From the Father’s Wife: A Perspective on Marriage and the Priesthood 

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The photo shows Andrea Erdman and Fr. Jonathan Erdman with one of their four  children.

From the Father’s Wife: A Perspective on Marriage and the Priesthood

By Andrea Erdman

I am married to a Roman Catholic priest.

I understand if you are confused. There are very few of us priest wives out there, and even fewer have small children. Most Catholics have no idea there are any married priests in the world at all. My husband and I have been married for 15 years. He was an ordained Episcopal priest for about 11 years before following a call to leave the Episcopal church and come home to the Catholic Church. We came into full communion with the Catholic Church last year through the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. We have four delightful children together, and one more on the way.

My husband and I are blessed in the life we have together, and are humbled by the mercy that the Church has granted him ordination and dispensation of canon law of priestly celibacy for the sake of bringing our new parish into the holy Catholic Church.  This ministry affords us the ability to reach souls in unique ways, and sharing the Good News through the lives we touch. We open our home to feed friends and strangers, comfort people in grief or trauma, and educate people about our Catholic faith. We have a unique ministry to married people, to parents, and especially to those who have experienced lost children in pregnancy. I am my husband’s comfort, his biggest fan, his toughest critic, his partner. When he lay prostrate at his ordination before God and his bishop, in many ways I also lay beside him, giving my whole self to God and His Holy Church. Our home is filled with light, life, and joy.

We are blessed to as members of the Ordinariate, where our bishop and his office work in harmony with our local Archbishop to provide for our spiritual, financial, and physical needs. Because our newly established parish is small, finances are woven together through multiple sources in our archdiocese. Utilities, housing, food, benefits, retirement, clothing, children’s school tuition are provided through the outpouring of generosity of the Church. Bishop Lopes, our bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, has given us a chaplain for clergy families who offers direct spiritual pastoral care and nurtures mutual support of other Catholic clergy wives in prayer retreats. I am humbled by graciousness I have never seen before in my years as a clergy wife. Though we will never be wealthy, our every need is answered, even anticipated.

That being said, some may be surprised that I am in favor of the Church’s current practice of the celibacy of the priesthood. There is no doubt in my mind that wives and children of Catholic and non-Catholic traditions alike are the first to be targeted by enemies of the church when a priest stands true to apostolic faith and tradition. We have received threats. We have received hate mail. We have been been mocked and conspired against. Other families have sunk into financial trouble, lost their homes and jobs, retirement, pension, benefits as they give themselves in service to the faith. Many of the wives I know are practiced at hiding their wounds, keeping a permanent facade of perfection, never showing illness or grief. They live in fear that weakness exposes a chink in their husbands’ armor. Though these experiences are not unlike those of laymen in other careers, few are prepared for these kinds of experiences to occur in a life of a priest or his family where the home is expected to be a sanctuary rather than a front in a battleground. I believe this is the reason my husband and our marriage were thoroughly vetted through both our Ordinariate office and the Vatican prior to my husband’s approval for ordination.

My husband and I have a beautiful marriage, and the strength of our family and faith has deepened through the trials. My husband and I are rare, however. We are the few who have thrived in hardship by the grace of God and the mercy of the Church. I have seen many ministries and families fail under this pressure.

I feel the current practice of the church of priestly celibacy to be a mercy, a protection of the ministry of the priest as well as the family. The ministry of the priesthood is a holy relationship, a marriage to the Church. Fatherhood is a ministry to a wife and family. To do both threatens the strength of both ministries. Married priesthood is for those men who are proven exceptional husbands and fathers who are needed to function as a priest by their community. Married priesthood is meant to be rare, performed only for the sake of unity of the Church under extraordinary circumstances.

If we wish to call more men to the priesthood, we must become enthusiastic evangelists, and deepen our Catechesis of the faithful. Let us create a culture of deep faith and discernment of the call of God and passionate commitment to sacrifice ourselves for Christ who sacrificed Himself for us.

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We should be at the ecumenical table

The Catholic Herald has a story up about how Msgr. Newton, the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was “excluded” from Reformation events last week.

In a letter to the Catholic Herald, Fr Ed Tomlinson asks why Mgr Keith Newton, who serves as ordinary of the group for former Anglicans, was not invited to be “part of the numerous ‘reformation celebrations’ taking part in the ecumenical landscape this week”.

Fr Tomlinson also wants to know why Mgr Newton had not been asked “to join the ARCIC [Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission] conversations despite his obvious importance as a former bishop of the Church of England now leading a body, the ordinariate, whose entire purpose is to enable Anglicans to become Catholic while retaining a distinctly English spirituality/patrimony”.

Well, frankly, any Reformation “celebrations” I would hope any of our Ordinaries would be glad they weren’t invited, though the ones I know of were commemorations and involved repentance, not glasses raised in a toast to Martin Luther.  In commemorations, why weren’t our Ordinaries invited.

Also, I think representatives who were former Anglicans now Catholic in the Ordinariates would be perfect for ARCIC.

They know both sides of the Tiber, as it were, and what worked in terms of unity, and what discouraged it.

But I think we in the Ordinariates represent “you-come-in-ism,” a view that Christian unity is attained by one’s realizing the Catholic Church is right, and Christian unity involves becoming Catholic.  That kind of ecumenism is not popular right now.

And it hasn’t been popular for a long time.  Interesting,  Fr. Louis Bouyer, a convert from Lutheranism, and who knew personally many of the great Protestant theologians, was also excluded from ecueminical talks around the Second Vatican Council.   A big loss to true ecumenism.

I have said before I have a love/hate relationship with the word ecumenism.  I hate it when it seems to imply a lowest-common-denominator kind of Christian unity, one that requires no deep conversion, that sets aside truth claims as unimportant, and instead stresses what we can do together on the social justice front.

I love ecumenism when it seriously seeks out Christian unity, starting with the truth claims we hold in common and honestly dealing with the areas where we still are out of communion.  It is the Holy Spirit who brings unity and even within the Catholic Church, we need His help.

Also, I feel more “in communion” in a spiritual sense with many devout Protestants who can’t share in our Catholic communion and out of respect would not try to than I do with many progressivist Catholics who do not seem to revere the Jesus revealed to us in Scripture, nor Scripture for that matter.

In the six years since the creation of the ordinariate, Fr Tomlinson says, “we have been routinely undermined by those in authority over us. Not a single church has been gifted to the ordinariate despite several closing each month. Why are so many of our clergy used to plug diocesan gaps instead of being enabled to flourish within the vision to which we were called?”

The Ordinariate confirmed to the Catholic Herald that Mgr Newton had not been invited to any ecumenical events, but added that it was “not aware of anything he would have expected, or wished, to have been invited to”.

They said that Fr Tomlinson’s letter is “an entirely personal opinion and in no way reflects the views of the Ordinary or of the leadership of the Ordinariate”.

 

 

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A delightful way of examining Anglican musical patrimony

Brother John-Bede Pauley has a wonderful series up at his musicanglicanorum blog he calls Auditio Divina: Listening with the Ear of the Heart.  Here is a link to Part IV of the series for November that looks  Century composer  Geraint Lewis’s “The Souls of the Righteous”

There is also a link to a performance of the music so you can listen as well as read the most interesting commentary.

Here is a short excerpt:

Indeed, Lewis’s anthem, though written in a twentieth-century idiom, has elements that evoke, whether consciously or not, the musical austerity preferred by radical elements in the sixteenth-century Church of England.  For example, of the anthem’s seventy-six measures, the choir never sings a melisma (assigning more than one note of music per syllable of text) until bar 60 (an observation to which I return below).  This would have pleased the sixteenth century’s puritanical elements and would have met Queen Elizabeth I’s 1558 injunction that church music be “modest [and] plainly understood, as if it were read without singing.”

But whether Lewis consciously echoed some of the Tudor era’s musical characteristics, his anthem also reflects support of the Anglican choral heritage’s ongoing development, which had been one of Mathias’s contributions as well.  For example, neither sixteenth-century puritanical currents nor much of the repertoire of the Anglican choral heritage supports the practice of frequent text repetitions.  But that is one of the characteristics of Lewis’s anthem.  These text repetitions are not gratuitous, however, and therefore suggest that, if handled properly, this could be a legitimate development of the heritage.

In the piece, Brother John-Bede explains to non-musicians what is happening with with the piece to draw out the meaning of the text that is most appropriate for November.

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On the whole married priests issue

Sometimes our priests in the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans have had others assume that because they are married Catholic priests they also hold an array of progressive positions.   Usually along with a push for married priests is a push for women in the diaconate, and eventually the priesthood—in other words a flattening of any hierarchical order in the Church and an unraveling of Holy Orders and of sacramental theology itself.

I can’t tell you how much most of us want to distance ourselves from that point of view.  We do not want to be used as a wedge to change the Western Church’s discipline of celibacy, which is the norm for us in the Personal Ordinariates, with married men being considered for priesthood on a case by case basis.

Thus, even though some of us may hold that a married priesthood and the charism of a family at the heart of a parish is part of our Patrimony, we assent to the Church’s position on celibacy, and pray for vocations among our young men to embrace this call.  Yet we love and respect our married priests and their wives and thank God for them.
So then, what to make of reports coming out of Rome that Pope Francis has called a synod to look at whether married men of proven character can be ordained priests in parts of Brazil where there is a massive priest shortage?

The Catholic Herald has this report by Ed Condon entitled Married Priests are the Wrong Answer to the Amazon’s Problems:

He writes:

Of course, there are some people who would like clerical celibacy to become optional everywhere. These tend, especially in the United States, to be the remnant of a 1970s generation of liberals who expected the post-Vatican II Church to reform itself into a socially progressive, and sexually permissive, form of Catholicism which was in tune with the wider trends of their time. They were left disappointed, and many of their number left the priesthood to marry and become social workers or psychotherapists. Those who remained still consider clerical celibacy as the icon of their frustrations, and the pointy end of a disciplined Church which drove their old friends away. Their arguments for a total end to celibacy often creep in to discussions, like the request by some of the Brazilian Church, which treat specific situations and muddy the waters terribly.

snip

 

The current examples of married priests don’t settle the issue: in the Eastern Churches, they have existed for two millennia and institutions have organically developed to support them. As for former Anglicans, they were admitted on a case by case basis following considerable scrutiny. These small exceptions cannot make a case for the kind of disruption to the very fabric of the Latin Church which an end to clerical celibacy would bring.

As for the Amazon, is undeniable that there are far too few priests to meet the needs of some communities. (Some estimates have put it at the ratio of one priest for every ten thousand Catholics in the more remote areas.) But I am totally unconvinced that ordaining married men is the answer.

 

Condon calls for a recovery  and cultivation of the vocation of missionary priests.

Interestingly though, in today’s environment, when universalism and indifferentism has crept into the belief of many Catholics, there is not the kind of urgency to launch out and suffer for the sake of the salvation of souls. Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI had this to say last year in a rare interview reported on by CNA:

Benedict noted, “there is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma” and that since the 1950s “the understanding that God cannot let go to perdition all the unbaptized … has been fully affirmed.”

He noted that the great missionaries of the 1500s were compelled by their belief in the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation, and that the changing understanding of this necessity led to “a deep double crisis”: a loss of motivation for missionary work, and a loss of motivation for the faith itself.

The emeritus Pope addressed both the theory of the ‘anonymous Christian’ and indifferentism as inadequate solutions to the crises, and offered instead the idea that Christ’s loving suffering for the world is the solution, which must become our model.

 

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Where were you when…?

Today’s the anniversary of the publication of Anglicanorum coetibus in 2009.

I am at a national prolife conference all day. If I weren’t otherwise occupied I would write more about how I first heard about the document. The announcement it was coming occurred in October that year.   I was at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops annual plenary. When I returned to my room I had a telephone message from a bishop but it was too late to call him back. It was highly unusual that I would ever get an unsolicited call from this individual. Then I turned on my laptop and had emails from Rome and a link to the announcement. “Does this involve your group?”

I could scarcely believe what I was reading.   A longed for dream suddenly looking like it would come true. The next morning I thought my head would explode with joy.

Can’t write more since I am on my phone but I wonder where you were when you first heard about Anglicanorum coetibus and what was your reaction?

 

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This is too good not to post

Even though Fr. Dwight Longenecker is not a member of the Ordinariate, because of his background as a former Anglican priest, I thought while reading this post, this is too deliciously good and, because I can discern a slight Anglican and Catholic connection, I must link to it.

I love it when there’s a man in the house.

What gets me is not the content, but the tone churchy people use these days. It can only be described as sentimental mumbo jumbo. Its become a kind of new Catholic orthodoxy. In the old days prelates inveighed in magisterial tones against heresy, wickedness, dissent and apostasy. They spelled out their disagreements clearly and logically.

Nowadays it’s all the language of “fraternal affection” laced with “deep concern” . things are “noted with sadness”. One never comes out and accuses anyone of anything clearly. Instead there are a lot of “perhaps” and “could be” and “possibly” and “could be construed as”. There are no statements of objective truth instead we have “many people agree” or “after consensus it was decided.”

It all tumbles around in ambiguity and is as slippery as an octopus in oil. Then when they are criticized they say, “Point to something we have said which is not orthodox!” Nothing you have said is unorthodox, but then nothing you have said is orthodox either–because all of it was subjective, sentimental, lukewarm ambiguity.

Onward Christian Soldiers!

 

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Thank God for “A Pledged Troth”

We are so blessed to have Bishop Steven Lopes as the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter and his marvelous  “A Pledged Troth: A Pastoral Letter on Amoris Laetitia.

He is among the bishops of the world who have come out with an interpretation of Pope Francis’ post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation that affirms what has always been taught by the Catholic Church regarding Holy Matrimony and the Holy Eucharist.

It’s beautifully-written, steeped in our Anglican/English Catholic patrimony through reference to our marriage rite and gives us firm direction in a time when confusion abounds as well as a divisive factionalism.

I thought of this upon reading this piece on the Patheos site by Dr. Greg, in which the blogger airs his frustration with some of the progressive polemics that interpret Pope Francis’ document in a manner inconsistent with previous papal teaching, and indeed with Scripture and Tradition.

Dr. Greg writes:

I’ve grown more than a little weary of the progressive trope that any confusion caused by chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia is simply a matter of conflict between people who want an “adult church…a mature people of God” versus those who are childish, rigid, and “afraid of the unknown.”

snip

I would propose that this debate is really between those who believe in the Universal Call to Holiness and those who believe that “heroism is not for the average Christian” (as Cardinal Kasper proclaimed in an interview with Commonweal explaining his support for a new approach to communion for those who are remarried without the benefit of an annulment)

The idea that the laity are doomed to be spiritual also-rans strikes me as a particularly pernicious failure of pastoral practice.  I am, frankly, appalled that what appears to be driving the progressive advocacy of an interpretation of Chapter 8 of AL that supports communion for Catholics who are remarried without the benefit of annulment is that lay people are just too weak to live holy lives.

snip

What progressives fail to acknowledge is that any proposed changes to the doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage and how it relates to the marriage supper of the  Lamb (i.e., Communion) is a de facto denial of the universal call to holiness and the dignity that marriage holds in the divine plan.

We are blessed to have clear teaching from Bishop Lopes on these matters.  This teachings helps us to maintain our serenity while various factions battle it out.  This teaching is not meant to be something to fill our heads with knowledge, but to guide us to holiness, a roadmap to deeper conversion and better understanding of the graces that flow from the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and the Holy Eucharist.

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