Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
(I Samuel 3:1-10.19-20; Mark 1:29-39)
The reference in today’s gospel that Peter had a mother-in-law is the only indication that he was married. Ironically, the Roman Catholic tradition, which looks to Peter as the key figure in its theology of Church, has insisted on celibacy for a clerical norm. In contrast, Protestant traditions find in Paul, the attested bachelor, its ecclesiastical model. Of course, Jesus too was a committed celibate and defended that state of life as summoned by God on behalf of His kingdom. At least one prominent biblical theologian thinks it necessary that celibacy be maintained as a discipline to preserve this insight of Jesus.
Still the argument for relaxing the discipline within the Catholic Church is cogent. In both countries with a long Christian heritage and those where the Church is still getting started there is a need for more priests. Most people think that ordaining married men would result in a spike of vocations to the priesthood. But counterarguments to ordaining married men to the priesthood also have considerable force. There are the traditional problems of patrimony to the offspring of the priest. More critical is celibacy’s concrete testimony of the priority of God in a world obsessed with sexual curiosity.
We should be wary of simplistic ideas on either side of the argument for a married clergy. Certainly many married men can perform the duties of a priest. On the other hand, most married men will not want to live in extremely deprived areas where the gospel needs to be preached. What is paramount is that we continue to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the field.