Tuesday 13 September 2011

The priest - and bishop - as spouse

The Bride, the Groom and the Priest
all orientated towards the Eucharist for their inspiration.

The Holy Father gave an address to both PRIESTS and FAMILIES on Sunday during his visit to Ancona for the 25th Italian National Eucharistic Congress. His main point was that both families - husbands and wives - and priests are to find their inspiration in the Holy Eucharist. (No doubt kneeling before it, as he pointed out in his homily at Mass. cf previous post.) Also, that priest and family minister to one another in different ways. What struck me was his recalling that:

The priest also has a spousal dimension; it is to be lost in the heart of Christ the Spouse, who gives his life for the Church his Bride.
(cf. postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis," 24).

I think the spousal dimension of the Priesthood is a helpful one and one that is not spoken of often enough. Certainly in a general way but more practically in a specific way. Thinking of oneself as espoused - "married" - to one's parish. In other words, a real commitment. Because priests get moved from one parish or chaplaincy to another the commitment is there but it is not usually life long to that particular community. When the priest moves on, he leaves that community behind - inevitably, for one cannot return and "intrude" where someone else now has the care of souls and one gains the responsibility of new cares in a new placement. So the marriage analogy doesn't hold up all the way. We are serial monogamists, in that sense. But perhaps thinking of our relationship in that way more often might bear some fruit. After all the exemplar of parish life, the Curé of Ars, never moved on anywhere and he apparently achieved some significant spiritual progress with his backward and reluctant little parish!

It also struck me that this analogy is even more appropriate for bishops. They are less likely to move on in the same way as priests and indeed, a manifested desire to "move up the ladder" to a bigger diocese or an archdiocese is supposed to bar someone from the post anyway. Thinking of yourself as being married to your diocese with no expectation of moving on anywhere would surely encourage bishops to get to know and care for all their priests, for example, as well as focus on the long-term relationship with the people. I don't think I know any bishops well enough to ask them about this and as I am not one myself, all this part is, of course, but mere speculation.

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