And A New Baby Makes “Circumdata Varietate” Come to Life!

St. Thomas Aquinas once said the church is “circumdata varietate”, that is, surrounded by variety, a variety bound by charity and truth that only the faithful can see clearly. (Behold the image I used, the old and the new together in service to God’s Church!)

Controversy is abounding again the Roman Catholic Church where Pope Francis is looking at whether they should ease its policy of celibacy for priests, a 1,000-year-old precedent. Mind you, this is not doctrine, just practice and can be changed with the consent of the Holy Father. A Vatican document has called on the church to consider the far-reaching move as a way to overcome the shortage of clergy in the Amazon region and to try and fill empty seminaries worldwide, as vocations are at an all-time low. As aging priests retire, there are few to take up their place.

A recent survey found that almost 9 in 10 Catholics wanted priests to be allowed to marry. Some have argued that celibacy may contribute to the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by priests, although others point out that many pedophiles and abusers are not celibate. And, our brothers and sisters in the Eastern and Oriental Catholic Churches have continued to allow priests to marry and have thrived. And all protestant churches allow for married clergy.

The tradition of priestly celibacy developed into a practice from the 11th century onward among Latin Church Catholics and became a formal part of canon law in 1917. But, until then almost all were married with families, including St Peter himself.  

Although the proposals to be considered by the Vatican concern the ordination of married men in specific communities, the opening up of debate at the highest levels of the church will boost those arguing for a general relaxation of the celibacy rule. However, the possibility of such a profound change to almost a millennium of tradition is causing great angst among conservatives, even though the almost 300 married Roman Catholic Priests have continued to serve their communities well. (Most were Anglican and then incardinated (transferred ecclesiastically) into the Latin Church, but maintain their vows to their wives and children.)

This recommendation is being discussed at a synod of bishops from the Amazon taking place at the Vatican and a working document for the event says the possibility of ordaining “viri probati”  – Latin for “men of proven virtue” – should be discussed.

Pope Francis has previously said that he would be open to allowing married men to be ordained in areas where there is a scarcity of priests, while maintaining the requirement for most priests to be celibate. He has also spoken about “allowing space for women in the church at all levels”.

This past Friday, I was surrounded by my family and friends as Katelyn took my name. I worked hard for the church before that day, and I am still working hard after; nothing has changed as I remember the wise words of my mentor, Father Henry Kryder,“James, always remember that God will never ask you to give up one covenant to make another!” And, so God has been good to me and allowed me to live a life fulfilled, and still a life of service. And it’s a sacrificial life, one my whole family lives, my new wife probably most of all. Yes, she recognizes that our life together calls for Katelyn to also give up many things being my spouse, but we entered willingly into this covenant knowing that I will still be a priest and she will still be a nurse, and that together, we can still serve and love, too.

Now, to be clear, there are a few who believe that calls to change the discipline of celibacy are forgetful of what the church calls the “spiritual fruit” of celibacy, something largely incomprehensible in this libertine age, but which is nonetheless still true and essential to the work of the church. I can understand that view. But, for me, being in a relationship of love has certainly helped my priesthood, and my emotional wellbeing, as I have gained insights and sympathies gained as both husband and soon to be father! (Yes, coming by next summer, we are pleased to tell everyone that we will all meet our new son, Jameson Michael, and while I have been called ‘Father’ for many years now, I will soon hear the words my heart has so long for…‘Dad’!) Applause, please!

I know that there will always be very few, of course, who will refuse to accept me. Hardened idiosyncratic traditionalists who think they know better than the tradition itself and call me a heresy. This of course is nonsense if you knew the history of the church. But I am prepared to hear and feel their stings, something – sadly – I am accustomed to. Most of the time, however, people see me as some sort of ‘agent of change’, that proverbial thin edge of some wedge to a more enlightened, more modern Catholic church. The uncomfortable truth is this: Laity have no real idea of what the priesthood entails, and most priests, sadly, have no real idea of what married family life brings to bear on the average couple sitting in their pews. I have the luxury of knowing both; I pray it will help us all grow into a better, loving and accepting community.

Even before my own marriage this past weekend, I have openly stated my favor to the ordination of married men to the priesthood. Now, I am not opposed to the celibate priesthood in the Church, but I simply believe that the Church benefits from having both. Some are called to be celibate, others are not; why not just let the Holy Spirit guide and choose and call. We have other work to do!

The next time you see me, or another married priest, think about the sacrifices he made for what he believes to be the truth. Think about our Christian unity, not just focus on the ‘change’. That’s what I pray people will think of when they see me and my family. And that my job simply is to be as good as I can be at those titles of father, husband, priest, and faithful Catholic, as I can be. I know that I will both succeed, and I will fail at it every day; probably more times than I can count, just like you.

Perhaps, we should simply be more intent on listening; something we don’t do well as human beings anymore. God may – just as He has in my life – be calling us all to something new and wonderful!

One Response to “And A New Baby Makes “Circumdata Varietate” Come to Life!”

  1. Mary Ann says:

    OMG. CONGRATULATIONS! You made my heart sing. I was having a down kind of day until I read this wonderful news. God will bless the three of you, this I know. I also know that Tucker couldn’t rest until he was sure everything was in place for you. So happy for all 3 of you and our parish!

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