Jesus asked Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter replied: “Yes, lord , you know that I love you”. Jesus said: “Take care of my sheep”.
There are those who say that if a priest marries his time and attention given to Our Lord will be divided. Yet in this dialogue above, Our Lord who knows that Peter is married, for he cured Peter’s mother-in-law, calls him to serve others.
Recently Cardinal Kasper said that if the Bishops ask for married priests, Pope Francis will accept this request.
Do I hear the prophets of doom saying this won’t work? That married priests will bring about the end of the church? that we must respect tradition?
I know many fine lay men, married and with a family who have a secular job. They are able to reconcile all this and still have time for pastoral work. Their love for their wife and children does not stand in their way of their love for the church.
When Our Lord asked Peter if he loved Him more than these, who were the “these” that Our Lord was referring to? They were Peter’s wife, his children, his mother-in-law and the other members of the early church.
If priests can marry then no doubt the parish will have to go through a big reorganization and structure. First of all the priest who marries will have to make a big change in his life-style. He will have to take on a secular job to support his wife and children and organize his time for his pastoral work. For if you marry then you are responsible for the well-being, the care and support of your wife and children and not look to the parish to take on what is your responsibility. He could receive stipends for his religious service but the bulk of his income should come from his salary which he earns from his secular job. This will mean that seminary training will have to change radically for in general the seminary does not prepare anyone for a secular job.
After getting married I had three different jobs. My first job was teaching English as a foreign language in a Language School. This job entailed preparing every single class even before I put my foot inside the classroom. Teaching is not like a liturgical rite which never changes, teaching demands great time, effort and creativity.
My second job was as a driver of a van delivering heavy parcels of newspapers to newspaper shops during the night and early hours of the morning working from midnight to 8 o’clock in the morning when I would go home to bed.
My third job was that of a waiter in a soup kitchen for the poor. My job was to serve the poor who came in for a cheap meal and after serving the tables to sit down and listen to their stories of their hard life. These jobs were both physically and emotionally draining and yet I had to go home to my wife and children and give them all my love, time and attention and still find time for pastoral work.
There is no mention of Peter’s wife in the Bible except that Our Lord cured Peter’s mother-in-law. Peter was a strong character who must have benefitted from the presence and companionship of his wife who supported him in his ministry. At a clergy meeting in Brazil, my Bishop said to the priests: “If you marry, choose well”.That was way back in the 1970’s but today I see the wisdom in my Bishop’s words for thanks to my wife I am what I am today. I do know of a few married priests whose marriage was a disaster, they married the wrong person which can happen to anyone and so if we have married priests we will have married priests who are separated from their wives but this is not a reason not to change the discipline of celibacy.
If we truly believe that the Eucharist is essential to a community, that you cannot build community without the Eucharist then married priests should be seriously considered in the light of the fact that the average age of our present day clergy is very high and the numbers of those entering the seminary has fallen drastically in some countries.
In this discussion on married priests we should consider above everything else the good of the People of God and remember the words of Our Lord: “Do this in memory of me”. He wants a church with the Eucharist and this can be celebrated by celibate and married priests.
Brian Eyre – Married Catholic priest – Tralee, Ireland 7thJune 2019