A few weeks ago, I attended a convocation of the priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in Hershey, PA. We met with Archbishop Chaput, the other auxiliary bishops and about 250 priests from around the archdiocese for three days of prayer, liturgy, fellowship, food, relaxation, refreshment and talks.
The keynote speaker was Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, the Archbishop of Glasgow, Scotland. He and Archbishop Chaput have become friendly through their work on the families. Although he spoke on a range of topics that were germane to priests and priesthood, I was struck on how many of them were also relevant to people who are married. I include some notes from the convocation below. When reading, substitute “husband” or “wife” for “priest.” Substitute “marriage” for “priesthood.” Substitute “married chastity” for “celibacy.” See what insights you get.
The Consecrated Life and Being “Set-Apart”
When the world sees a priest, it immediately sees celibacy. There is a reasonable explanation for this. The world is heavily invested in the “natural,” in science, in what is tactical, what one can touch and feel and see and taste.
The Church honors the natural. It was created by God thus “It is good.” (Genesis 1:31). Nevertheless, the Church’s emphasizes the supernatural. The church is more concerned about holiness which is from the Greek word, hagia” which means “something set apart.” From hagia we get the English word “holy.” This otherness – this “set-apart-ness” offends. Celibacy (and committed chastity for singles and married couples) is a powerful sign of being “set apart.” It irked the ancient Roman society; it irks contemporary, secular society as well.
Priesthood, as well as dedicated marriage, is offensive to the world. It is an in-your-face comment about what is real and what really matters. It confuses and frightens, yet it also intrigues and attracts. It stretches the umbilical cord from the human to the divine.
It means a freely chosen sacrifice. It “enters into the commerce of the divine” and is necessary to further a relationship with God since one cannot approach the divine without leaving the natural behind.
Celibacy is not the central aspect of the priesthood. Exclusive chastity is not the central aspect of marriage. Nevertheless, ordained priests, married couples, consecrated virgins are “consecrated.” This consecration is in order to “make present” the divine and not to place an emphasis on nature – on things that are comfortable and familiar.
The world does not need the familiar. It needs something that points to something larger, otherworldly, unknown, unfamiliar, higher, and transcendent because ultimately only these are transformative.