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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dwight Longenecker to be made Priest [Al Kimel] This Saturday

Anglican priests who are married and converting to Rome and being ordained is something that is happening more often these days. I don't think I see it as much here in the UK as they have it happening in the States. Longenecker is to be ordained in two weeks and Al Kimel at Pontifications will be ordained priest this weekend. Our prayers are offered for both as these men begin a whole new way of life in ministry. Below is Longenecker's discussion on married Roman Catholic priests.
Is the Church ready to deal with the question of clergy marital breakdown and divorce? Who will support the widows of clergy? Is the Church ready to provide Catholic education for the large families of married men? While these are real practical concerns, they are red herrings in the larger debate. Non-Catholic denominations accept all of these practical challenges of clergy families and have done so for years. Furthermore, there are many practical problems to clerical celibacy, but this does not mean that we abandon the discipline.

The practical problems of having married priests are not the primary concern. What interests me more are the theological concerns.

When we have married priests, what are we saying about the sacrament of holy orders and the sacrament of matrimony?

The traditional theological understanding is that the celibate priest is “married to the Church.” In an exclusive union, the celibate has given all in loving service to Christ and his Church. This view of the celibate calling does not negate or denigrate Christian marriage. Instead, it reinforces and supports the sacrament of marriage because it reveals to the married the self-sacrificial love and the ultimate union with Christ that is to be at the heart of their nuptial union.

Conversely, those who are married remind the priest of the daily, nitty-gritty demands of the total commitment of love. When a marriage is fulfilled with the gift of children, that gift reminds the celibate priest of all the spiritual children who are born again through his ministry.

In the whole life of the Church, the total consecration of celibate priesthood and the total consecration of marriage complement one another neatly, but can the two ways be held together by one man? How can he give himself totally to both priesthood and marriage? It is impossible — and that is why the Church expects clerical celibacy as the norm. The only way forward is to see that the married priest’s self giving still has to be total; the difference is that his total self giving is expressed through the demands of two complementary commitments.

This will make for real tensions.

When I am ordained, the pressures and demands of the priestly calling will impinge on my family life, and vice versa. There will be times when I will have to say No to a request for priestly ministry, but there will also be times when I will have to say No to some duty at home.

My family and I will need the support and understanding of the community in which we minister. The tensions will be real but I believe that, within the tensions, there will be real growth in grace for all of us. If the theological theory is true, then the self-giving that exists within our marriage should enlighten, inform and strengthen the self-giving that is demanded within the priesthood — and the self-giving of the priesthood should be a constant reminder of the self-sacrifice that is demanded every day within marriage.

Finally, there is a spiritual dimension to a married man serving as priest. In Ephesians 5, St. Paul speaks of marriage. He says, “This is a mystery … but I am speaking of Christ and his Church.”

Each person who is married enters, by that sacrament, a mystery that takes him or her into the heart of the life of the Church. Every priest, through his identification with Christ in holy orders, also enters into a mysterious union with Christ at the very heart of the Church. I hope that, in my own spiritual experience, being both married and being a priest will not be simply a canonical exception to an ecclesiastical rule — but that both sacraments may spiritually work together in my life and the life of my family to draw us ever deeper into the eternal mystery of Christ.

I felt truly humbled and unworthy the day I got married. I feel even more humbled and unworthy as I face priestly ordination. The adventure our family is about to embark on is unusual. The road ahead is full of pitfalls and problems. It is our prayer that this unusual way forward will be blessed with an unusually strong gift of grace.

Only through that gift will we be able to ensure that marriage and holy orders strengthen one another in our lives rather than being a tension that destroys both. As this grace is given, it is our prayer that my priestly ministry will be an unusual gift to both the sacred priesthood and the family life of our Catholic community.

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    O God, most glorious, most bountiful, accept, we humbly beseech thee, our praises and thanksgivings for thy holy Catholic Church, the mother of us all who bear the name of Christ; for the faith which it hath conveyed in safety to our time, and the mercies by which it hath enlarged and comforted the souls of men; for the virtues which it hath established upon earth, and the holy lives by which it glorifieth both the world and thee; to whom, O blessed Trinity (+), be ascribed all honour, might, majesty and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.
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