Be united in the same mind and the same purpose. I Corinthians 1:10
Catholics tend to think that marriage and priesthood are polar opposites, when in reality they have much in common. Both marriage and priesthood have a radical communitarian dimension. Just as “being married and acting single” is a distortion of marriage, a priest in “private practice” is a distortion of priesthood.
Marriage has a radical communitarian dimension. Two individuals become a community of persons through a promise of total and mutual self-giving for each other’s good and for the good of the children who come from their union. In the process of “two becoming one,” marriage partners do not give up their own preferences and points of view, but they do give up an over-attachment to them. For the sake of their marriage unity, they pledge to think “we,” not just “me.”
Ordained ministry has a radical communitarian dimension. For that to be possible, each and every priest makes a promise of obedience, a covenant of sorts, with the bishop and every other priest in the presbyterate to not be overly attached to his own preferences and points of view for the sake of a coherent and unified ministry to the people of God. Like marriage partners, priests do not give up their individual preferences and points of view, but they do pledge to give up an over-attachment to them. They pledge to think “we,” not just “me,” for the sake of their shared ministry.
Since both marriage and ordained ministry hold individuality and communality in a delicate balance, it might be good to suggest a simple template on how that might be done — how two or more might be one. I borrowed this template from Pope Paul VI’s document on ecumenism, Ecclesiam Suam.
- Agreement on the essentials: In marriage, as well as priesthood, there are a few things that are non-negotiable, but clarity about what those issues are need to be spelled out, rather than assumed. Problems occur when essentials are treated as non-essential and non-essentials are treated as essential. Clarity of facts is vital.
- Meekness and respect in dialogue: If “a communitarian dimension” and “a unity of purpose” are to be maintained in marriage and priesthood, one has to monitor one’s speech. This means the avoidance of arrogance, barbed words and bitterness, an individual patience with contradictions, an inclination toward generosity and magnanimity and acceptance of the fact that divergent views often serve to complete each other.
- Consensus on non-essentials: Unity is impossible without a “give and take” on things that are not essential. Having an opinion, a preference and a point of view is not the problem, but once cooperative discernment has taken place, one has to resist an over-attachment to one’s opinions, preferences and points of view and accept co-responsibility for directions to be taken and choices made. Such a healthy “give and take” can lead to a universal acceptance of a workable and reasonable, even if not a perfect, plan for going forward.
Father J. Ronald Knott