Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why priestly celibacy (part 1)

Dear Rev. Know it all,
My wife, Anny, who has left the Church, does not believe in priestly celibacy. I tried to explain that the role of the priest requires total service, and if he had a family, it would not be fair to the congregation the priest oversees, nor to that priest's family. She said that because deacons can do just about everything priests can do, except the 5 sacraments only priests can do (Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick), why can deacons be married and not priests? I wasn't sure how to answer this. Can you help?
Mr. E. Z. Wayout

Dear Mr. Wayout,
Your wife doesn’t believe in priestly celibacy. I’m not sure that believe is the right word. I don’t believe in celibacy either. I believe in Jesus, and Jesus has asked me to practice celibacy, so I do. It’s a sacrifice He asked me to make for the sake of His Bride, the Church. He asked St. Paul to make that sacrifice, and He Himself made the same sacrifice when he lived in Galilee, 2,000 years ago. And believe me, it is a sacrifice. It becomes more and more sacrificial as I grow older. The sacrifice is not that I don’t have “intimate relations” (I try to keep this a family column). The sacrifice is that there are fewer and fewer people in this world to whom I am close, as people die or become distant.
At an age when people are bouncing grandchildren on their knees, and some randy old goats are bouncing a second or third batch of their own children on their knee, thanks to wife #2 and wife #3. Instead of being involved with family, I am facing the homestretch being involved with absolute strangers who think that there is an evil spirit in their computer hard drive or some such nonsense. (Even as I write, I can hear some of my confreres grumbling that I should be highlighting the positive.) We have the joy of such a large parish family that loves us so dearly, and I must admit that many of my parishioners have become very dear to me. It is true that we are loved by a lot of people and I am very appreciative of them, but I don’t always like their great grandmother’s recipe for boiled guava bark which they insist on making me try and watching me as I eat every last crumb.
I can hear people saying, “You know, Father, my home is your home. You’re always welcome to come over and relax.” Face it. Home is where you can scratch where it itches. If I come over to your house, pop open a beer and flop down in your Lazy-Boy to watch the TV, wearing nothing but my bathrobe and boxers you would probably have me arrested and end up joining the Episcopalian Church which is reputed to have a more refined fashion sense. The great struggle of most women is to get their spouses to wear more and cleaner clothing, at least when company comes over. With your own family you’re nothing special. A priest, however is always “on.” I have rarely been invited to anyone’s home where I don’t end up talking to some relative who is going through a crisis. I’ve actually had people run next door to get the neighbors who need to talk to a priest while I am struggling to get down the last bit of boiled guava bark. I usually can’t wait to get back to my lonely rectory where I can strip down to my bathrobe and boxers, open a beer and watch the TV.
“Boy,” you’re probably thinking “is this guy bitter.” I’m not. I like being a priest, but it’s a sacrificial way of life if you do it right. It’s supposed to be sacrificial. Christianity is sacrificial and therein lies your wife’s problem. She is not looking for Christ. He’s found on the cross. She’s looking for a good deal. Those are found at the mall.
I imagine your wife is reading the catalogue of woes I have just recited and is saying, “See. Celibacy is a bad idea! The clergy should be married and then they wouldn’t have all those problems.” No, they would have other problems. I have a friend who came into Catholicism later in life. He knows lots of ministers, their kids and has actually dated a preacher’s daughter saying, that he’s never met a clergyman’s wife or children who are actually happy. I’m sure there are preachers’ wives and kids somewhere who are happy, but for the most part, the sacrifices the clergy are expected to make have a way of spreading out to their wives and children, who end up living in the same display case that their clerical fathers (or mothers) have to endure.
I wonder if your wife has thoroughly investigated the church she claims to have left? I wonder if she knows that there are lots of married Catholic priests. There are millions of Eastern Catholics, just as Catholic as members of the Roman Rite. They listen to the pope. They love the Blessed Mother and the Communion of Saints. They believe what Jesus and Paul taught about the Real Presence and the Mass. They have the whole Bible, not just Martin Luther’s Reader’s Digest version of it, but, wonder of wonders, they have parish priests who are usually married! It is also becoming a little more common for Protestant ministers after joining the Catholic Church to become Catholic priests. So Catholic priests, under some circumstances, are married even in the Latin Rite of the Church.
The priests of the Latin Rite, such as myself, are generally celibate. Why? Most people think it’s a political-social convenience, and as you point out, it does make the sacrifices of ministry easier in some ways. I served thirty years in the worst neighborhoods, and certainly wouldn’t have done so if I’d had a wife and kids to worry about. Some people theorize that too many medieval priest were handing down their parishes to their children and besides if a priest doesn’t have to support a wife and kids it’s cheaper for the parish. I don’t think these are the real reasons for celibacy. Actually, married clergy are a good deal for a church. Protestant church hiring committees prefer hiring married clergy. It’s a two-fer (two for the price of one). They pay the minister and his wife works her tuchus off for free, doing the bake sales, the lady’s auxiliary etc. I wonder if, now that there are so many Protestant clergy women, that their husbands are expected to bake cookies. Where was I? Oh yes, Why?
To be continued...

Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Will my late husband know me in heaven?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
My husband died 17 months ago and I still have trouble dealing with it. I was sixty-one. I work (which is good) but at night I think and think and think!! Is my husband in heaven .. or will heaven be on earth. Therefore is he just devoid of any consciousness (asleep in Christ)? I want my husband to be aware of me and remember I was his wife on earth. And when I get to heaven, I don't want him to love everyone just the same as me. I want to be special to him, and our kids special. He can love everyone, but not the same!! Otherwise, what were we married for? Am I just supposed to forget he existed on earth and move on to the next????? I am so unhappy.

Dear Eve, 
I am so sorry for you. You are asking two separate questions. I think the Bible and the Faith answer both very clearly and simply. 
First, is my husband in heaven, or does he sleep? The Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about something called soul sleep. They claim that we await the final judgment. Until then we have no consciousness. I don’t think this is warranted by the Scriptures, nor by the Faith of the Church. The Bible says that “...we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last judgment.” This can be made to sound like we don’t sleep or it can be made to sound like we wait for the last judgment, and by implication, the resurrection. Well, which is it? The Bible also says, “ is appointed for men to die once, and then the judgment.” That sounds pretty immediate to me.
A couple other verses answer the question as far as I am concerned. “He is the same yesterday today and always,” and “We are children of God, but what we shall be has not yet come to light, but we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.” In other words, we may think in terms of yesterday, today and tomorrow, but the moment is coming when time and space will have no longer have the same meaning for us as they do now. We live in time, but are created for timelessness. Remember that eternity really means timelessness. Think about it. You are a timeless being. Time is just the way that we limited beings sort things out.
Look in the mirror. You said you are 61. You look and see a woman, but you are the same person who was the girl who met and fell in love with your husband. There is not a new “you.” The “me” part of you can’t be seen or touched. It does not age. It is timeless and spaceless. Scientist keep trying to find the self in that fold of the brain, or this lobe or gland. I don’t think they will ever find it, because it is nowhere but in the mind of God. Certainly we experience both timelessness and time.
The body diminishes, or in my case increases, but as I look at the old stranger in the mirror I am still me. I experience time and timelessness at once. Time is just a way that we have of keeping things straight. The Maker of all things, infinite and eternal has no such limits. He is always now and is always here, never then and there. All things and all times are present to him. St Paul said that we see as in a mirror darkly. Then we shall see clearly. So if the question is, “Do we go to heaven when we die or do we wait for the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment?” the answer is “yes.” What do you mean “yes?” I mean that if St. Paul is correct in saying that we shall be like Him, then we will experience things as He experiences them. It will all be “now”, never “then.”
The second question you ask is, “Does he remember me? Will I still be his wife in heaven and will the kids and I be special to him?” The answer to that is very simple. You will be more special to him, more than you can ask or imagine. It is interesting that you use the word “same.” “I want to be special to him, and our kids special.  He can love everyone, but not the same!!” Think about this. I am a very little person with a very small heart. I can love only a few people at a time and that is with a lot of effort. God’s heart is infinite. He loves infinitely. You can’t have more or less infinity. That means that God loves me, a pretty self absorbed and irritating fellow, as much as He loves Jesus, His only begotten Son, and as much as He loves Our Blessed Mother, conceived without sin. He doesn’t love me the same as He loves them. He loves me uniquely and individually, but infinitely. He’s just that kind of person. And remember, someday, if I accept and cooperate with His grace, I will be like Him, loving infinitely and individually. You seem to have this beige idea of Heaven. Everything the same, nothing special, God is not playing favorites. It is quite the opposite. Everything and everyone is special, infinitely special. He will be your husband and better. He will be his children’s father and still more.
“Why did I marry him?” Good question. Our generation got married because we were in love. That’s nice, but alone, it isn’t much of a reason for marriage. We used to believe that marriage was a vocation, a calling from God. We moderns get all nervous when we think of death. We changed the words in the ceremony from “ ‘til death do us part” to “all the days of our life.” but death is the only thing about life that is absolutely certain. You didn’t just marry so you could have a good life. You were called by God to be married in order to get one another and your children to the happiness of heaven.
Perhaps you’ve heard me speak of people I’ve known who died and lived to tell about it. I remember one fellow who stood before God’s throne and heard his wife’s prayer to have him come back. He woke up on the emergency room table and yelled, “Why didn’t you leave me there?” He was so mad that he wouldn’t talk to his wife for three days. I remember the story of a woman who had a vision of her son who died prematurely. He told his Mom, “you have no idea how wonderful it is here.” It is more than we know and life is bigger than we can even conceive of. It isn’t just a bunch of chemicals or time schedules. It is more, in the words of St. Paul, than we can ask or imagine. I believe your husband loves you more now than he ever did, because, if he died in the Lord, he is in the process of becoming like the Lord.
Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Can I own a Canadian?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

Recently a friend of mine sent me the link to a site entitled "Why Can't I Own a Canadian?" Much of the content mocks Mosaic Law in context of our current day and age. I've looked around the web for info to respond to my friend but mostly I just found this very same content posted on multiple sites and people commenting on how ridiculous Judaism/Christianity is. This has really been bugging me... even to the point of losing some sleep researching answers. I thought I turn to "Charismatic Catholic Capped & Caped Crusader for Christ" for help.

Thank you & God bless!

Lee Gulistick

Dear Lee,

Who would want to own a Canadian in the first place? A Canadian will eat you out of house and home. And sometimes they only speak French. Zoot, alors! I’m just kidding about Canadians. They’re lovely people.

The question you ask about the old covenant law and the New Testament is easier to answer than one might think. Have you seen the movie Forrest Gump? There is a scene in which Forrest and his shrimp obsessed friend are cleaning the floor with tooth brushes. This exercise is not intended by his superiors to get the floor clean. It is intended to work a change in raw recruits. An inefficient way to clean floor is a fine way to create a soldier.

God's Mosaic commandments may seem arbitrary to the rebellious narcissists who populate the modern world, but remember, God wasn't just training soldiers. He was training a people to be his ambassadors to the world until the time was ripe for the Messiah and His universal message of God's love. Moses went up the mountain and received 10 commandments, all of which were fairly reasonable; don't kill, lie, steal, or commit adultery. Worship God, rest now and then. Don't envy your neighbor. Moses came down from the mountain and saw Edward G. Robinson and the Israelites dancing around the golden calf. He broke the tablets, made everybody drink the powdered up idol and went back up the mountain to try again.

This time God sent him down with 613 commandments, 603 more than the first time. Obedience to the whole law of Moses was the moral and theological equivalent of cleaning the floor with a toothbrush. When a few reasonable commandments aren't enough, God gives us more. We need them. When the need was past, Jesus came and said, "Alright, I'm from God. I'm the Messiah and I'm going to begin the restoration of the human condition as it first was in the garden when the most basic and simple commandments applied.” That's why Jesus says, "Moses allowed you to divorce, but it was not that way at first. In His own image He made them, male and female He made them. For this a man shall leave his mother and father and cling to his wife and the two shall become one flesh."

The dietary laws and the ritual laws fall away as the Messiah restores the first covenants between God and humanity. The natural law doesn't fall away, because it is the very reflection of the divine nature in the image of which humanity was first made. The faithful, fertile, forever relationship between Husband and Wife is the reflection of God's own reality. God is love, sacrificial love. Married love is natural. The fascinating variations we have come up with modern times are, well, unnatural. Look at the equipment. It seems clearly designed for a specific use and a specific purpose. God's nature is intimately involved in the natural, sometimes difficult, though always wondrous, relationship between man and woman.

God's nature has nothing do with eating shrimp, or mixing different crops in a field. Self-sacrificing Love and family and charity, respect for human life, these are from God's own heart. The humanist web site sight you refer to is pretty shallow. I remind you that it is the fool who says in his heart there is no God, or so says the Psalm.

Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How far does a father's "Headship" over his daughter extend?

Dear Rev. Know it all;
My 26 year old niece, Diodora Steinherz, and her fiancé, both Catholic, hope to marry in June. However, Diodora's parents, who are "Bible Christians" do not think her fiancé is the right person for their daughter and based on their interpretation of the biblical "headship covenant", have advised her they will not agree to the marriage. If she chooses to go against their wishes, particularly her father's wishes, they will not attend the wedding nor will they allow any of Diodora’s brothers and sisters that still live at home to attend the wedding. At this point, it would appear their intent is to "ban" her if she goes through with the wedding without their approval. This, of course, is causing many problems in the immediate as well as extended family. Is there any validity to this man’s claim that the bible states that the father must approve a grown daughter’s choice of a spouse? Does he have "authority" over his daughters until marriage? What does the bible say in regard to these matters?
Hedda Oferheels

Dear Hedda,
Dad is nuts on many, many levels. Headship covenant? Covenant implies mutuality. Unless Diodora signed on to have her father run her life and pick her spouse, I don’t think there is a covenant. I can’t find the phrase “headship covenant” in any Bible I’ve read. So, let us look at what the texts say.
1 Corinthians 11 has this to say: “I would have you know, that the head of every man is the Messiah (Christ); and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of the Messiah is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head. A man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man...... Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man..... Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God."
Then we have the text of Ephesians, chapter 5. “Be filled with the Spirit,... submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and He is the savior of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Thus ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself. No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord of the Church.... Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife should reverence her husband.”
From these texts, it is apparent that the headship and submission that St. Paul talks about have to do with the relationship between husbands and wives, not fathers and daughters. I am sure that “Dad” can counter with texts from the letters of St. John and sundry other bible bullets about children obeying and honoring their parents. It sounds from your letter that Diodora is anything but a child. Dad is probably a lost cause but I am very worried about his children, for whom I write this note. The text from Corinthians is very obscure and seems to contradict Jewish custom. Both Jewish women and men cover their heads in prayer. I have discussed this at great length with my dear friend, the Rabbi Yehuda ben Yiddishkeit, and neither he nor I can quite make heads or tails of it. The most revealing part of the text I have left out for brevity’s sake ( YOU can find it if you reference the whole text in your Bible.) St. Paul says, a woman should cover her head out of respect for the angels! That is, women are such a gift and a wonder, that even the angels are distracted by their true spiritual inner beauty. It is a biblical principle that what is sacred is covered. (Contrast that with our current barbarism.) When we read that woman is for man, not man for woman, one needs to remember the Creation story. Adam was created on the sixth day, as were the beasts. He was alone and so God caused him to fall into a deep sleep, When he woke, there was Eve, taken from his rib, that part of the body that protects the heart. Now the Hebrew sages point out that the Sabbath, the seventh day, doesn’t begin at sundown. It begins when there is not enough light to distinguish between a black and a white thread. There is that twilight, which is neither the sixth nor the seventh day. When do we sleep? When the sun goes down. It was when he awoke on Sabbath that Adam found Eve. She was God’s Sabbath gift to him. She makes him fully human, even though he had been created on the same day as the beasts. She divinizes him, for “In His own image He made them; male and female he made them.” This is why the woman is “for man,” lest the man return to the beasts. Ain’t it the truth? Most men can’t even find their socks without a woman to tell him where he put them!
The idea becomes clearer in the second reading from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. Headship is not about control, it is about service. I never understood headship until I heard Chicago’s Cardinal George talk about it. A brainless, hair-hatted reporter once asked his Eminence, “As leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago what are going to do about yadda yadda?” The Cardinal looked shocked and said “I’m not the leader of the archdiocese. I’m its head!” Amazing! Headship and leadership are not the same thing. Leadership emerges from different places in different situations. When I am hungry, it is my stomach that leads me. It is the head’s job to get what the stomach needs, and to do it in a reasonable and healthy way, but it is nonetheless a matter of the service of the head to the body, not the other way around. In this case, the head submits to the body, for it’s well being, just as Christ submitted to death for the sake of His bride, the Church.
I always used to tell my students that the little words in a text were the most important. Here we have a fine example. The most important word in the text is “as.” No one in the Greco Roman world doubted that a woman should submit to her husband. St. Paul modifies that submission by the word “as.” A woman was not to submit as to the emperor, not as to a slave owner, but as to the Messiah (Christ in Greek). A husband was to love his wife. A Greek would have asked, “Why?” A woman had no soul. She was a domestic appliance that could have children and was also useful, as were daughters, for cementing business deals. Love and amusement, well, there were lots of other people for that sort of thing. Not only does St. Paul tell the Greeks of Ephesus to love their wives, but to love them “as” Christ loves the Church. A man is supposed to give himself for his wife, not the other way around!!! He also mentions that Christ drew a bath for His wife, the Church. Sounds pretty romantic, no? I wonder when was the last time that Diodora’s dad, Mr Steinherz, drew a bubble bath for his wife. It sounds like his favorite song is “Put Another Log on the Fire.” (Look it up if you don’t know it. A country music classic.)
St. Paul also says, (1 Corinthians 7:4) “The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body; her husband does, and likewise the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but his wife does.” St. Paul is, I suspect, the first person in history to say that a man is answerable to a woman, and not just a woman to a man. So you see, headship is all about service and not about domination. The whole point is moot, however, because Diodora is not a child and besides, “...for this a man leaves his parents and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh.”
I can imagine the pain that this must cause the family, but my suspicion is that Dad is not interested in Biblical principles. He seems to be a control freak who has found a theology to fit his illness. Were I your niece, I would tell this bully, “Fine if you don’t want to be part of our lives because of a nonsensical private interpretation of Scripture, that’s up to you. It will be just as well that our children will be brought up in orthodox, traditional Christianity and that you won’t be able to bully them as you’ve tried to bully me.” Such a statement is not disrespect. It is truth spoken in love (Ephesians 4:15). For the sake of the siblings and whatever grandchildren there may yet be, I would put my foot down now and say no more of the bible based bullying.

Rev. Know-it-all

PS I would encourage your niece to go as slowly as possible on the marriage and to get good marriage counseling with her fiancé before the marriage. My instinct is that Dad will do everything possible to break up the marriage just for the pleasure of saying, "I told you so."