Providing Meaning

Twelve years ago, on June 30, 2007, I was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. I serve and am incarnated in the Diocese of Rochester. Priests who are incarnated in a diocese are called diocesan or secular priests. Of course, there are also religious priests who belong to a particular religious order like the Jesuits, Franciscans, or Dominicans. Some religious priests serve “in the world” in various roles such as teachers, chaplains, or retreat leaders.

In our diocese, the Jesuits at McQuaid high school would be examples of religious priests who teach. The Redemptorists at Notre Dame Retreat House near Canandaigua would be examples of retreat leaders. We have monks at the Abbey of the Genesee and Mount Saviour Monastery. We have nuns at the Carmelite Monastery in Rochester. We also have the Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of St. Joseph as well as other religious orders who have served as teachers and in parish roles in our our diocese.

As a diocesan priest, throughout my priesthood I have always served in parishes (diocesan priests can serve in other types of assignments). As I think I have mentioned before in previous blog posts, the three things I most enjoy as a priest are presiding at Mass/preaching, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation for people, and teaching.

I enjoy presiding at Mass because I believe the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus through transubstantiation. It is Jesus we receive in Communion. I want to bring Jesus to the people.

I enjoy celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation to help people know of God’s mercy.

I enjoy teaching about our faith because I have a deep desire to help people find “meaning” in our faith. This means helping them understand why we do what we do as Catholics. For instance, I am currently offering a three-part series on the Saints, Our Saints and Intercessors. I do this to help people understand our relationship with the saints and the important distinction that we do not worship the saints as worship is due to God alone. The proper Catholic terminology is that we “venerate” the saints.

After Christmas, I will begin a new series on the Sacraments. The Sacraments are fundamental to our faith as Catholics but I am not sure that many people fully appreciate the Sacraments. They may know there are seven sacraments but can they name them all? Do we appreciate what the Sacraments offer and mean to us? I desire to help people know what the Sacraments mean for us. When we better understanding the meaning of the Sacraments, we better appreciate them.

Meaning is important in our faith. If you follow Catholic news, you know that there is a Synod on the church in the Amazon currently going on at the Vatican. One of the questions that has come up is the question of allowing married priests.

One bishop from the Amazon said that theIndigenous people do not understand celibacy (cf. “Brazilian bishop: Yes, Amazon people can understand celibacy”). I think people don’t understand celibacy because we have failed to provide them with the meaning of celibacy.

Providing the full meaning of “celibacy” is beyond what I hope to address here. What follows is a starting point for it.

First, as I see it, most people who think the Church should allow married priests are not doing it for theological reasons. They are doing simply because there is a shortage of priests. They think that if the church would allow married priests, we would have a lot more priests.

This sometimes begins with the assumption that if the Church was to allow married priests, every priest who left the priesthood would come back. This falsely assumes that every priest who left did so to get married. That is not true.

It also overlooks the fact that other Christian denominations that allowed married clergy have the same shortage problem.

Now, I would imagine that if the Church were to allow married priests, we probably would have more men answering the call to become priests. I also think we would need even more priests.

Why? Availability.

Certainly celibacy is a challenge for priests in not having a spouse as an intimate partner. However, I see “celibacy” also being freeing in the sense of availability.

As a celibate priest, I can be more available with my time. If I had a wife and children, I would want to spend time with them. I would want to go to my children’s (and down the road, grandchildren’s events). That would mean there would be times when I would not be available for emergencies like anointings, meetings, or to offer a sympathetic ear. Can these things still happen with a married priesthood? Yes, but it would take more priests.

So, I do not think that allowing married priests is the quick fix that people are looking for. What we need to is to providing meaning for our faith in general and to provide a meaning for celibacy in a world consumed by sexuality.


Fr. Jeff

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