Friday, March 17, 2017

The Devil's Playbook. Or Why the World is Winding Down

There is warranted concern on the part of some that we can't say that the state of things in the United States means that the world, through all of history, might be winding down to its conclusion.  That can sound prideful on our part to make such a statement: "Because things are bad around me, the world must be ending" certainly sounds as if a person has an unhealthy belief about themselves in relation to the center of the universe.

That being said, however, we do well to look at the TYPE of assaults on God coming from our nation and the first world.

(There was news yesterday that Chinese scientists have found a way to "scrub" human dna in an embryo of "imperfections"...and some scientists around the world have admitted to blending human embryos with animal DNA)

I submit that you will not find MORE theologically revealing chapters of Scripture than the first three chapters of Genesis.  

Let's look, broadly, at what God does, and the order that God does it:

1) "Let us make man in our (the Trinity's) image and likeness" (Genesis 1:26)

2) "Created male and female" (Genesis 1:27)

3) Establishment of marriage (Genesis 2:24: That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.)


These three things, established in the very beginning of Genesis, in a particular order, are the most foundational aspects of humanity.  God doesn't do things out of order.


If you are going to try to attack God's creation because you can't actually attack God Himself, you would work to peal off the layers of God's work.  

And throughout the history of humanity, outer layers of God's creation have been assaulted.  His Church has been persecuted, people have abused the poor, slaughtered millions through war, etc.


These last three layers, mentioned above, have not been attacked, EVER, until the past 2-3 years

Voltaire, who certainly played the part of antichrist quite expertly, whilst celebrating his black Mass of mockery in the Cathedral of Notre Dame at the height of the French Revolution whilst people were being murdered by the thousands each day...Voltaire would have never imagined 

1) that two men could marry one another
2) that men, if they believed it emphatically enough, might be women
3) that it might be possible to go in and alter human dna in a human embryo such that a human being would then be made in OUR image and likeness

That all three of these most fundamental truths have been assaulted and violated within the last three years in the United States and in the first world cause me to believe that although we will never know "the day nor the hour" that the world will come to its rapid and immediate conclusion, we might be able to take a pretty good guess at the month or at least the year

Monday, March 13, 2017

Married Priest Part 2

As a sort of follow up to my previous post, I think, as Canonist Ed Peters points out, a question that needs answering not just by Pope Francis, but by the Church in general in response to moves made by the LAST TWO popes as well is, to put it crassly, can permanent deacons, married priests (permitted by JP II and Benedict XVI) have sex with their wives?

Canon 277.1 says, clearly, NO

So do all of these (just some of many quotes from our tradition that say NO as well)

The bishops declare unanimously – “it pleases us all that bishops, priests and deacons, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.”
If priests do not behave as if they had no wife, they will be rejected from ecclesiastical duty.
Conciliae Africae a.345-525 ed. by C Munier in Corpus Christianorum, Servus Latina 149 (Turnhout, 1974):13

And this

Council of Elvira in the 4th century:
“It has seemed good absolutely to forbid the bishops and priests and deacons to have sexual relations with their wives and procreate children; should anyone do so, let him be excluded from the honor of the clergy.”
Hermann Theodor Bruns, Canones Apostolorum et Conciliorum sae. IV-VII, 2 (Berlin, 1839): 5-6

And this:
Pope Leo the Great in 456:
“Once ordained what had been permitted is not so. That is why, in order for their union to change from carnal to spiritual, they must, without sending away their wives, live as if they did not have them.”
Jaffe, 544. PL 54, 1159

and this:
St. Jerome: "In his “Treatise Vigilantum” in 406 – “Ministers of the altar must live in perfect continence.”
Stickler, The Case for Clerical Celibacy, 39

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Why I might be with Pope Francis on this married priest thing

I first read an article on this topic last year that mentioned a possible topic for the next synod being married priests.  After the ongoing disaster in the wake of the previous synod, I read up figuring I needed to steel myself for another potential uproar

Married men being ordained priests is not the topic of the next synod as the synod steering committee voted it down.  The next topic will be on youth and young adults.

Pope Francis made comments this week, though, that signaled he's open to talking about the issue and exploring it.

A couple of things to know:

1) There are already married men who are priests.  In the Eastern Catholic Church, married men are allowed to be ordained.  Click here to read the story

2) Pope Benedict, in allowing entire parishes of Anglicans to become Catholic, has permitted all Anglican priests who jump ship to become Catholic priests.

3) John Paul II set up a way where any married protestant minister who converts to Catholicism can be, at the bishop's discretion, a Catholic priest

So we ALREADY have married priests.  Celibacy is not a doctrine, it is a discipline, meaning something that the Church has done not because God required it in law, but because it is viewed to be helpful and beneficial.  When something is a discipline, it doesn't have to be that way.

Other important notes:

1) What is being discussed is not priests getting married.  It will always be the case that once a man is ordained, he will not be allowed to GET married after ordination

2) Women will not ever be priests.  Here's a helpful and compassionate explanation from Jason Evert:

3) What is being discussed is whether men who are of good reputation in the parish/diocese might be brought forward to be ordained as a priest

4) Priests serve only in the place of the bishop and at the bishop's request.  If we had an Archbishop right now, he could call me tomorrow and tell me that I am not allowed to say Mass.  Or he could call me and say that I can say Mass but not preach.  He could take away my ability to hear confessions.  I would still be and always will be a priest, but the Bishop has full control over what types of ways I can put my priesthood to use.

In fact, it was the case in times past in the US that when you were first ordained you might only be given the ability to say Mass, and then, after a time if you were found worthy of preaching, the bishop would grant you that faculty, and then he might or might not also grant you the faculty to hear confessions.  

SIDE NOTE: I wish we would go back to that ASAP.  Some of the preaching we unleash on the people of God is scandalous, and most people would be better off in those circumstances NOT having a homily or having the horrible preacher read a sermon of the week from the bishop or a Church father or saint.  

After spending 3 years now over two parishes, a prison, and a university, this idea of possibly ordaining men priests and letting them utilize SOME of the faculties of the priesthood makes sense.  

1) Celibacy is SUPER important, and I think because it is the norm, there is a great deal of respect in our larger culture for priests even AFTER the horrible abuse crisis.  I just experience it on a day in and day out basis.  People think of Catholic priests differently and look at priests differently, and almost always in a good way. 

Fr. Guy Mansini, one of my profs in the seminary, drove home the point that I agree with wholeheartedly: "Men, the number one reason for celibacy is that it is a CONSECRATION, a marking and a setting apart for service"

Celibacy is NOT done so that priest labor is cheaper, it is not done so that a priest can work longer is done first of all as a consecration, and again, I see that people (Catholic and non-Catholic) look at priests as set apart for a particular mission, and that even most non-Catholics, in certain situations, are happy to have a priest around and even approach him in times of need.

In the Eastern Catholic Church, married men can be priests, but bishops can only come from the celibate clergy.  Whatever steps are taken, it is important to ensure that celibacy is still treasured and kept

2) I think ordaining guys FROM a parish to serve at the same parish is a bad idea, particularly if these men are given the faculty to preach.  A prophet is not welcome in his native land.  One of the LAST places I'd ever want to be assigned is my home parish, and I love the people there.  

It also takes a LOT of preparation and formation to be a good preacher.  You could teach a person to pray the Mass in a few months (mechanically speaking...hold your hands hear...move here...raise the host at this time...) but preaching is a whole other thing.  I would submit that a lot of the seminary academic work over 6-8 years has, as a primary goal, preparing men to preach well, or to at least not preach heresy. 

Some will surely say here that there are horrendous celibate priest preachers, and I agree.  I've been a victim of bad preaching as much as anyone else.  I am sure, as well, that some people in the parish ARE formed enough in theology, through their own study, and are good enough communicators to preach the Truth of Christ very well, even exceptionally.

I still think, though, that if married men were ordained, their ability to preach should be severely limited, and they should somehow have to prove their readiness in a much more rigorous way than is currently being done with our priests and permanent deacons.

3) I also think "ad orientem" Mass would be SUPER important if the priest were a local married man.  The point of Mass where the priest is not facing the people but instead all the people are facing, in expectation, liturgical East, is not so that the priest can have his own private devotion of Mass and exclude people, it is so that the people don't have to look at the priest.  The facial expressions of the priest shouldn't matter.  The identity of the priest, particularly a local man from the parish, would need to veiled so that people can focus on the Eucharist itself.  

Concluding thoughts:

1) It seems that perhaps, in the US at least, celibate priests would continue to be pastors overseeing the parishes, so that the local married man who would be ordained to help would serve in sacramental assistance but not have to worry about also "pastoring" (meetings, budget, marriage prep, finance council) etc.  

In my particular situation, I feel like I could probably be the pastor of several parishes if there was just sacramental help - i.e. other people who could celebrate Mass for me.  Five Masses on the weekend at two parishes 30 minutes apart is just not sustainable.  

I used to think that what should happen as the number of celibate clergy continue to decline is that parishes then should only have Mass every other week or once a month like the rest of the world.  

But is keeping intact a discipline of the Church worth people not having access to the Eucharist weekly?  Is keeping a discipline of the Church worth denying a lot of African Catholics Mass but a few times a year because there are so few celibate priests there (as with South America/China/India...and more and more the US)?

I don't think it is worth keeping intact a discipline that is already not followed in every case anyways.  

If you would have told me I would ever write that sentence five years ago, I wouldn't have believed you

We'll see where the Spirit leads the Church on this issue.


1) People aren't properly understanding what is being proposed in this realm of married priesthood.  What IS generally being proposed is that an older man in the parish would be ordained to say Mass and help with other sacraments while likely working in the world still (It might be possible for such a "Masser" to also get a job at the parish as, say, a director of religious education)

If you are 18 and considering the priesthood, you are still going to choose the standard path of celibate priesthood because the ONLY other option under what's being discussed is for that 18 year old to say "Instead I am going to get married, have children, wait until they are grown, and when I'm in my late 50's or 60's HOPE that the bishop might consider me becoming a priest who has limited faculties"

2) As the ALWAYS insightful canonist Ed Peters points out, Canon 277.1 still has to be reckoned with, which says "Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence"

What is "perfect and perpetual continence"? A cleric is to not have sex any more with his wife.  This goes for permanent deacons and married priests.  I haven't heard anything discussed about this with regard to this topic.

From what I've read on celibacy, this WAS happening in the early Church amidst married men being ordained priests.  It was apparently fairly common for wives of men coming forward to be priests to join a convent.

So while there have been married priests and married deacons going back to the beginning, Canon 277.1 has been in play as well.  I'm not sure if that is being lived out among married priests, nor do I assume that is being lived out among our permanent deacons either.  

The question I have here is not how would a move like married priests CHANGE Canon 277.1 but rather how have the steps that have already been taken in the East and West with married priests, and in the West with permanent deacons been done WITHOUT addressing, as far as I'm aware, Canon 277.1

Thursday, March 9, 2017

"Kristin Lavransdatter" vs. "Better Call Saul"

I'm looking forward to lots of things in April.  Holy Week.  Easter.  Time with family.  Spring.  The third season of Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul is a wonderful show that I've really come to love.  It is the prequel to the wildly successful and very poignant Breaking Bad series.  
The series has awesome cinematography, acting, story, etc.  The gist of the show is exploring the interaction of two brothers.  Chuck is the eldest son.  Chuck is the cold and overachieving perfectionist, but we learn that he got that way partly because his mother loved his younger brother better.

Jimmy is the younger brother.  He's the life of the party, cuts corners, and has too much fun.  The show makes the case that he kind of got that way trying to win his cold brother's affection.

In essence, both are kind of messed up because of their "family dynamics", which is certainly a term that is more commonplace today thanks to the rise in pop-psychology.  More people are aware of the fact that our family relationships, notably to each of our parents and each of our siblings, has great effect on us.

It has certainly become en vogue these days to say something along the lines of "my family messed me up" and to believe that this understanding of family relationships is something we just stumbled across in the late 1960's.


I just finished this week an amazing Catholic novel Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset.  I stumbled across the novel and author whilst looking up lists of great Catholic novels when someone had asked for recommendations.   I had never heard of the author, and so I did what any rational human being does, I bought 5 of her books off of Amazon!

Kristin Lavransdatter is Undset's most acclaimed work, having garnered a Nobel Prize for literature in 1928.  Undset was a Norwegian living at the beginning of the 20th century, and she converted to Catholicism despite great societal and family protest.  She was received into the Church in 1924.

Permeating throughout Kristin Lavransdatter is an intense awareness of family dynamics as well - an almost constant recognition throughout the entire life of the heroine that her mother liked her sister better, that her father liked Kristin better, when Kristin becomes a mother, she likes some of her sons better at stages throughout her motherhood.  She also recognizes that her husband likes some of his sons better than others. And on and on.

I was struck by how evenhanded all of these preferences were dealt with in the novel.  Although there were preferences that family members had for each other, no one acted like it destroyed their lives.  Kristin didn't throw herself on a fire or run off and rebel and drink herself into an oblivion because her mom was closer to her sister.  

It seems like the different relationships stemming from family dynamics really only have the power to crush people that aren't aware that not every relationship in a family system is going to be the same.  

If you know there are just going to be personality types that are attracted to each other, then you can take it much more easily that your mom is closer to one of your siblings or that your sister likes one of her siblings more than you. It's just life.   Undset got that.  

Often times we can be tempted to think that no one prior to 1960 had any valuable or worthwhile psychological knowledge, but Undset, in her 100 year old novel, suggests that past generations knew that relationships can't all be the same.  Perhaps it even proves that some people prior to 1960 understood this point BETTER than some of us do today. 

Family dynamics and relationships and preferences do shape us.  Hopefully we can see them and move forward as the characters do in Kristin Lavransdatter as opposed to having those relationships be as catastrophic as they appear to be for the two central characters in Better Call Saul