By Engr. Carlos Cornejo
One time an MSNBC TV commentator in America made a comment about the on-going Synod of Families in Rome back in 2006 saying that, “It is a bit funny that the ones making the rules about families don’t have families.” He was referring to Bishops and Priests as not belonging to a family and yet giving homilies and talks about raising up a family. That’s a bit of a naïve statement to make because priests do belong to a family, not a biological family but a spiritual one. That’s the reason why we address them as “Father” because they are spiritual fathers who have not begotten biological sons and daughters but gave birth to the spiritual life of God’s children through the sacraments and pastoral ministries they render.
The late Cardinal Francis George, former Archbishop of Chicago would always tell priests under him not to think themselves as bachelors because they are married to the Church. The mere fact that they are acting In Persona Christi (In the Person of Christ) makes them bridegrooms of the Church, as Christ is the main Bridegroom of the Church. Thus, priests are not single eligible men but mature husbands to their bride the Church and mature fathers to their spiritual children.
St. Pope John Paul II once said that the celibacy of the priesthood and the marriage of husbands and wives are closely connected to each other. That’s why the two sacraments that establishes marriage and the priesthood, the Sacrament of Matrimony and Holy Orders, belong to the Church’s designated “Sacraments in the Service of the Community”. One serves a biological family the other a spiritual one. The close connection St. John Paul II meant about priesthood and marriage was that if one institution fails it brings about the failure of the other. If marriages are not strong or not well lived in a society or there is rampant separation, divorce or co-habitation, there will not be many vocations to the priesthood because the seeds of vocation are planted and nurtured in a solid Christian family. If there are healthy Christian upbringings of children you can expect many vocations to priesthood or religious life. Likewise, if priests are not zealous of the spiritual health of their parishioners with special emphasis on the spiritual strengthening of marriage and the family, there will only be few firm and solid Christian families. Thus, priests should focus on the strengthening of the families in their pastoral work, addressing co-habitation and rampant separations, so that marriage and family life becomes so fertile that it gives fruit to many vocations.
On the vocation of children becoming priests or joining the religious life, parents should not be dismayed or disappointed when a son or daughter would open up to them wanting to enter the priesthood or religious life since it is a sign of a healthy Christian upbringing on their part. They should foster a holy pride instead because the spiritual care they have given to their children has pleased God and would be serving His people. It is always a blessing to have a family member serve the Church in a special way. Often times parents would think of the material and financial loss it would bring about if a son or daughter would enter a religious life. But God is never outdone in generosity. If we are generous with Him, He will surely be more generous in blessing us in return. It may not necessarily be a material or financial blessing (but often times it would be too, just read Matthew 6:25-34), but with a strong, happy, peaceful, Christ-filled family which ultimately what truly matters in the end.