Monday, October 8, 2018

Renewing My Marriage Vows to the Church

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one ”

9 years and 4 months ago, I lay face first on the floor of our Cathedral in Indianapolis as the choir and people chanted the litany of the saints.  I then rose up off the floor, went up to the Archbishop of Indianapolis, who asked me if I intended to make promises to him and all of his successors.  The promises were then spelled out.

Diocesan priests, in a very real sense, marry the Church.  We call priests fathers, and so they are supposed to be.

And that is one of many reasons that stories of priestly abuse rip people apart.  It is marital adultery marital betrayal.  It isn’t the local politician or the person who heads up the local social club betraying my trust, when these crimes happen, the pain is 1,000 times worse because it was done by people we called Father.  Dad.

Some very understandably then, in the face of these scandals, have wondered if the priest- to-parish structure itself isn’t fundamentally broken?   The question can be asked and discussed, and I certainly have no problem with that, but I would say that from where I stand and what I’ve seen, the priest being the Father is a good model.

We had the reading several weeks ago from St. Paul that had the words “wives be submissive to your husbands…husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church”

Some husbands (and some PRIESTS) have completely and wrongly used that to mean that a husband or priest is supposed to dominate his wife or the parish, or worse.  But for the 100th time, how did Christ love the Church…he DIED for her. 

Is there toxic masculinity in our world – without a doubt.  But the answer is authentic masculinity, not a ridding the world of ALL masculinity.  Sacrificial masculinity. “Dying to self” masculinity.  “Laying down one’s life for one’s family or parish” masculinity. 

So what does it mean to be the sacrificial head of a family – in my mind it means that maybe once or twice a year there is something that comes up that is big, there is gridlock, and a decision has to be made.  Consensus, discussion, negotiation have been exhausted.  In those moments that come up once or twice a year, a pastor has to pray and decide.  And I know from talking to so many friends, siblings, parishioners etc. who are in successful marriages (and lots of pastors of parishes) that you get one or two of those a year.

I think having the priest, at crucial and hopefully rare moments, make decisions, carries more credibility because it is the person that also buried my friend, brought me communion, anointed me when I was sick, came to the sports contest, gave up a wife and kids to be at this place, answered the emails, taught the classes, etc. – having a board make decisions for a parish might be the way things go down the road – and I would still happily be a priest, but I also know there are lots of churches in the US that are run by boards of parishioners, and the problems seem to be different than ours but the problems seem to be equally challenging.

And so tonight, since you were not there 9 years and 4 months ago, I want to renew my vows to you the Church, but I want to use the vows that are used at a wedding instead, that you might know that despite what is happening or has happened elsewhere, I am here for you

Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourself

I Fr John Hollowell reaffirm and renew my commitment to be the pastor of  Annunciation/St. Paul’s
I promise to be faithful to you.  In good times and in bad.  In sickness and in health.  To love you
And honor you All the days of my life.  Amen.

A spiritually sick parish is focused on the priest or something else besides Jesus Christ.  This parish is not focused on the priest.  It is focused on Jesus Christ.  The reason I renew my vows to you tonight is that in case you are shaken in your Faith now or in the future, I want you to know that I, as a man, have laid down my plans, my desires, and my life for you.  And I have never been happier.  “In giving we receive, in dying we are born to eternal life” as St. Francis says.  I could never count up all the blessings that have come to me by being a pastor of this parish.

It may be that Catholic parishes of the future are run by boards of parishioners and that the model of priests choosing to lay down their life in marriage to the Church will no longer be the case, or more rare.

But one of the things that the Church says about marriage between a husband and a wife is that marriages, when we look at them even from the outside – they show us how God loves us – he has wed himself to us.

What the future holds for how the Church is governed and led, no one knows.  In the meantime, I hope that in my marriage to the Church, and thus to you as well – I hope that although I am very much imperfect… that something of what I’ve done in my marrying the Church ALSO provides some insight into how God approaches us and loves us through his Son who laid down everything to save us.

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one ”

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