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Dear Family in Christ,

Today we receive a teaching from Jesus on the institution of marriage. Students can ask very unusual questions of their teachers. Today the Sadduccees, who are experts in Jewish Law, pose a quizzical question to our Lord. Jesus uses the question to instruct everyone about one of the beauties of marriage. For those already in heaven, marriage is not a covenant they enter into. Angels do not get married and neither do those in heaven (see Luke 20:27-38).

Now marriage is a sacrament: an outward sign instituted by Christ that communicates grace. Marriage has been given to humanity for the unity of husband and wife, the procreation and education of children, and the strengthening of the community of believers. When a woman and man come together in marriage, they enter into a covenant that binds them “all the days of our life” or “until death do us part” - depending on the wording of the vows. Hence the reason why widows and widowers are free to enter again into marriage. The bonds of marriage do not endure into the next life. We cannot conclude that spouses are strangers in heaven - hardly! The bonds of love which knit us together in this life endure unto the next, but not the particular covenant of marriage.

Of the seven sacraments, two are ordered to the upbuilding of the Kingdom. The other is Holy Orders. Jesus instituted Holy Orders to communicate grace to His Church (see last week’s letter). In the sacrament of orders, men are uniquely configured to Christ the High Priest and entrusted with certain powers and duties to be instruments of grace for the Church by administering the sacraments and teaching. These consecrated men are marked by the sacrament so that they may act in the person of Christ the Head, in a way the baptized are unable. For this reason, Holy Orders is a character sacrament (like Baptism and Confirmation). These three sacraments leave an indelible mark on the soul, a mark that endures into eternity.

Recently the Catholic Church held a synod directed to questions in the Amazon Region. One question from the vast and remote region: could proven and dedicated men in their communities, who are already married, be ordained priests, in order to provide the holy sacraments to people who endure long periods without them. This is a much more nuanced question than what I often hear: “Father, is it true that Pope Francis will let priests get married?!”

It is foreign to our tradition that men consecrated to the Lord in holy orders could later get married. Even permanent deacons today are expected to remain unmarried if they are widowed. But no doctrine (definitive teaching) prevents the opposite: a married man could become a priest. Important is the chronological order here, as it conveys a hierarchical importance. A man who is first married could be ordained a priest to dispense the sacraments and lead the community of believers in holiness.  An ordained priest, however, could not later get married without abandoning his ministry. The former embraces a telos that endures into eternity while the latter adopts an earthly covenant with more limited scope. Saint Paul approached this discussion from the language of divided and undivided hearts.

Currently married priests exist in the Catholic Church. Eastern Catholics maintain an ancient tradition of married clergy. Further, it is possible for a Protestant minister who converts to Catholicism and seeks ordination to remain married. Fr. Dwight Longernecker is probably the best known example. However, there remains a unique configurement to Christ present in the lives of single men who have given over their whole lives for the sake of the Body, the Church. After all, Jesus was a virgin who united Himself solely and wholly to His Bride the Church for the sake of her salvation. And from his first followers, men have sought to imitate and embrace his unique life and offering.

We are still in the midst of the Called by Name Campaign! Do you know a young man in whom you see the makings of a future priest? Please fill out a response card found near the bulletins in church.

May God bless you!

Fr. Wilson

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