Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, bishop and doctor of the Church

(I Timothy 3:1-13; Luke 7:11-17)

Of all the qualities for a bishop named in the first reading today, the most striking for Catholics today is that he be a man who is “married only once.” Before one jumps to the conclusion that Scripture prescribes a married clergy, it must be remembered that the letter was written at a time when the offices of bishop, priest, and deacon were still coalescing. There were married clergy in the first Christian centuries, but they were expected, at least in the writings of the time, not to have sexual relations with their wives.

Evidently St. John Chrysostom never married. In fact, he lived for a while as a monk although could not permanently tolerate the harshness of desert life. As a bishop he distinguished himself for his rejection of the high life of his see, the patriarchy of Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Allowing married men to become priests and bishops in masse would resolve the shortage of clergy in many countries today. However, it would no doubt open the door to other problems like the scandal of clergy divorces. A stronger reason to keep the current discipline of celibacy is the witness that it gives in a world supersaturated with sex. People need strong models of happy lives that don’t seek pleasure in viewing pornography or find sexual satisfaction an essential for personal fulfillment.