"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, May 14, 2021

Stupid Ideas about Married Clergy Part MMCCXVII

If asked to rank the most vexatious nonsense one hears regularly talked about married clergy, I would have no hesitation in putting in top place the old self-serving canard that a married man is somehow "divided" in his loyalties and affections, in his duties of service, whereas a celibate man knows no such divisions. This we must call--with all due delicacy and ecumenical sensitivity towards those in the West-Roman patriarchate--the ecclesiology and sacramental theology of biblical illiterates. 

Whenever I hear this "divided" claim, I always ask the following question which always remains unanswered by those whom I interrogate: "How is a married man 'divided' in serving the domestic Church, which is both his family and a fundamental unit of the entire Church? In serving his domestic Church, he is ipso facto serving the body of Christ, is he not?"

It is the shortest essay in my new book, Married Priests in the Catholic Church, "Reflections on Two Vocations in Two Lungs of the One Church," but David Meinzen's essay is one of the most singular and important ever written on this topic, for he demolishes the idea that a married priest, to avoid being "divided," must always put the parish first. Meinzen shows--drawing on his long experience as son of a married Lutheran pastor (Missouri Synod), and then a married Orthodox, and finally and currently a married Eastern Catholic priest--that any man in holy orders who neglects his family to serve his parish is unworthy of both vocations, and does damage to the one he is serving precisely insofar as he is neglecting the other. Put differently, to neglect his family is to serve the broader church badly for there is no real division between the domestic and wider Church: they are all the one body of Christ, and following impeccable Pauline logic, when one part of the body suffers, every part and everybody suffers. The logic Meinzen uses is very similar to what I used more recently in talking about the Christian case for self-care. 

Meinzen goes beyond this to make a positive case: a strong clerical family by that very fact builds up the entire body of Christ, making it stronger as well. In other words, a man living up to his sacramental vocation to marriage, and working to strengthen and protect that marriage and family, is going to be in a stronger position to work to strengthen and protect his equally sacramental vocation to priesthood. Any idea of competition between the two is the grossest of theological mistakes which must be abandoned. 

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