Sunday, September 7, 2008

Deacon David Harris ordained on Sept. 6...

"Former Baptist minister hopes to share with fellow Catholics a ‘sense of awe’ about God. When Deacon David Harris talks about the Catholic faith, his ardor is apparent. His eyes brighten, and he speaks passionately. He sees the faith with the clarity of a convert..." see the Record article here

So, we have our second priest Ordained in our Archdiocese through the "Pastoral Provision." First, as a brother priest, I should say "welcome" to Fr. Harris. I make it a point to attend all of the Ordinations, but given my circumstances this year with returning to school, I was unable to make this one. I know that many people have mixed emotions about such things. For some there is confusion, or perhaps even disagreement, with such developments in the Church. The issue of clerical celibacy in the Roman Church has certainly been a hot-button topic. Bearing that in mind, I offer what are my perspectives on the issue, for better or worse.
First of all, let me say that I admire these men. Being former Protestant ministers, I can only imagine, on a practical level, what a life-changing decision it must have been for them to convert to Catholicism. They essentially quit their jobs, alienate perhaps some family or friends, and "perform a 180" in their professional life. All this without any assurance that they will qualify for this "Pastoral Provision." As the Record article states, now-Father Harris (and in my judgment, converts in general) possess a strong sense of conviction and excitement about the faith. For them, unlike us "cradle Catholics," there is a conscious, and dramatic, choice that is made to become Catholic. A choice made with, what I can only imagine, is a certain amount of opposition or confusion amongst colleagues and friends. Think, how often this is said of converts: that they possess a particularly strong faith? It seems that they develop a deep appreciation for things that we cradle Catholics often take for granted. It seems that oftentimes a central theme for a convert is a strong sense of the Real Presence in the Eucharist that proves irresistible in their choice to enter the Church. I also have heard many a convert state that the Church's Magisterial structure is also a touchstone for them. Perhaps it was the teachings of the patristics. Whatever it might be, these men generally possess a strong conviction about Eucharist and Church structure that we all (convert or not) would benefit from being reminded of. Whatever your feeling is of the "Pastoral Provision," I think that one must admit that these men, in their preaching and ministry, will remind us all of some of the most important elements of our faith.
And now, "the but..."
If there is any detracting thing from this provision it's that there is, in my humble estimation, a push coming from certain elements in the Church to use this as an opportunity to preach once again their tired-old agenda of optional clerical celibacy. An argument that is in many ways unaware of the important reasons for the historical development of the practice of clerical celibacy in the Western Church. They say to themselves: "well, if this man can be Ordained while not being celibate, then why can't all other priests have that option?" My standard answer for people who ask me such questions is to state, rather pragmatically (if not sarcastically), that the faithful wouldn't be prepared for the divorce-rate that would exist amongst the clergy. After seven years of parish ministry, I can say that, in my heart of hearts, I think one would either be a great pastor and priest and a horrible husband and father, or vice-versa. With the demands placed upon a priest's time and energy, I simply don't see how he could do both. Note well that, in the granting of this pastoral provision, these men are all older whose children are grown and independant. The Church recognizes that their familial obligations would preclude them from the exercise of any pastoral ministry at all, and allows this provision only for a limited ministry on an exceptional basis (n.b. - a condition of this provision is that these men will never be assigned as pastors - rather, they serve in roles that permit them as much free-time as is possible to safeguard their family life). And this is only an argument for clerical celibacy on a practical level, not taking into account the (even stronger) theological foundation for clerical celibacy (e.g. - the identity of the priest as one who acts "in persona Christi capitis," who strives to conform every aspect of his life to the life and ministry of Christ).
For me, it's important to note that the pastoral provision is an exception. It is a dispensation from a norm of law, granted only when the good which that law is meant to safeguard is in fact preserved. I can say with some first-hand experience that this dispensation involves an extensive ecclesial process and the decision to grant this provision is not made lightly.
So, once again I welcome Fr. Harris to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. I trust that his ministry will be fruitful, and that he will lead many souls to Christ. I hope that his Ordination will prompt a renewed discussion of the meaning and importance of clerical celibacy and an ever deepening vision of priestly ministry.
These are only my initial (poorly formed) thoughts on the subject, and are not intended to be a thorough discourse on the pastoral provision, clerical celibacy, or anything else. Do you have something to add to this discussion? Let me know what you think...

1 comment:

Matt1618 said...

Well written Fr. Beach, for what it's worth. While I believe a man who is to be a priest, should be a man who would make a good father, I agree with you, he would have a difficult time being both well. I don't know how the Eastern Rite guys do it.

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