Constricting the Lord's generous gifts
I WAS SURPRISED IO read that Fr Kit Cunningham (Charterhouse Chronicle, Catholic Herald, I I August) considers that the bishops (with the approval of the Vatican) have "lessened the value of celibacy as a hallmark of the priesthood" by allowing the ordination of married convert Anglican clergy. His argument is not easy to follow.
There is an excellent precedent for the course of action adopted by the hierarchy. We know that at least one married man, St Peter, was invited to the Last Supper and given the power to celebrate the Eucharist by Jesus, while St Paul saw no problem in a possible candidate for bishop being a married man. In the New Testament, the vocation to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is presented as a completely separate calling, a unique vocation in its own right, given only to certain individuals: "It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted," (Matthew 19/11). St Paul also sees it as an invitation issued to certain individuals by God, certainly not to be forced on anybody: "I should like everyone to be like me (ie celibate), but everyone has his own panicular gifts from God, one with
a gift for one thing, another with a gift for the opposite."
In subsequent history, the Church eventually combined the two vocations together for priests of the Latin rite, and it has remained so until our day. But one can hardly speak of celibacy as being the "hallmark" of the priesthood without somehow downgrading the priesthood of St Peter, the clergy of the Eastern Church, et alia.
The bishops should be praised for their flexible attitude to this law of the Western Church, an attitude rooted in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, motivated, not as Fr Cunningham would have us believe, by a shortterm answer to the present shortage of priests, but rather as a means of gladly accepting as a gift for the Catholic Church in our country the pastoral experience and special charism of these converts.
A Church which excluded all exceptions to its laws would no doubt be neater, more orderly, and easier to run, but would it not thereby run the risk of constricting the Lord's generosity when he has new and exciting things in store for us?
Fr Vincent O'Toole Rome