

  6. Shaun

    Darlene, women can’t be priests as they can’t be Fathers in the spiritual or biological sense and they can’t act in the Person of Christ, just as men can’t be mothers. It’s all part of God’s plan.

  7. Darlene Starrs

    If we were all on the same page with the theology and spirituality of Vatican II, we would be on to creating new forms of Eucharistic celebration. These would be celebrations that were not dependent upon the present priesthood. No one would be frantically looking for married men to ordain, and women would have access to ministerial roles, previously denied.

  8. Michael C.

    Shaun @6
    Please explain to me why women can’t be priests. Please I would love to hear a reason, rather than so & so said so or because i don’t want it or i don’t like it. A logical understandable rational reason please, otherwise I remain convinced that it is misogyny at work, even if unconscious on the part of some.
    When a woman confers the sacrament of baptism or marriage is she not acting in the person of Christ?
    I fear in the not too distant future the issue of the treatment of women in the church now will be looked at in the same way as we now look at how the issue of slavery was dealt with for so long.

  9. Darlene Starrs

    God’s plan, Shaun, is that every baptized woman and man of this universal RC Church, come to such a life in Christ, that we can say with St. Paul…that it is no longer I who live, but, Jesus Christ in me….The Roman Catholic woman’s baptism means that women too are baptized to share in the threefold life of Christ, priest, prophet, and king. I better be acting in the name of person of Christ, otherwise, I have no Christian identity, and mission. With Christ, I am anointed and so with Christ I am sent.
    To believe otherwise, is nonsense….and against Christ…

  10. Shaun

    @ Michael C: Christ took men only as His Apostles. The Church tells us that only men can be ordained as priests. We can argue about this from now to eternity, but the fact is, and it is a fact, the Church tells us that only men can be priests. Why is the authority of the Church not enough? It’s enough for me, and it should be enough for all Catholics. Take note also of the Spousal nature of Christ and the Church, echoed in the male priest in persona Christi serving the female Church. This spousal imagery cannot be reflected in a woman priest and a female Church. Father and Mother – it is written in nature and in the Church, with God the Father as our Father and the Church as our mother, with Christ the Bridegroom Who gave His life for the beloved Church. It just doesn’t work any other way. Women as men, have splendid and wonderful vocations, whatever their state in life. We don’t all need to be priests to please God and fulfil our potential.

  11. Darlene Starrs

    I hope that I sufficiently addressed the suggestion that women cannot act in the name and person of Christ. Further to that, I know there will be people who make a distinction between the priesthood of the baptized and the cultic priesthood. It is my contention, that Christ would and does “vocate” women, to represent him, even as a cultic priest. However, since, as Pope Francis admits, “clericalism” is a problem, I do not believe it wise, to perpetuate a system that requires an overhaul. So, I do not want to put a roman collar on a woman. We have a priest shortage because we, as a entire people have not been able to move forward with the understanding that we are a Eucharistic people. Christ is among us and dwells in us, individually and corporately. We are reminded of this every Pentecost. Christ said, I’m leaving you my spirit to be with you always. As far as I can tell, Christ, the Father, and the Spirit are permitting this so called priest shortage, so that, we come together as a community of equals. Whether we want it or not, whether we understand it or not, Eucharistic celebrations will have to be done differently. We simply cannot say there is a Eucharistic Famine…to say so, is pastoral irresponsibility…We know Christ is Among us….We must look to reforming ourselves. A Father Daly has just written a book, soon to be published, entitled, “The Church is Always in Need of Reform” Excuse me, if I have the title incorrect. Remember too, that prior to Paul, Peter, and so on, preached, the women were the first to spread the good news! Women need to be on the proverbial hillsides, preaching the Good News…If the lamps are lit…they cannot be placed under the bushel baskets….Let Christ Live and Do His Work…God’s life and work, is not gender conditioned!

  12. Darlene Starrs

    Further, as one of the contributors to this website, so very recently said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Now, is the time, for the laity to be called forth, and not about perpetuating a clerical system.” No matter, the way, that the universal RC community assembles to worship, women, will need to be included. Therefore, my emphasis is always on discarding the idea, that Christ would not choose women, for roles that are currently given to the cultic priesthood.

  13. Darlene Starrs

    According to the scriptures, there were 12 men chosen as apostles. Unfortunately, there is far more to the story of who served with Jesus that is left out. As well, whom Jesus, the man, limited by culture, time, and space chose is quite different from the Christ, who left his spirit for all. If we only took our instruction what Jesus did over two thousand years ago, that would be relegating God not acting in the NOW, but, suggesting that God as Jesus was only an historical figure…that is tantamount to heresy……In addition, every soul….is a bride to Christ, whether that soul has a female or male body. If I followed your logic, Shaun…I would have to conclude that only the females of the Church enjoyed the presence of the bridegroom. The espousal experience of Christ cannot be a gender conditioned grace…again, if it were…that would be heresy.

    As well, there are plenty of female images for God the Father, throughout the scriptures, particularly, the old testament….I particularly, like the image of the Father…as a Mother Bear!

  14. Michael C.

    Shaun;
    The problem with the “church” telling us is that the “church” also told us slavery was acceptable. But what or who is “church” is a far more basic question that needs to be answered.
    There is a lot of evidence indicating that women did in fact play a far more involved role in the early Christian communities and their liturgies. We know from the Gospel that they were the first commissioned by christ to bring the good news of resurrection.
    I would suggest that the “spousal imagery” is just that, imagery. Imagery that in my opinion has been carried too far. Using an analogy to attempt to explain something is fine but it is an analogy, not the reality.
    You will very quickly get into all kinds of difficulties if you follow through, the church is the body of Christ, by making an analogy a reality Christ is married to his own body?
    You also ignore the fact that women are valid and legal ministers of sacraments already, baptism and marriage; are they not acting in ‘persona Christi’.
    I remain thinking that cultural, sexist and historical forces are at work carrying on a basically misogynistic agenda in the exclusion of women.
    Michael C.

  15. DOM

    To ensure the availability of the Eucharist to the ordinary people of God should be the prime concern for the future.
    Both the shortage of priests and their increased age profile are well known facts, but it is important to address other aspects of the problem of failure to provide the Eucharist in future years. The response of the Laity to this problem will be a significant factor. Many of the Laity are already taking matters into their own hands. It is known that many Roman Catholics when visiting abroad, often find that there is no Roman Catholic Church in the area. So, they attend the nearest Church, most likely Anglican, and receive the Eucharist there. These people are clearly not prepared to do without the Eucharist. This is a matter which should be taken into account when the Roman Catholic Church is seeking to continue to make the Eucharist available to all Catholics. It is essential that all options must be on the table to make this possible.

  16. Maureen Saliba

    Thank you for a well written article. The subject of celibacy is one the Church needs to reconsider and ultimately change. It is a surprise to no-one that Christ gave the keys to the Heaven to a married man. It is also no surprise that there are married priests in the Catholic Church, therefore it makes so sense that the Eucharist can only be given by a celibate male. Inviting married priest back is a beginning, but what about existing priests, what if they would like to marry? I have seen a lot of discussion about allowing married priests to return, or adapting the Eastern-Rite theology of priests choosing celibacy or marriage before they are ordained. But what about existing priests who long to marry? I pray the unnecessary suffering of many priests, who find themselves in love, will end. Peter was after all our first Pope.

  17. Darlene Starrs

    I am raising a “What If” question…something for contemplation…
    Supposing God’s intention is to first provide opportunity and justice for women….and secondarily to maintain a clerical priesthood, even one that is supported by married priests, ….if the justice for women is dismissed…is any Eucharist…valid?…The Eucharistic meal presupposes that the community is in right relationship to God…I think, a Eucharist that occurs at the expense of justice…is probably null and void
    I don’t know..just a thought

    Further, “The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor”. I’m not convinced that the Lord’s poor would necessarily be those who do not receive communion because of no priest….the Lord’s poor would be those who are deserving of God’s justice…especially on the part of the community.
    Those who want to continue the practice of Holy Communion as we know it…but, also understand that the Eucharist, as Christ, already dwells in us, as baptized individuals and in the Body. No one is going without the Eucharist….in that sense…but, there are certainly members who are going without justice, women, just being one of those groups.
    If there is a famine…I believe…it is because, there is a need…to savour and devour…the manna…as the Word of God. There is no doubt in my mind that Vatican II emphasizes the Liturgy of the Word. Connect ourselves to the whole of the Word of God…and new life..and new direction will be found in Christ….

    Subsequently, we know from the scriptures, that Jesus says…(paraphrased) “before you present yourself or your gift at the altar, if you have something to mend with your brother and sister, go and do that first….

  18. Maire

    Dom@15, please explain, you refer to “the ordinary people of God” Who are those people? I had hoped that we were getting rid of this elitist and exclusive language when referring to The Peole of God.

  19. Shaun

    Darlene @ 13, you said:

    ”As well, whom Jesus, the man, limited by culture, time, and space chose is quite different from the Christ, who left his spirit for all.”

    But Christ was not, as the Eternal Word, constrained by any social norms of the time. Think of how He spoke to the woman at the well. The Christ at the well is the same Christ of today. His choices are for all time.

    Dom @15: The Anglicans do not have the actual Body and Blood of Christ – theirs is only a symbol whilst ours is the Real Presence, the Real Christ in the flesh.

    Michael @14:
    ”I remain thinking that cultural, sexist and historical forces are at work carrying on a basically misogynistic agenda in the exclusion of women.”

    Maybe. Maybe not. But by casting aside the example of Christ, we could displease God Who left His example, which should be enough. Our doubts will be resolved at the Second Coming! In the meantime, we seek to do what He did.

    Darlene @17: Who says it is ‘justice’ that women be priests? What is the justice we deserve? We are sinners, right? God owes us nothing, therefore there is no ‘right’ to priestly ordination, and therefore no injustice in the Church according to the mind of Christ, stipulating who is eligible.

  20. sean eile

    Jesus picked 12 men to reconstitute the 12 tribes of Israel. For him both elements were vital – 12 and men. When the church interfered with one, i.e. increasing the number 12, then it was free to change the other also.

  21. Darlene Starrs

    Shaun…Yes, Jesus of Nazareth experienced limitations…study the Philippians’ Hymn to contemplate how He accepted being emptied of his divinity to take the role of the suffering servant. No, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t perform any of the miracles, but, he did not cling to his divinity. As well, pay close attention to the place in the scripture where Jesus says, “that because there was no faith in Nazareth or Galilee, he could do nothing”.
    You and thousands of others have the right to keep your belief that because, it says in scripture, Jesus chose 12 men, then for all time, only men will be chosen to accompany Jesus, but, such a notion is not divinely inspired, but, is simply the assumption of men who have journeyed very little with Christ into eschatological reality beyond this world…In other words, such a belief comes from darkened minds, not minds, illumined with heavenly light and the mind of Christ.
    We do not give ourselves any authentic vocation….all vocations exist because of Christ dwelling within us…..So, given the existence of a vocation for man or woman…if that vocation is dismissed…the injustice first goes to Christ…then to the person….The Church persecutes Christ every time and for all time… when any vocation in Christ which is denied.
    Further, Jesus of Nazareth experienced limitations, as I say, however, there were a number of times, when he was able to do miracles. Keep in mind, all that He said, and all that He did, was willed by the Father. This was true to Calvary and his death. It was His Father who had the power to raise Him from the dead. Jesus was not going to be able to do this for Himself.
    The choosing of the apostles to walk with him does not suggest that he didn’t choose women to witness and to evangelize. The woman at the well is a classic example of a woman who encountered Christ and then brought others to Him. As I say, it is not a strong enlightenment for the magisterium to suggest, that women cannot be priests because Jesus chose only men as apostles.
    As spirit, Jesus Christ, resurrected free, chooses both male and female flesh to be His body. Any other belief has to be in error, if not, heretical. However, I say again, you are free to believe what you were taught?….The Holy Spirit would have to convict you otherwise. As for me, I say with Father Bernard Lonergan….My life journey with Christ, allows me to say….I KNOW, THAT I KNOW…Further to saying that any dismissal or denial of an authentic vocation is Christ, is a persecution of Christ…It’s His vocation, whether it’s in the flesh of a male or female. Surely, Christ then, does not support injustice…The greatest injustice in human history…was the persecution and crucifixion of Jesus Christ…..

  22. JohnM

    Dear Editor

    I think the plural of “vir” is “viri”