Jesus went to Calvary wearing a seamless undergarment or tunic, woven from top to bottom, beneath his outer garments (John 19:23). John sees great significance in this seamless robe, because he states in 19:23 that it was “seamless” and, at the end of 19:23, that it was “in one piece” (διʼ ὅλου), though the latter is not obvious in all English translations. It certainly was a unique garment, because the tunic worn daily by men and women in Palestine was not seamless but made of two pieces of fabric sown together.
Month: July 2019
The priestly people, although overlooked in most catechesis, precede the ministerial priests. Christ had called many disciples before he chose twelve apostles out of them. Similarly, those ordained to the ministerial priesthood in the Sacrament of Holy Orders are called out of the priestly people who are living the Sacrament of Baptism.
In many respects the celibate, supernatural fatherhood of priests finds a model in the paternity of St. Joseph. The Holy Patriarch uniquely reflected the paternity of God as the guardian of God’s Son. St. John Paul II remarked on this singular “covenant of paternity” between Joseph and the Father, both of whom were addressed by Jesus as “Abba.”
The risen Christ has given leadership gifts to the Church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, and pastors, not to do the whole work of the Church but “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4: 12). The role of the priest, or lay people employed by the Church, is not to carry out the mission of the Church all by themselves but to activate baptized Catholics into lives of holiness and mission.
The question of the Catholic celibate priesthood has become more and more common, first following fear of a shortage of priests and then amid scandals within the priesthood. Allowing priests to marry looks to some as the easiest and most logical fix to what they perceive as broken. But first we should ask why celibacy is the norm, for priests in the Roman rite and for bishops in the Eastern church. We need to understand why celibacy is the longstanding tradition of the Church.
The American Jesuit Fr. William Byron tells a story about ministering to a young woman who lost her husband in a fatal car crash. He celebrated the funeral Mass and helped the young widow get into law school and start a new life. Later, when Fr. Byron’s name came up in conversation, the woman’s five-year old daughter asked, “Whose ‘Father’ is he?” The mother answered without thinking, “Anybody who needs one.” That young woman understood more about celibate priesthood, perhaps, than many of us priests!
Some have understandably asked why priestly celibacy cannot be optional, especially given the shortage of vocations and the profoundly disturbing violations of celibacy in recent years. Celibacy is clearly not a prerequisite for priesthood since there are validly ordained priests who are married in the Eastern Churches and by exception in the Latin Rite.
Before Christ, sterility was seen either as a curse or as a condition for God to reveal his power by transforming it into fruitfulness. The patriarch Abram, a Hebrew name meaning “Exalted Father,” was still childless at the age of a hundred when he received an even more incongruous name: Abraham, meaning “Father of a Multitude of Nations.” As Scott Hahn observes, for a man of Abraham’s age without progeny, such a name must have provoked ridicule. “I’m sure the new name didn’t make life any easier for old Abraham,” Hahn remarks, “as he made his way past the cruelest of his gossipy neighbors.”