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A Married Priest? – Part III

1. Questions and Answers
             As I began this series, I promised to answer at least some of the questions I have been asked about my entrance into full communion with the Catholic Church and about my life as a married priest. The long story of my journey to Catholicism will have to wait for a later article. Simpler questions I can answer briefly.
             “Do you have children? Are they now Catholics?” Two of our four children (Meghan and Thomas) were already “on the way” toward Catholicism before their parents entered; they became Catholics shortly after Janet and I did. Both are married to Catholics. Alison and Nathan have remained in the Lutheran Church, albeit their “Lutheranism” is of a very catholic sort. Of course, there is pain in this “divide,” especially with regard to the reception of Holy Communion. But there is no rancor. And it is a joy not having to wonder where any of our children or grandchildren are on Sunday morning. “What do they think about your being a priest?” Remember, almost all their lives, they have lived in a retreat house or rectory. And you can imagine the long years of dinner conversation in which the “Catholic thing” came up. We did, of course, confer with our children in our discernment of a vocation to the priesthood. Having known their father always as a Christian pastor, they were all present and joyful at my ordination to the priesthood.
             “Will you and your wife live in the rectory?” Janet and I will move into the rectory “lock, stock, and barrel” in early September. There is considerable work to be done in and around the rectory before it will work as a family home. No other priest will be in residence. Although it will often be just the two of us there (plus a big hairy bearded collie) we will frequently have large crowds of guests of all ages. Hospitality – giving and receiving it – is a happy inheritance of a wandering life. Meanwhile, pastoral duties require that I stay in the rectory many nights, while Janet copes with this summer's flow of guests at the house in Sewell.
2. The Nuptial Mystery: Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony
             Beginning this series I said that I welcome such questions about my life and vocation, because it provides an opportunity to better understand the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the nature of “sacrament” itself. That is, these reflections concern your life and faith, as well as mine. So I return here for a moment to the questions raised last week – the relation between the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the Sacrament of Marriage.
             To me, the most interesting response to my situation came from a young woman who, when she learned I was to be ordained, said with a kind of wonder in her voice: “You will have all seven sacraments!” I had not before thought of my situation in that way. Generally, in the Catholic Church of the West, one receives either  Holy Orders or Holy Matrimony. This is a good starting point to consider the relation of the one sacrament to the other. Here I can only lay down pointers for contemplating this inter-relation.
             (1) We must constantly bear in mind that the seven sacraments all hold together and mutually serve one another in the one saving mystery of Christ himself. Christ is the Sacrament of God's saving work: each sacrament communicates his own salvation to the believer. (2) The priestly vocation and the vocation of marriage are both entered through the speaking of vows before God. This reminds us that Marriage is not simply a secular vocation. To live in the sacrament of marriage is a truly Christian vocation, vital to the Church. (3) As marriage is a kind of “ordination” to the service of God, so also, through ordination, a priest (and those men and women vowed to the consecrated life) also enters into the nuptial mystery of Christ's spousal love for his bride the Church (cf. Ephesians 5). (4) This is the key to the spiritual mystery in both Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony: both are instituted by Christ to be an effectual sign and communication of his own self-offering love. Both are vocations to the self-offering of one's life to God and to others.

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