Sunday, June 20, 2010

He said, "The Son of Man must suffer greatly and
be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the
scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised."
Then he said to all, "If anyone wishes to come after me,
he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and
follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose
it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet
lose or forfeit himself? Whoever is ashamed of me and of
my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes
in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the
holy angels.

Luke 9:22-26

Today at Mass I heard what is possibly the worst homily ever, the one that more than any reflects what I consider to be the antithesis of a good homily. The priest who gave the homily is often frustrating and seldom says anything that I would consider good or helpful, but this one was worst by far. It started out okay, a typical "special day" homily for Father's Day that didn't relate to the readings (the whole point of a homily) but wasn't really problematic either. Then it started, the movement from hippy-dippy futility to outright disobedience against the teachings of the Church. The priest started out by saying that he was jealous of fathers for their relationship with their children, and then stated that the Church must allow Latin Rite priests to marry and have families. His point seemed to be, regardless of what the Pope might say, the Church must bend to his will because otherwise it'll be a catastrophe (that seems to be a very common claim by those who advocate the elimination of tradition). Scattered throughout the homily were several glaring errors that diminish the effect of his argument. For one thing, he said that there was a married Anglican minister (he was Lutheran) who was ordained a priest in an action by the Diocese of Camden that he described as a theological turning point (not even close, see below). He also said that the Church would probably not accept married priests in his lifetime (not necessarily true) and that refusing to do so would be the death knell of the Church (not likely).

The first obvious error in the priest's logic is in thinking that married priests are something new or particularly interesting. There have been married priests in Eastern rites under the authority of the Pope since the first millennium, and "Anglican Use" parishes with married ex-Protestant clergy have been in existence in the United States for 30 years. The situation of a Lutheran minister who comes home to the Catholic Church and seeks ordination as a Catholic priest is neither new nor unique, and therefore is not earth-shattering. Clerical celibacy is particular to the Latin rite, and there are many Catholic priests who do not belong to that rite. Another problem with his logic is the idea that the Pope is refusing to speak about celibacy and therefore denying priests something that they desperately need. Celibacy is not a doctrine, it is a discipline and therefore can be changed by the Pope if he so desires. There are many good reasons to continue the discipline, from the devastating financial toll married clergy would have on parishes already struggling to survive to the fact (recognized by St. Paul 2,000 years ago) that celibate clergy can devote more of their time and energy to the parish without having to worry about caring for their families. In spite of this, if the Pope decided tomorrow to end the discipline of celibate clergy it would not be earth-shattering and the Church would continue to exist with few if any Catholics leaving over the change. If that day ever comes the media will make a big deal about how the Church supposedly bowed to secular pressure and abandoned sacred doctrine, mostly because they like to tear down the Church at every opportunity, but they will be wrong.

Another error in the priest's logic is the idea that not allowing married priests will produce a catastrophe that will either destroy or at least seriously damage the Church. The priest in his homily gave no specifics about why the Church "cannot afford not to act," but I have heard various arguments as to why the Church must acquiesce or die. Some people think that allowing married clergy will eliminate the priest shortage, while others believe that doing so will cure the child abuse scandals and ensure that such things don't happen in the future. As for the first argument, there's no reason to think that men would flock to the priesthood if they were also allowed to have sex. The reluctance to accept celibacy is merely a symptom of two larger problems, namely our society's obsession with sex and aversion to discipline and obedience. Men don't avoid the priesthood because they can't accept celibacy, they do so because they want to control their own lives without any obligation or obedience required. Priesthood is about obedience and service, and neither of these things is very popular in our culture. The other argument, that married people and those in acceptable sexual relationships don't "resort" to sexually abusing children, is also quite absurd. There are many married people who abuse children, and in fact many of them abuse their own children which makes it much more difficult to get the victims to come forward. If people think that an abuser's brother priests would be reluctant to turn him in, how much more reluctant would you expect his wife to be? Regardless of whether we have married clergy we will still have a shortage of priests because of the cultural aversion to service, and we will also still have to be vigilant against child abuse because human nature does not change just because a person gets married and has an acceptable outlet for sexual desire.

I would like to think that this disobedience is rare, that most Catholics accept the authority of the Pope and don't make demands like this. However, the loud applause that broke out while this priest was talking makes me think otherwise. What is the Catholic Church if not a group of people who follow the Bible and the teachings of the Church? If we're all just a bunch of free agents who listen when the Pope says what we want to hear and shout him down when he doesn't, then what kind of Church are we? I know that there is a great deal of orthodoxy among those currently in and recently out of seminary, a fact that fills me with optimism for the future. Still, while the "old guard" parish priests are still in authority and the pews are filled with people who clap at blatant disobedience we will have to be careful about what we take from homilies at certain parishes. I am fortunate in that this parish is not my home one, merely a neighboring parish that I occasionally attend, but he is not the only priest who does stuff like this and all but the most conservative of parishes could easily hear the same tired demands.

No comments:

Post a Comment