At a time when Catholicism is under intense scrutiny, the traditions of the male priesthood and celibacy often bear the brunt of secular ire. Father Damian Ference offers not so much a defense of the traditions, but an explanation of why they are both practiced and of utmost importance, especially now.
I am well aware that many Catholics disagree with the Church’s understanding of the priesthood. Many object to the requirement of celibacy, pointing back to a time in the early church when many priests were married. They argue that the requirement of celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma, and that the mandatory discipline of celibacy can be changed. They are right. If the Holy Father wanted to, he could remove the celibacy requirement. But he has not done so.
Others view the Church’s refusal to ordain women as a justice issue and as a violation of women’s rights. They accuse the Church of committing an injustice against women for denying them full participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Here I would say that they are not right. However, from a secular worldview, I will grant that the argument makes perfect sense.
The purpose of this essay, however, isn’t so much to offer a defense of the male celibate priesthood, as much as it is an attempt to highlight two important features of the male celibate priesthood that cannot be denied and that often go unnoticed, by both those who agree with and disagree with the Church’s teaching on the priesthood.
Here is the first: that the priesthood is reserved to men alone highlights the fundamental distinction between men and women. Of course, such a distinction seems obvious at first. Public bathrooms are designated for men and women by signs, symbols and words. My dad is eighty-eight years old and legally blind, and when we go out to eat or to shop, I always have to accompany him to the bathroom door and let him know which one is the men’s room. And even if the bathroom is unisex, I find it portentous that the sign on or next to the door still has a picture of both a man and a woman, not a hybrid of the two. Common sense tells us that men and women are different, that the distinction between male and female is a natural one...
Today's first reading from 1 Samuel offers the culmination to an Old Testament story of ecclesial corruption. Father Steve's homily offers a comparison to our current age, drawing our attention to the biblical means by which God acts to bring about renewal in His Church.
Since Monday the Church has presented these marvelous scripture passages from the first Book of Samuel.
The story presents not just the early life of one of Israel’s most formidable prophets, but the story of Israel itself, beset by troubles, particularly the corruption of its religious leadership.
As the people languish, the corruption of Israel’s priests is met by the power of God who acts to bring about change through the birth of a child. This child would be given over to the service of the Lord’s sanctuary and would, as an adult, initiate the great events that would lead to the kingdom of David.
Today we hear about what the depth of the corruption of Israel’s priests brings upon Israel. The Israelites are delivered into the hands of their enemies, and the Ark of the Covenant is lost.
Among the dead are the sons of the high priest Eli, the priests Hophni and Phinehas.
Eli’s corruption was that knowing of the crimes of his sons, he did nothing. Now, his sons are dead, and Israel has been shamed before the world.
The scripture that follows includes the damning detail that when the priest Eli hears of the deaths of his son, he falls over backward, and because of his immense girth, breaks his neck and dies.
The resonance of today’s scripture to our own times and circumstances is uncanny...