This week I had the privilege of living alongside the staff and students of the English College at their summer villa of Palazolla overlooking the stunning Lake Albano with a clear view of the papal summer residence of Castelgandolfo. One could almost wave to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI! I had been invited by the “Venerabile” to deliver twelve hours of seminars on marriage preparation and pastoral care of the family to the senior students, all of whom are close to ordination as deacons and priests. It was a demanding schedule over three days, just after exams, but the rhythm of prayer, Holy Mass and good food and company more than rewarded us for the hard work and concentration in between. As we discussed the ever-increasing challenges, but also exciting opportunities, that arise to remind families to“become what you are” (St John Paul II ) in parish and diocesan life, I wanted the students to appreciate, perhaps for the first time, that the sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony are mutually complimentary and supportive. Each witness to the other as icons not just of God’s love, (of which matrimony, as JPII puts it, ‘is the least inadequate sign in the world’) but of the entire Blessed Trinity. That’s a bold statement I know, but young men training for the priesthood have to live in community, they have to preserve and sustain a truecommunio personarum – a community of persons – if they are going to successfully complete their journey to ordination.It is not just about what they achieve in study and pastoral learning experience, it is also about how they strive to be truly brothers to one another, looking after, and out for, each other, and genuinely striving to anticipate one another’s spiritual as well as material needs, just like family members have to. I feel confident that they appreciated my efforts to inspire them to see the graces that flow in and through family life anew, not only by pondering on their own family of origin but also guiding future engaged couples to whom they will minister to do the same in order to prepare well for the great life of matrimonial grace. As the founder of Worldwide Marriage Encounter Fr Charles Gallagher SJ (RIP) used to say, “the celibate priest must swim in the sea of married love.” In other words, to preserve themselves from becoming just professional bachelors in their priestly life, it is imperative that they discover authentic intimacy with solid married couples by befriending spouses but also letting husbands and wives affirm them as spiritual “fathers”. In this way they will grow to become truly passionate celibates full of loving zeal for matrimony as an essential sacrament to aid them in the new evangelisation; the via pulchritudinis, or the way of beauty.The primordial sign of the Church in the world was the marital power of Joseph and Mary from whom Jesus learned gradually in his humanity to embrace priestly victimhood and sacrifice. Why is this so vital to understand? Well the cultic priesthood is about salvation of souls and marriage and the family is about the sanctification of souls too and their ultimate salvation. The sufferings of families faithful to Christ also saves, in a hidden way, untold souls.So, I explained, if the altar is the heart of our churches then the marriage bed and kitchen table are the altars of the home. My advice to these fine young men was “stay close to the domestic church – the family homes in your parishes – and you will feel increasingly ‘at home’ at the altar of sacrifice when offering the Holy Eucharist.”
It is for this reason that St John Paul II in his exhortation Familiaris Consortio speaks of spouses, and here he quotes Aquinas, as the ‘priests of the domestic church.’ For without the domestic church of hearth and home with parents as the primary educator, frankly there is no church for which ordained priests can administer the sacraments at all!
Indeed I would take the theological image further and say that all validly married spouses are ‘priests of the domestic church’ and those who are parents are bishops of the domestic church because even St. Augustine of Hippo, after reflecting on the influence of his mother St. Monica, said the role of a parent ‘was like unto a bishopric’ in terms of its eternal and supernatural significance in building up the Kingdom of God. And Augustine himself said ‘one soul is a big enough diocese for any bishop!’
Yes the celibate priest must swim in the sea of married love in order to be fully and truly a priest of Jesus Christ. Pray that these future priests will have healthy, close, emotional, psychological and spiritual proximity with faithful spouses and their households equally faithful to Jesus in their discipleship, for these spouses are the‘primary agents of evangelisation.’ Only then will the true potential of their celibate priesthood for supernatural fecundity take on a new level of appreciation and value.
In some respects the English College may be ahead of the curve on this in the Anglophone seminary world because each year engaged couples celebrate their weddings at the Villa Palazolla all under one roof (and terrace!). The student bar and common room at the Villa has a wall full of all the various wedding photos that have taken place there since the innovative Vice Rector, Fr Mark Harold of Salford Diocese, introduced the practice. Of course it helps the income for the Villa but the symbolism it brings of the two missionary sacraments – Holy Orders and Matrimony coming together in one place – is not lost, and is one I hope the students imbibe each year as they enjoy such a beautiful place. There are even baby-changing facilities in one of the toilets for visiting mums and dads!
So please pray for these young men on their journey to ordination especially the ones who will be ordained deacons on 12th July. May the sacred gift of Holy Orders bestowed upon them be at the daily service of what Blessed Pope Paul VI, in an address to Teams of Our Lady in 1974, called the ‘sacred power’ of marital sexuality. Christ himself witnessed to this by performing his first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana and we should therefore follow his lead and encourage a more spiritually fruitful celibate priesthood to exhort the spouses in their care to view themselves in the way that Mgr Ronald Knox so eloquently describes it:
“We Catholics have a touching habit of making the profession of a nun into a sort of parody of a wedding service: the preacher is expected to address the novice as if she were a bride just waiting for the nuptial blessing. One of these days, I would like to reverse that process, and preach a wedding sermon in which I should address the bride and bridegroom as two souls who were about to take their solemn vows in some enclosed order of religion. A little enclosed order of two, with an object of its own and a spirit of its own – the oldest of all the religious orders, because it was founded by Adam and Eve.”
– Edmund Adamus
Director, Office of Marriage and Family Life – Diocese of Westminster