Priesthood within the Catholic Church is something that is really quite beautiful.
It brings together different expressions across multiple liturgical traditions, religious orders, languages, and cultures to name a few. Just like a mosaic, those different pieces all come together to reflect a bigger picture; the face of Christ to the world. Lived faithfully, the priestly ministry, has the unique ability of making tangible the loving presence of God on earth.
Within the Maronite Church, there are two expressions of living life as an ordained priest. Maronite men may discern God’s call and be formed to serve as a celibate diocesan priest, or they may feel the calling to religious life and join one of the Monastic orders to become a religious priest.
I’m certain most people would rightly think, how is this any different to the Roman rite?
“Remaining faithful to a tradition that dates back to the time of Christ and the apostles, the Maronites and other Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches have this unique expression of priesthood, where married men of good faith are able to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and serve as priests.”
This has been the norm within the Church in the west for centuries and one might be excused for thinking this is the only way. In the Maronite tradition, we see something different to what is seen in the western lungs of the Church.
Traditionally speaking, the diocesan priest was almost always a married man. Remaining faithful to a tradition that dates back to the time of Christ and the apostles, the Maronites and other Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches have this unique expression of priesthood, where married men of good faith are able to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and serve as priests.
In Syriac Maronite spirituality there is a strong emphasis on the belief that there is only one Priest – Christ our Lord – and every ordained priest shares in the priesthood of Christ. This isn’t unique to Syriac or Maronite spirituality, as this is a part of the universal theology and teaching of the church. Where it differs, is that married men are not excluded from sharing in this ministry.
Now as a married priest myself, and despite any bias I may have for this vocation and married priesthood, I hope I am able to shed a bit of light on some of the questions that might arise in people’s hearts about the history and practicality of married priests.
Being Australian born and raised, and having spent very minimal time in Lebanon, I initially found it very hard to reconcile how a married man can also serve as a priest despite having an uncle in Lebanon who is one.
However, the more I lived within the liturgical life of my Maronite church, and the more I lived as a part of the community and spent time studying and learning about its history, the easier it became to reconcile the two vocations.
Essentially it was the realisation that married priesthood is as deeply rooted in the Eastern tradition as celibacy is in the west, which made it easier for me to discern and opened up the possibility and a vocation that the Lord was inviting me to share in.
On a practical level, I will say there are some challenges with living life as a married priest.
“Every vocation in the church comes with challenges but central to our universal faith as Christians is the belief that God’s grace is sufficient for us in all our challenges.”
The common questions I am asked about such as finances and balancing family life and ministry are all very valid questions. The simple answer is that whilst these can be challenging, they aren’t impossible to balance and overcome.
I’m sure most would agree that we should never give up or abandon pursuits just because there may be difficulties or challenges. Every vocation in the church comes with challenges but central to our universal faith as Christians is the belief that God’s grace is sufficient for us in all our challenges.
As a married priest, I am called to overcome the practical challenges that I face with the same tools that I would encourage anyone facing challenges to use – pray, be open to God’s grace and have a heart that is willing to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of your family.
My sincere hope is that you take from this article something that encourages you to pray for all priests and deacons, and for those who are married, offer a prayer for their families too.