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First, a confession: I don’t read The Boston Globe. Every once in a while, however, I do check out a particular article or column, especially when it has something to do with the Church. Recently, Jeff Jacoby, a columnist I respect, wrote what I consider to be a mystifyingly wrong-headed piece regarding the “dilemma” of a popular Catholic priest in Florida. Briefly, the situation is this: Father Alberto Cutie, who has developed quite a following as the result of his effective Spanish language radio and television ministry, books, and syndicated advice column, was caught on film kissing and embracing a woman on the beach. Father Cutie has admitted being romantically involved with the woman, and stated that he has been struggling to resolve the conflict between his feelings for her and his commitment to the Church for nearly a year. He also said, “I would like to have a family and at the same time serve God.”
This unfortunate choice of words launches Jacoby--and many others--into musing about what seems to be a perennial favorite of the press when it comes to “things Catholic”: the validity, value, and viability of the celibate priesthood.
In a culture and time where even exclusivity and lifelong fidelity in marriage is dismissed as unattainable, it shouldn’t be surprising that the notion of someone completely devoting his or her life to single hearted service cannot be grasped, let alone supported. Having grown up outside the Catholic Church, I have witnessed the struggle to balance the claims of ministry and family that pastors in other traditions face on a daily basis. As a Catholic lay minister, I’ve experienced some of those same issues in answering my callings, even in the small ways I attempt to do so.
The more significant tragedy expressed by Father Cutie’s words, and the resonance they have had both in the Church and society, is the false opposition he suggests between a call to family and a call to serve God. Ordination to the diaconate, ministerial priesthood, or episcopacy is not the only, nor even the primary, way to serve God. Catholic Christian faith rightly values the gift of total service through the sacrifice of celibacy. But that same Catholic Christian faith has never suggested that serving God and having a family are mutually exclusive. Married persons also give total service to God through their vocation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not create a false dichotomy between lives of service which are meant to complement one another. Marriage is designed to reveal the love of God as unitive, life-giving, and faithful. Celibacy is meant to direct our attention to the deepest desire of our souls, that of being one with God.
Certainly, the requirement of priestly celibacy in our Latin Rite churches is open to discussion, perhaps even some future modification. But I for one am sick and tired of the underlying assumption that if you’re serious about serving God, your only real choice is to seek ordination or religious life. All forms of life, other than those rooted in sin, can be of service to God. All of us, not just some of us, are called to serve him. All of us, not just some of us, are called to be like Christ, that is to be holy. And all of us, in reality, do have families. We may not be fathers or mothers in them, but we all enter this world as part of something larger than just ourselves.
Jacoby ended his column lamenting the fact that, as a “Western Catholic,” Father Cutie must choose between priesthood and family life. That choice, however, did not seem to present a problem for him as he sought Holy Orders. Frankly, I don’t see anything sad about making choices; we do it every day. The power to make choices testifies more to the freedom in which God created us, than to how we may be limited by what we choose. The real challenge we all face is one of fidelity. It is not easy to live celibacy, nor is it easy to live marriage faithfully. There are times for all of us when other grasses seem greener.
Around the turn of the 17th Century, St. Francis De Sales, Archbishop of Geneva, articulated most clearly what we have come to call the universal call to holiness. He taught that the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience belonged to every Christian according to his or her state of life. We may continue to consider and even debate what belongs--or can belong--to the various vocations that are open to us. Some of the disciplines we practice may or may not evolve. One thing, however, is certain to remain unchanged and unchangeable. God calls us to Himself through the total gift of his Son. He calls us each by offering us his all. The answer we give is meant to be in kind: our lives, our souls, our all as total gift, total response to his overflowing love.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.