Priesthood: Why Does It Have To Be A Man's Job?

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I used to joke with my friends that if God made me a man, I would’ve become a priest in a heartbeat. But I have an easier time imagining myself as a man than not being Catholic. So here’s the question: Why doesn’t the Catholic Church allow for female priests? There are a lot more answers that go beyond misogynistic misunderstandings.

I watched the ordination of the auxiliary bishops of Los Angeles. It was my first time watching an ordination. Like the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation, the sacrament of Holy Orders is a sacrament of initiation. The Catechism says “Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time.” (CCC 1536)

The role of a priest is to act in the person of Christ. It’s the most literal form of imitating Christ that a person can be. And like Christ, most Catholic priests don’t marry or have families because they’re already married to the Church, who is feminine. They are literally married to their job. The feminine aspect of the Church is also why women can’t be priests, since women cannot marry women in the Catholic Church. Instead, women can choose to represent the Church and marry Christ through becoming a nun or a consecrated virgin.

One major part of the ordination was the laying of hands and the greeting of the new bishops with a handshake and kiss. Like many traditions, the laying of hands represents an aspect called “apostolic succession.” Today’s priests and bishops are all descendants of the apostles, carrying on the mission of going out into the world, baptizing and preaching. Bishops have the added responsibility of ordaining new priests and giving the Sacrament of Confirmation.

But it wasn’t watching the ordination that made me realize the responsibilities of priesthood. It was two books: To Save a Thousand Souls by Fr. Brett Brannen and Geekpriest by Fr. Roderick Vonhogen. Although the book is for those discerning diocesan priesthood, it gives a lot of insight to everything a priest does and once I finished reading it, I realized that there was no way I could do everything a priest does.

I said before that being a priest comes with a lot of responsibilities and it’s true. Priests don’t just celebrate Mass, write and preach homilies, and pray. They also baptize, celebrate marriages, visit the sick, stay with the dying, bury the dead, instruct others, counsel and guide the suffering, evangelize, perform exorcisms, and act as father figures to their flock. Fr. Roderick said that the life of the priest stressed him out. He wanted to be there 24/7 for everyone and he had a bit of a meltdown from all the stress he experienced. But once he realized that he didn’t always have to say “yes” to everything and accept the reality of his situation, things got better.

Ladies, we already stress ourselves enough as it is.  I don’t know about you, but we constantly worry about other people already and like Fr. Roderick, we tend to say “yes” to everything, even when it’s more than we can handle. We carry emotional burdens from our friends and coworkers and sometimes that emotional support can drain us. Now imagine trying to do that as a 24/7 job and being expected to be a leader and defender of the Church on top of that. I’m not saying that we can’t already do it as women, but as members of the laity, we have the advantage of having emotional support from other people and coming home or calling someone who will listen and help us carry our burdens. The priests of religious orders can come home and support each other, but it’s not the same as having a family or a spouse. Not to mention diocesan priests live alone. All priests need the support of the people.

Once I learned the number of responsibilities a priest takes on, I realized that I am blessed to be someone who could support my priests in their journey of holiness. I may not be able to consecrate the hosts or officiate weddings, but I can still represent the church by caring for those in need, defending the church, and making sacrifices and make ordinary things sacred. All of us can do the same.

Today, dear readers, I want to ask you to pray for your local pastor and reach out to them. Send them a card or a gift that lets them know how much you appreciate them. If you have a friend who’s a priest, call them up and spend some time with them. I know that I benefited greatly by having priests as friends. I got to know them as people.

The power of a priest isn’t an authoritarian kind of power. It’s the kind of power that requires having a servant’s heart, the strength to carry that emotional burden and responsibility . Today, I hope that you will pray for your priests and for an increase in vocations to priesthood and religious life.

The Cassock and Collar Make the Man

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One wonderful thing about growing up Catholic is that I always smile and feel excited whenever I see a priest or a nun in full uniform. I understand why plainclothes nuns exist and in my college, some of the priests wore casual clothes along with their collars. But the feeling’s not the same. Whenever I see a Missionary of Charity, in their signature blue and white habits, I automatically think of Mother Teresa and think These women are so awesome to be following in her footsteps. Whenever I see a priest in a cassock, I think Wow that cassock is badass! 

So Tom Chiarella of Esquire Magazine’s experiment of dressing up as different men, priest included, definitely caught my eye. The first one he dressed up as was a priest. It was interesting to me that he chose the cassock to “look like the Jesuit priests who taught me to write.” I’m assuming he had a Catholic school education up to a certain point. I also like that he respected the uniform of the priest enough to not wear a crucifix or carry a Rosary or act like a priest when he was never ordained as such.

But what really struck at me was this (emphasis mine):

No one asked my name. No one called me Father Tom. But that’s what the uniform made me. People want to believe.

Especially people in need. All day long, I was faced with homeless men, homeless families, crouched in the street. Sometimes they reached up to me, touched my wrist. Twice I was asked for a blessing that I could not give. Not in the way they wanted. I started wishing that I were capable of performing a service for the world. And I found I could not do nothing. The uniform comes with some responsibility; otherwise, it is just a party costume. I started kneeling down, holding out a ten-dollar bill, and saying, “I’m not a priest. But I feel you.” And I couldn’t do it once without doing it a couple dozen times. Chicago is a big city, with a lot of souls stuck in its doorways. It still makes me sadder than I could have imagined.

It’s easy to put on a cassock. And it’s really not easy to wear one at all.

I think, if anything else, this is evidence of what the life of a priest is like and why the church doesn’t call for married priests. Being a priest isn’t a job you clock in and out of. It’s a lifestyle that demands that the man who wears the collar and uniform to completely surrender himself to serving others, whether as a diocesan priest or as a member of a religious order.

When I was going on vocation retreats, a book called To Save a Thousand Souls caught my eye and a dear friend let me keep a copy. When I read that book, the lifestyle of a priest was laid open to me. Priests have to be able to manage a parish (if they’re diocesan) or have some kind of full-time job that requires a lot of responsibility. They also have to celebrate Mass, be ready to go to hospitals when necessary, celebrate weddings and funerals, give advice, hear Confessions, stand up for the teachings of the Church and, oh yeah, keep their own souls intact in the process.

Most priests may not be able to have families the way that ordinary men and women do, but they make a family in a completely different way. One priest that comes to mind is my dear friend Fr. Keon, who was a professor at my alma mater. He passed away a few years ago, but his life was an amazing one. Most of his life as a priest was spent teaching and serving the University of St. Thomas as a member of the Basilians. He taught philosophy and participated in many on-campus activities such as attending plays and going out to the movies with students. When I met him, he was retired, spending his days in the cafeteria talking to students, telling tall tales and making everyone laugh.

When Fr. Keon passed away, generations of students came to his memorial service. Everyone had stories to tell, memories to share about the time they spent with this priest. It’s hard to say that Fr. Keon never had a family when hundreds of alumni, young and old, were all there celebrating his life and at the same time missing him.

The life of a priest is one with great power and great responsibility. Each priest has the potential of being a hero to the Church and to the world, filled with lost souls. My hope is that people will come to understand that and pray for them always.

What Millenials Can Learn From Saint John Vianney

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The first time I heard of St. John Vianney’s name, it was back when I was in Catholic school and some students from St. John Vianney high school came to visit and showcase the school for us. In college, one of my friends in a Bible Study class had a devotion to him. If there’s one word I can use to describe St. John Vianney it’s “fidelity.” Not just his fidelity to the Blessed Virgin or to Saint Philomena (his favorite), but also to his job as the Cure of Ars.

It takes fidelity to persevere in one’s studies even when you’re not book smart. I think a lot of student can understand. St. John Vianney’s struggles to pass his classes. Some students even asked for St. John Vianney’s intercession for passing exams.

It also takes fidelity to listen to so many people give confessions for such a long amount of time. If I had a TARDIS, I would’ve loved to have gone back in time and have him hear my confession. He was gifted with the ability to read hearts, which meant he understood people on a deeper level than most.

He also knew what was most important to him: being God’s servant. He spent so much time in prayer the night before he was to leave to join Napoleon’s Army that he completely forgot to leave. He hid out until deserters were granted amnesty. He kept on being a priest even when being a Catholic was considered illegal.

In these days when I hear news reports of celebrities with long marriages suddenly filing for divorce, St. John Vianney’s fidelity to his life as a priest give me a sense of relief. He never considered retiring or giving up on his job, even though he did on little sleep (constant attacks from the devil). Although he attempted to run away to live as a monk, he never succeeded. While running away to live as a monk may not seem like a sign of fidelity, I interpret that as him trying to escape the near occasion of pride. He was becoming a world-renowned priest and he saw isolation as a way to increase in humility. God, of course, had other plans. St. John Vianney stayed in Ars in his final years. His incorrupted body is on display there today.

I also feel like millenials can learn some things about St. John Vianney about leadership. Being a parish priest is a literal lifetime job. You can’t clock out of it like you would at a normal everyday job. St. John Vianney led his parish with humility and discipline and care for others. I hope that us young adults can do the same with the same fidelity towards the church and to each other that he had for his church and his flock.

St. John Vianney, pray for us!