Faithfulness in little things

We live in interesting times, are in a quite unusual situation. All kinds of worries present themselves at every level: concerns about the spread of coronavirus and the suffering and death for the persons who might be infected by it, but also for our job, for the future of our business, that is forced to close for an indefinite but potentially long period, but also concerns about larger civil and economic relations.

We may feel helpless when thinking about the potential risks and dangers facing us. It may be helpful to consider, on the one hand, the truly big picture, and the other hand, small and daily tasks.

To see the big picture, gives confidence. Humanity and society has mastered far greater problems, we will manage this one as well. Together we will win out over the virus, prevent its swift spread, and, in the long-time, find treatments and/or vaccines.

But more than that, God is with us, who has not only given us "statutes and ordinances" as Moses proclaims to the people, but who is Himself with us in our searching, our uncertainty, in our efforts to hinder the spread of coronavirus while giving attention to and maintaining what is truly necessary for ourselves and society.

In today's Gospel Jesus says "till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." The Salvific message, God who himself turns to his people in love, does not do away with the value of fidelity, fairness, attention to one another and care for another, but confirms it.

So let us look consoled to the little things in our power: the work we can do; the tasks we can take care of for others who can't or shouldn't or don't want to leave their homes; the caring and loving and consoling words we can speak to those suffering from loneliness or fear or sickness. Our fidelity, work, patience, and love, that of each one of us, is of great and enduring value.

17.03.201 – Deprivation of Public Liturgy

For many persons, who find spiritual nourishment in the liturgy of the Church, and especially the Eucharist, it is a great sacrifice and a hard burden to be unable to participate in the Holy Mass at this time. They can identify well with the words of today's reading: "We have… no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you."

This forced deprivation can, however, also be an opportunity to pursue more intensely spiritual practices, that can also unite us with the Lord, which is also the fruit of the liturgy. Public Mass may be cancelled, but we can still make a spiritual date with God. And know that he comes to us, accepts us and unites himself to us, also apart from liturgy. The biblical pray, "let us be received; As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, So let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly;" we could render for this situation, "as though it were the celebration of the Mass, so let our faithfulness, our consideration for each other, our patience and our prayer be received by you."

To be a hermit – social distancing and the spiritual life

Some, whether in course of a quarantine or just cancellation of various events, parties or meetings outside the home, might use the time to catch up on various practical matters such as deep cleaning or the house or devote more time to hobbies such as music.

Introverts, who, especially in the USA, have long suffered under society's esteem for extroversion, can now rejoice that the their preferred modes of interaction is now held up as a model for all, as it were.

For those thinking about what to do with the time they otherwise spent in various social activities, the eremitic way of life might provide inspiration, and fit in perfectly with the Lenten season.

Church law states "the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance."

Some persons are called to this life as a permanent state by their free choice. But even for those of us not called to be hermits for life, the involuntary "separation from the world" and a degree of solitude at this time is something we can use to practice inner silence and prayer.

Social events and dinner dates may be cancelled, but we can still make a date with God.

Homily on 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A

Homily given on Sunday, 15.03.2020

Fr. Joseph Bolin

whoever drinks of the water that I give him,
will never thirst again“

In the past few days various measures have been taken that starkly impact daily life. The Church, too, does her part with the decision to celebrate no public liturgies until further notice. For many, these measures are a great sacrifice.

1. Let us view this sacrifice as a mode of christian fasting, a particularly special lent. Whether we have to cancel a planned vacation or have to give up physical attendance at the Mass, such sacrifice can be a fasting in the service of charity and prayer, in thh service of the mystical and spiritual life.

2. Let us not act from fear, but from love. If we go shopping less frequently, as far it is possible work remotely from home, refrain from shaking hands or hugging on greeting acquiantances or friends, or communicate via electronic means rather than in person, let’s do it not out of fear of a virus, that might be hiding in someone, but out of love for others, whom we might unknowingly infect.

We can show love of neighbor also in helping others who are unable or who should not go out, by taking care of various errands for them.

3. Above all, let us turn in faith and prayer to Jesus, who is always with us, even in the midst of worries and we sometimes inclined to ask, like the Israelites did , “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”

Yes, the LORD is among us, and he longs, in this time, for our faith and love, he longs to be living water for us. His love longs to still the thirst of our hearts, to give us inner peace. We are given to grace to encounter him, the source of living water, not only in the Eucharist, in the Holy Mass, but everywhere, where we seek him with a sincere heart, “in Spirit and truth.” The church building, the physical presence at the liturgy stands in service of this spiritual reality, to be united with Jesus Christ in faith and in love, and with his mystical body, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Certainly the church as a place of a worship can be conducive to prayer and remains open for personal prayer.

In place of the communal celebration of liturgy, not possible at this time, we can use the time for various forms of prayer and meditation, or we might unite ourselves in prayer to a Mass being celebrated and transmitted live over radio, television or internet. In this way we unite ourselves to God, and also remain in spiritual union with one another, even if we cannot come together physically to celebrate liturgy together.

Approaches to the Coronavirus – a Radical Idea

Would you be willing to get sick for a few weeks and risk an approximately 1 in 700 chance of dying, in order to safeguard the lives of elderly and immune-compromised persons, and to return to normality in a month or two, rather than have everything shut down for potentially many months?

Here I want to put out exactly this idea. On the one hand, as a serious suggestion, though I don't think it likely to be taken up on a wide-scale. On a small community scale, I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere some few family groups actually take the proposed step. On the other hand, as food for thought for those unhappy with the measures currently being taken: what is the real alternative, if we don't want to have a pandemic comparable to that of the Spanish flu or the plague?

In attempts to contain or slow down the spread of the new corona virus SARS-CoV-2, governments have been taking fairly strong measures over the past months. Italy has been in varying degrees of lock down for some time. Beginning Monday in Austria, there are to be no public events, including no public Masses, classes in schools will stop beginning Monday or Wednesday depending on the school level (for the upper levels learning is expected to contain with electronic contact with teachers), employers are being encouraged to allow employees to work from home as far as that is possible, etc., to reduce social contact as far as possible, etc.

At least until recently, not a few persons argue that the current number of cases and deaths is still far below that of influenza, and so these measures are excessive.

The goal of these measures is, in most cases, not to stop the spread of the virus altogether or eliminate it, which is almost certainly no longer possible (unless a self-test for the virus that gave immediate results could be mass produced and distributed to all households or something), but to slow it down, to keep hospitals and other medical support systems from being overloaded, so that the mortality rate among those who WILL get sick can be kept as low as possible, and to gain time to test treatments against the sickness COVID-19 and perhaps to develop a vaccine.

In many countries people have been stocking up on non-perishable goods (beans, rice, pasta, toilet paper), though no real shortage of these on the production side is to be expected, and in most cases, even in the event of a quarantine, family or friends would be able to take care of purchasing what was needed. In some respects solidarity in countering the virus has been increasing, but the stocking up or hoarding there still seems to be a bit of the attitude of "every man for himself".

Here I want to throw out a radical approach, somewhat akin to the approach Austria is taking, yet still more radical, requiring still greater solidarity and selflessness, but very possibly more effective in the long term. Basically, the idea is that young and healthy persons voluntarily expose themselves to the virus, then remain in strict quarantine until the risk of passing it on the others has passed.

If the reports are correct, the UK is inclined to resign itself to the fact that the virus will be stopped until a kind of herd immunity is reached, and measures are intended only to slow down the infections until that point is reached. Well, why not do it the other way other around, hurry up and get it over with? More rapidly reach herd immunity or resistance, while limiting it to those least affected and least likely to die of it?

The relative newness of the virus means that our data on its transmission, symptoms, treatment, etc. is quite limited.

The measures currently being taken, reducing social contact etc., are only effective for as long as those are in effect. On the other hand, it is highly likely, though not 100% certain, that those who have been infected and recovered, are not able or are unlikely to be reinfected, and so also unlikely to be carriers.

Now, the virus hits older persons much harder than young persons. Current statistics show no deaths for children under 10, a 0,2% death rate in those under 40 years of age who get sick, whereas a death rate rising from 3% to 15% in those 60 to 80+ years of age. And a higher death in those with preexisting conditions. So, finally, it is the elderly and those who preexisting health conditions that one is most concerned with protecting.

The worst case scenario with a uncontrolled spread of the virus would entail around 50-60% of the population getting infected within the next 6 months to 2 years. If 50% of those over 60 get sick, and these make up 15% of the population, that would mean the death of 1% of the population, probably more, given that intensive care could not be provided for all.

So, one possible approach, in the absence of a vaccine (and given that it could quite possibly be a year or more till a vaccine is widely available) to rapidly increasing herd resistance to the virus is to have all, or many of those who are relatively unlikely to die of the sickness (Healthy individuals under 40 with no preexisting conditions), and who are able to stay in strict quarantine for two weeks, to voluntarily expose themselves to the virus. Of course, some small percentage of these would in consequence die, so they would all have to be willing to undergo the risk of their own death for the sake of the common good. Let's say around 25% of the population is young enough, in good health, able to cease work for the next weeks (so probably not those in the medical profession). In terms of overall deaths, that might end up being around 0,05% of the population, much less than the worst case scenario and even less than some of the mid-case.

If such measures were to be taken without delay, there would still be medical facilities available to care for the small proportion of those voluntarily infected individuals who do wind up more seriously effected.

This step would, on the one hand, greater increase herd resistance to the virus, and therefore greatly slow down the spread of the virus. At the same time, since we would have many persons infected at a known point in time and be able to observe them, we would be able to more rapidly acquire knowledge about the virus, and be more quickly equipped to deal with it.

Such a radical step requires, of course, on the economical side, the ability for many working persons to voluntarily take off the next two weeks of work. In the USA this would probably require government intervention, and be politically nearly impossible.

With the social and political system in Austria such a step might be feasible, and, with the right presentation of the idea, might even be acceptable.

Of course, on the social level, the proposed step could be taken in various degrees: families with children under 10 able to stay at home for four weeks could let their children expose themselves to the virus and have their child remain in quarantine for that time, doing everything possible to avoid older children or the parents being infected — to mitigate even the small risk of death for the parents, while increasing the herd resistance. Or again, younger persons in the medical profession might seek immunity through voluntary infection at this time, to ensure that they are able to care for others in the event that many of their colleagues get sick involuntarily.

On the morality of such a step, it seems clear that, if deliberately infecting yourself were, in fact, determined to be the best means of protecting your family members (in particularly the elderly) or society as a whole from the virus, it would be a morally acceptable means. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) The same applies to risking one's life for others.

Disclaimer: the idea just occurred to me today, I haven't thought through all the implications; there are a lot of uncertainties, including the effectiveness of this step, as it is theoretically possible that those infected and recovered might, after a certain period of time, lose their immune response and be able to be reinfected. I am NOT encouraging any individuals to deliberately expose themselves to the virus, much less encouraging any states to deliberately have people infected.

The Unity and Disunity of Christians

Over at the blog Unam Sanctam Catholicam Boniface wrote an article The Battle Lines Have Changed, in which he puts forward the principal thesis that the primary division among Christians is not along confessional lines, but between those who profess a creed received through tradition, recognizing an external (definitively binding) authority, and those who do not. I don't agree with everything there, and would be disinclined to describe the one side simply as "traditional", but agree emphatically with the general idea. It brings to mind Ratzingers article Relativism: The Central Problem for Faith Today. And it is something I've been thinking about and brought up in conversations a number of times.

Within and outside the Catholic Church a great deal of energy is spent discussing the Church's teaching and discipline on the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, Anointing of the Sick, on marriage, divorce, contraception, homosexuality, clerical celibacy, ordination of women. Catholics disagree and argue about whether the Church is right or wrong on such matters, whether its teaching is infallible, fallible but right, or plain wrong.

These disagreements pale in comparison with the disagreement between those who accept the creed, "I believe in Jesus Christ, his Only Son" as defined by the Nicaean Council, or "on the third day he rose again from the dead" as taught by the Scriptures or indeed in any significant sense beyond that in which many other persons live on in memory. Points on which, of course, the Catholic Church is in agreement with Orthodox Churches and many other Christian denominations.

Perceived Poverty and Keeping up with the Joneses

Some time ago a man in his early 60s came looking for a cash handout from the Church. As I generally do in such cases, I sat down to talk about his living and financial situation. According to the information he gave, he was receiving 900 euros a month from the state (about 1000 dollars — this is the minimum that austrian citizens and permanent residents who have lived at least five years in Austrian receive, in the event that have no substantial savings or higher income), of which he spent 200 euros a month on rent for a room in an apartment with a former colleague.

Other than half a pack of cigarettes a day (in his opinion his only vice), he claimed to need the rest of the money for food and drink. On further inquiry, several times a week he would buy coffee in a coffee shop, not as a way of meeting up with other people, but just because he liked coffee. And he would several times a year take trips that would cost several hundred euros, sometimes need to buy new clothing instead.

In his estimation, his income was enough, but just barely, so that when unexpected and unplanned expenses came, such as some medical expenses not covered by insurance, he needed more money. This did not, he said, commonly happen (and indeed the last time he had received money from the parish where I now am was something like a year ago).

As he claimed to have a background in business, I tried getting into detail how he could better manage his money, noting that, if he smoked just one cigarette less per day, bought coffee in a coffee shop one less time per week, or even better, bought a coffee pot and made his own, he could set aside the money, and have more than enough for such unexpected expenses.

He reacted rather indignantly to the suggestion, as well as to other suggestions to save him money, and to make a kind of a game out of it, e.g., to take delight in seeing out independent he could be, not to see it, e.g., as a deprivation to make coffee himself rather than pay someone to do it, but as an exercise of self-reliance.

I gathered that he had the feeling, that's just what normal people do, and he felt it unworthy of his dignity to expect such things from himself. Such a feeling is formed of course by the society in which one lives, hence the title of this post, "keeping up with the Joneses".

Poverty comes in many forms. In first world countries with a weaker social system, such as the USA, absolute poverty can be quite great.
In first world countries with a strong social system, pretty much everyone can live in luxury in comparison with life throughout most of human history. Poverty is then mostly either a matter of perspective: relative deprivation in comparison with those living in still greater luxury. Or is the result of poor management of one's life and material means. This doesn't necessarily imply a moral fault, but a lack of domestic virtue in the Aristotelian sense.

This and similar cases suggest that the provision of a bare financial minimum for all by a means such as a universal basic income and healthcare might do away with extreme poverty, but by a long shot wouldn't eliminate all perceived poverty.

Universal Basic Income and the Universal Destination of Goods

In an increasing number of countries the idea of a universal basic income is being discussed and is gaining momentum. In contrast to a minimal guaranteed income that is only given to those who have less than this amount in wages or other sources of income, the universal income is given to all citizens regardless of their wages or other income. 
Andrew Yang has proposed such a scheme with the name of freedom dividend. The proposal could also be described as a flat tax reduction of $12,000 with the possibly that the resulting tax would be negative. For some, this way of describing the proposal, as an income tax reduction, coupled with the possibility of negative tax, or a tax payment made by the government to the citizen, might make it seem more agreeable.
The name freedom dividend, on the other hand, suggests a partial common sharing of the fruits of the earth and the economy, regardless of direct ownership of an individual of the specific means of production. The catholic teaching of the universal destination of good gives a perspective to see this proposal as realizing a form of justice in relation to the common good.
The responsibility of seeing that the goods of the earth can be enjoyed by those that need them is as such the state or mankind's responsibility, not that of an individual employee or businessman on his own. But because, for the most part of human history and in most cases, it was necessary for most persons to work in order to ensure that through man's labor and use of technology together the fruits would be enough for all, this requirement of justice became closely linked to the justice between employer and employee, under the title "living wage".
For an employer to be required, for the sake of justice, to consider more the wealth or neediness of the employee than the value of the work the employee should do is a major impediment to efficient exchange and valuation of labor. Such a system consequently significantly increases the cost of labor without a corresponding increase in productivity of labor.

Arguably, for all employers across the board to contribute 10-20% of labor costs to a pool that would be distributed to all independently of the work they performed, while likely increasing the price of labor in comparison to the present price, would end up being a more efficient way to ensure that the fruits of the earth and fruits of labor benefit all men, for whom the earth was created.  

Considerations on Priestly Celibacy by Marianne Schlosser

Translated by Fr. Joseph Bolin from the German text published in "Die Tagespost" on October 14, 2019.

Considerations on priestly celibacy

“… How would it harm the New Covenant, if religious ministers, as in the Old Testament, would live in a respectable sacramental marriage? Is God now wiser or holier than in the Old Testament? Christ may have been virgin, may have been borne of a virgin, entrusted to a virginal man, may have been anticipated by the virginal prophets Jeremiah and Elijah, may have recommended virginity to some few, who were able to take it. From where, I ask, did the commandment come, so that it was no longer only a counsel? […] Vows are so often disregarded, what is holy stained, the laws of nature horribly perverted – crimes, evil deeds, sins, injustice, offenses, depravities that one is ashamed to name or to think about … the unworthy reality shouts louder than my complain – unless one makes himself deliberately deaf!”

These are only some of the objections to celibacy, with which Johannes Gerson in the 14th century had to deal with, in his answer to the anti-celibacy work of a French nobleman. We meet similar arguments in the so-called “Anti-celibacy storm”, that swept over some dioceses in Southwest Germany, where mostly academically educated lay persons, together with a considerable number of professors of the University of Freiburg, turned to the grand duke of Baden and the Baden Parliament, to obtain the repeal of celibacy for catholic priests. At that time anti-celibacy associations were established, which were unfortunately joined by not a few priests. The most important defender of celibacy at this time was Johann Adam Möhler.

Two basic lines of argument are conflated

In the argument against the long tradition of priestly celibacy, two basic thrusts are at times conflated – then as now – on the one hand, very fundamental anthropological objections are raised; such as: celibacy leads to the degeneration of human existence. These arguments, we must be clear, doubt or deny ultimately the meaning and fruitfulness of the evangelical counsel of perpetua continentia in general. On the other hand, specific arguments against priestly celibacy are presented, as it appears (mainly) associated with the Latin tradition: So was and is the rejection of the so-called “compulsory celibacy” justified on the grounds that it is the main obstacle to getting more well-qualified applicants for the priesthood.

Not uncommonly is it asserted that the charism of celibacy is well appreciated, but since it is not necessarily linked to the priesthood, one cannot require it as a condition for the priesthood.

Karl Rahner, already many years ago (The Celibacy of the Secular Priest Today: An Open Letter, 1968) answered that one cannot deny the church the right to demand this dowry from those who want to be her priests. Similarly, Joseph Ratzinger (Open Letter to the Munich moral theologian R. Egenter, 1977) pointed out that the aforesaid reasoning is based on a unreflected concept of charism: First, a charism is given to the person as a free subject; the recipient himself can and must have an attitude to this gift, i.e, one can develop and guard a gift, as well as ask it of God, similarly one can neglect, injure it, or let it die. The same pertains to those persons who have the responsibility of accompanying and discerning vocations.

A charism is never just a private spiritual gift

Secondly, a charism is never merely a private spiritual gift, but, on the contrary, a special aptitude for the benefit of the ecclesial community. – This seems, I would add, to be particularly applicable to the charisma of celibate chastity (especially if it is not linked to a vocation to an Order): It gives freedom for an extraordinary dedication. – If the church gave up its publicly expressed esteem for the celibate life of priests and left it to personal decision, the celibate life of a diocesan priest would become an expression of his personal, private piety, that would have but little to do with his ecclesial ministry. The consequence of leaving celibacy up to individual choice would, sooner or later – as Joseph Ratzinger is also convinced by historical developments – be the disappearance of the celibate life of priests.

In the following I will not go into the historical development; for to show the legitimacy of celibacy in the Latin Church there are several studies (Chr. Cocchini, R. Cholij, St. Heid), but I would rather like to try to manifest the inner closeness or “manifold correspondence” (“multimoda convenientia”: Presbyterorum ordinis n.16) between the evangelical counsel of the perpetually promised “celibate chastity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” and the priestly vocation. If one does not do that, the question naturally arises, what one would lose if one gave up this seemingly incomprehensible, unbeloved and supposedly so frequently broken “law”.

Celibate life is rooted in the order of redemption

Certainly, these are arguments of fitingness. For the celibate life is based on the order of redemption; as a result, its justification can not be presented by means of necessary and generally evident reasons, although there may be some plausible arguments from the outside, it rather derives its true “logic” from belief in the incarnation, and even more so the bodily resurrection of Christ (“After the resurrection they will no longer marry”: Mt 22:30, Lk 20:35). I quote Rahner again: “There are many reasons for today's celibacy crisis. […] But if we do not fool ourselves, we must see that the ultimate cause of this crisis lies in the plight of faith in general and as a whole. We live in a time when the reality of God and eternal life is difficult for man to realize. We live in a time characterized by keywords such as demythologization, desacralization [!] and the tendency to reduce all Christianity to mere interpersonal relationships.”

In the following considerations, I suppose that continentia permanens = celibacy is not just an outward lifestyle – or even a more comfortable single life! – but a specific, bodily expression of chastity (castitas). This, in turn, signifies an attitude of piety, which shapes the affective relationship of the person to his fellow man, to himself, and indeed to God, and is a necessary quality of caritas, the virtue of love. It is rooted in grasping the “sanctity”, preciousness and unavailability of the other person.

Following of the Good Shepherd – not functional, but personal

There is only one priest in the New Testament: the Lord, Bridegroom and Head of His Church, which is His priestly body (1 Pet 2:5,9). He who receives the sacrament of priestly ordination is enabled to “represent” the Lord of the Church, to make Christ visible in her as the permanent counterpart to the Church – in word, sacrament, in the selfless service of salvation. The establishment of the sacramental priesthood states that Christ wants to be present not only as the gift of salvation in his Church (Eucharist as sacrament), but also as giver (in the celebration of the Eucharist, especially through the action of the priest “in persona Christi capitis”). The priesthood of the New Covenant exists only as a function of the one high priest Christ.

At the same time: He who is ordained a priest, according to the Catholic understanding, does not simply take on a service or a task, in the sense of a function necessary for the community, but is called to a special following of Christ. He is not simply a “means” or “tool” (even if the sacraments are operative ex opere operato, and do not depend on the faith or holiness of the priest) nor a “servant who does not know what his Lord is doing” but a “friend” (John 15:15), who is called into a “knit community” (as a cooperator) with Christ (1 Cor 3: 9). His task is to promote the supernatural life, to build the faithful into a sacred offering (PO 2). He has nothing to give but what Christ gives. But this passing on claims him as a person.

To become a priest not for oneself, but for Christ

How could conformity of one’s way of life to Jesus’ way of life, the evangelical counsels, not be fitting here? He whose first concern must be for the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), will avoid getting caught up in “earthly occupations” (2 Tim 2:4) or making himself too much at home.

The readiness of a candidate for a celibate life can certainly be a criterion for whether he has understood that he does not become a priest for himself, but for Christ, who wants to exercise his pastoral care through him. And whether he accepts the unconditionality of this vocation. Karl Rahner (1968) bluntly stated: “We must ask today's priests and candidates for the priesthood where in their lives those decisions […] are made that so determine their lives by faith, that this life itself would be different if they did not believe in God and eternal life.”

It is not a matter of external imitation, but about the sharing of life, which effects a special proximity. “continentia” is not a garment worn externally, but an expression of inner belonging to Christ, the Good Shepherd, so total that the place of a spouse remains empty.

He who renounces it renounces a good – a good of the order of creation. This can only succeed if the renunciation is affirmed for the sake of a higher good, and not simply “accepted”. Precisely because marriage is not a peripheral matter of human life, but as a unique, exclusive community of a man with a woman profoundly shapes and claims the two persons in all dimensions, it can be understood as “fitting” that a person, who completely and personally is taken into the service of Christ’s commission, cannot belong to another human person as a husband does to his wife.

One may add that the lack of understanding of the meaning of celibacy is precisely the consequence of the trivialization of human sexuality and confusion in the sphere of marriage: “For as soon as marriage becomes a purely civil affair, and to a large extent a chaos, the thought of a free renunciation of sexual community for the sake of the highest tasks, and of a form of life that derives from it, loses its sociological setting. Thus it is not accidental that the denial of the sacramental character and thus the thesis of its dissolubility in the Reformation took place at the same time and derived from the same conceptions from which celibacy as a voluntary and sacred Christian form was rejected. They then continue in the outlook of the French Revolution, which made marriage a purely civil affair and fought religious orders with a hatred deriving not merely from abuses” (Romano Guardini, Ethics I).

Tria munera Christi

The priesthood of Holy Orders, PO explains at the outset, is established to build up the “holy priesthood” of the Body of Christ so that believers become an offering to God. This sanctifying ministry takes place in the proclamation (martyria – munus propheticum), the celebration of the sacraments (leiturgia – munus sacerdotale, sanctificandi) and the comprehensive care for the salvation of those entrusted to one (diakonia – munus regendi).


When the priest is spoken of as the “minister of the mystery” (minister mysterii), one will surely think of his office of celebrating the sacraments (“mysteria”). The sacraments, however, are rooted in the mystery par excellence, as above all the Pauline Epistles make clear: in the plan of God’s salvation revealed in Christ. Integral to this plan of salvation is the church. “Mystery” means “the whole Christ,” “Head and Body,” inasmuch as the union of men with the Redeemer is precisely the goal of God's plan of salvation.

The living Christ is the Head and Bridegroom of the Church: “He loved her and gave herself for her,” “that she might be pure and holy” (Eph 5: 25-27). This devotion is celebrated and made present above all in the Eucharist: through it the faithful are cleansed and sanctified more deeply in order to be with Christ a “holy gift for God the Father”. For this reason the Fathers of the Church see the Eucharistic celebration as the wedding supper of the Lamb, in which the promised communion of heaven is already celebrated in a “veiled” fashion.

Does it not stand to reason that the one who “represents” the bridegroom in this liturgy, who acts “in persona Christi capitis” and speaks the words: “This is my body for you”, should also himself have only the Church as his counterpart? As far as the priesthood of the “first degree”, i.e. the episcopate, is concerned, this fittingness is not disputed even in the Eastern churches. The bishop is, as it were, in spiritual marriage bound to that part of the church entrusted to his pastoral care.

Priest and sacrifice at the same time

A second aspect: the mark of Christ’s priesthood is that he is at once both priest and offering – “priest, altar (as the place of encounter between God and man) and sacrificial lamb.” To the priesthood in the following of Christ therefore also belongs the “expropriation” (Joseph Ratzinger) or “transference” of himself to God. That is the real meaning of „sacrifice” (Latin: “sacri-ficium”): One gives something to God – ultimately, oneself – so that it belongs to HIM (Augustine).

Celibacy is a very concrete form of transference to God, which can also be felt in the dimension of renunciation: He is given the desire to live fruitfully and not meaninglessly, and the longing to be personally loved. It is given “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” in the certainty of faith that one never gives to God without HIM giving back more, in the confident hope that this will increase that love (caritas) that contributes to the salvation of others, love of the Good Shepherd, who gives his life for his own.

In every human life there are “sacrifices” that are demanded of one, imposed on one. But the celibate life is an act of generous faith. This means that not only the de facto abstemious, chaste life, but the promise has a special dignity. For here the dimension of “voluntary gift” is expressed. The promise contains a commitment of oneself that we can, with Thomas Aquinas, describe as an act of worship: the commitment made publicly is a testimony of trust in God and his grace. A priest I know put it this way: “Yes, celibacy is a charism, a gift from God. But it is also my gift to God.”

Martyria – testimony

Priests sometimes used to call their breviary: “my bride”. This was meant to say that they took the book of hours everywhere – like the cell phone today. Of course: It is not about the book as an object, but about the familiarity with the Word of God, which is not only to be read, but to be prayed through, indeed, as by the prophets, to be “eaten”. The service of proclamation presupposes a personal relationship to the Word of God, as Pope Francis urgently recommends in Evangelii gaudium.

Of course, celibacy is not necessary for that. Still, we recall that realists like Thomas Aquinas (or even the “therapists” whom Philo describes, and also Moses Maimonides, even if for a different purpose) considered a certain freedom of mind to be an excellent disposition to contemplation, namely, that “undividedness of the heart”, which Paul sees as connected with chaste celibacy (1 Cor 7:32-34). It is inwardly oriented towards the unhindered contemplation of the truth of God, of the revealed word of God. Above all, this applies to the contemplation that is not just a theoretical meditation, but a “looking with the look of love”. Conversely, the spiritual tradition also holds unanimously that this loving “willing listening” to the Word of God strengthens the virtue of chastity.

He who proclaims the Good News, speaks of the goods of the world to come, is a witness of hope. The goods of eternal life are real goods, but not so easily visible: “We do not stare at the visible, but fix our gaze (contemplantes) on what is not before our eyes. For the visible is transient, the invisible eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). A life of voluntary celibacy is a strong testimony to the reality of the goods we speak of, a testimony that we are immensely loved – even now, in this world of twilight and shadow.

Of course, there is another tone in the word “martyria” which should only be hinted at here: martyria is also a “confession” (confessio) against resistance and contradiction – from the outside or from within oneself. To confess then means to stand up for what is not immediately obvious, not to deny the “folly of the cross”. It is no coincidence that the “white martyrdom” of virginity follows immediately after the “red”, the witness of blood (see LG n. 42). Both are crosses (John Chrysostom). But both are not primarily about the “torture”, but the unity of the witness with Christ.

Diakonia – Seel-Sorge, the service of the Good Shepherd

Diakonia should be understood here in a comprehensive sense: serving the supernatural purpose of fellow human beings, with a mission (and therefore a responsibility!) that goes beyond the duty of each brother or sister. It is about serving as Christ has served (see Phil 2, John 13, etc.), serving with the same purpose. The paradigm for this is foot washing – with its ethical and sacramental implications. For Christ still wants to wash the feet of his faithful through the ministry of the apostles.

What does celibacy here contribute? More in any case than external temporal-spatial availability or easier mobility. It is more about a certain quality of relationship. The look of a “caretaker of souls” (Seel-Sorger) should recognize what is “of God” in the other person, the image of God, in reverence for the work of God.

Since the earliest times, people have considered especially capable of this view of others those who “live alone for God”. Those who face their own loneliness with God every day will also understand more deeply what is necessary for every human being. For this reason is spiritual fatherhood attributed to those who do not know any natural paternity – monks (and nuns) and priests. Just as the calling to a special discipleship does not simply stem from education in a Christian family, but requires a special calling (cf. the words of Jesus’s calling, which demand a distancing from the natural family), so do human relationships of a person so called take on a special coloring.

“A priest is the father of all believers, men and women alike. So, if someone who takes this position among the faithful marries, he is like someone who marries his own daughter,” wrote a Syrian author of the 8th century. That sounds shocking. But let us ask the other way around: could the wife of a priest confess to her husband? How can one endure that people express their deepest metaphysical distress and guilt before God to the spouse whom one knows better than anyone else? It was Friedrich Nietzsche who claimed that aurical confession disappeared in the communities of the Reformation when there were no more celibate clergy.

And so we may also ask if the ease with which one can imagine married priests is perhaps linked to the de facto marginalized meaning of the sacrament of penance.


Considering the aspects briefly outlined here, I venture to say that the separation of celibacy from priestly ministry would change the conception of the priesthood not only peripherally but profoundly. In any case, the consequence would be an increasingly functional understanding, probably even the complete gentrification. On the other hand, it should be remembered that the great reforming movements of church history, which in the long run developed fertility, promoted the vita evangelica for the clergy.

Between cross and Easter

“He who loves his life will lose it. He who hates his life in this world will keep it.” One can only understand the celibate life when one begins to understand this saying.

The life of the Christian is marked by the cross and resurrection of Christ (CCC 2015) – beginning with baptism, which takes place in a symbol of death (immersion) to receive New Life. The sacraments show this mystery, the Beatitudes express it, and especially the evangelical counsels. Voluntary Poverty – which also frees internally; celibate chastity – which does not correspond to a lack of relationships, but to friendship with Christ; concrete renunciation of one's own plans – to do more good than what one could have thought of. All evangelical counsels have this double form: New Life comes through dying.

The “counsels” invite to a renunciation, a renunciation of real goods that one is not obliged to renounce. “Pain” is therefore not a sign that one is not called – but if the joy does not surpass the pain, there is hardly a vocation. Conversely, having received the vocation to celibate life does not mean being relieved of all challenges or temptations. The dimension of asceticism remains important, and the spiritual tradition is very realistic on this point. One is advised to strive for supporting virtues, including the other two “counsels”. For not only a “raging stomach”, but also vanity and the interest in rumors hollow out the chaste life. He who does not fight his anger, impatience, spiritual indifference or indulgence, or even neglects reckless dangers, risks collapse.

The life of the evangelical counsels is at the same time a “foretaste” of the new life, not illusion, but the fresh breeze from the new aeon that has been blowing in since Easter into a world marked by its own transience – and the deadly fear of it. The celibate life is a “scion” of hope (as a theological virtue), which is not without “earnest money” (see Spe salvi 7,9). The vocation to celibate life bears the vocation to a deeper friendship with Christ, which in turn wants to expand out to the brothers and sisters of Christ – in a generous and ready-to-serve love.

Dr. Marianne Schlosser on the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood

Dr. Marianne Schlosser, professor of theology at the university of Vienna and member of the International Theological Commission, has seen it necessary to distance herself from the preparatory group responsible for the topic of women in the Church for the “synodal way” of the German Church, which focused too much on the issue of ordination. One of the prominent advocates for women’s ordination in the working group was Sr. Katharina Ganz, Superior General of the Oberzeller Franciscan sisters. Marianne Schlosser recently (the exact date of the letter is not indicated in the text published online yesterday, September 23, 2019) wrote the following open letter to Sr. Katharina Ganz, defending and explaining the Church’s teaching on this point. Translated by Fr. Joseph Bolin from the German original, put online by Die Tagespost (removing the headings, which appear to have been added by the press):

Dear Madam Superior General, esteemed colleague!

You recently sent me a link to your interview in the FAZ 13.09.2019.

As the topics you discuss are on concern to many people, I would like to comment on a few points and have decided to do so in the form of an open letter, because a letter to the editor would not provide the space for a differentiated opinion. I write with the awareness that I am not alone in my view, but to give a voice to many others who do not usually make themselves noticed by their vocality.

Already the headline, "Women must pose the question of power", rather unsettled me. You associate the "question of power" mainly with the sacrament of Holy Orders and see in the fact that the Roman Catholic – as also the Eastern Churches – does not entrust women with the apostolic ministry, a violation of the equal rights of men and women.

Honestly: I do not want to have anyone above me in the Church, man, woman, or collective who or which holds such a notion of "power" or of the sacrament of Holy Orders. "Christ freed us to freedom" (Gal. 5: 1). There is to be no power in the Church other than the authority of Jesus Christ – and we know what it is supposed to look like ("You know that the powerful … but with you it should not be like this …" Mark 10 , 43, Luke 22:26).

I certainly will not deny that there is a de facto abuse of office and the rank associated with it. And it is painful to me that, even to the present, religious nuns are sometimes as a matter of course treated by clerics and others as servants and do not receive the esteem due them. You do not even have to look to Africa or South America for that.

Maybe it would be "just" that not only men should be allowed to be able to abuse power. It would not, however, make the situation better.. You admit yourself that this expectation would be quite unworldly. Not to mention that de facto "power" is not exercised only by persons who hold an office … I fear that Augustine was right when he considered the hunger for power, i. e. the temptation to rule over others, to be inherent to the human being – not the male sex! As long as he / she does not convert, i.e. take on the mind of Christ (Phil. 2).

Especially in the context of the recent abuse scandal by clerics, the old question has once again come into the limelight: Does the Church (who is that?) need women as priests? Meanwhile, it sounds rather the other way around: women need access to the ordained ministry; they have a right to it.

I do not want to insinuate anything of anyone. But if someone needs an office for themselves, then the abuse of the associated position is inevitable. Anyone – man or woman – who thinks they have a right to it is, mistaken. That's why it is, in my judgment, a mistake to use the language of equal rights in this context. Gregory the Great, a truly experienced shepherd, was of the opinion that it was better not to ordain people who press for ordination. For he who is so convinced of him- or herself that he/she has never been driven to terror by fear or at least a shadow of self-doubt in the face of what lies ahead in such an office, one man doubt his / her special vocation to follow the Good Shepherd. This necessarily means, after all, a kind of "expropriation" of one's own plans and interests – which as a rule also involves resistance within oneself.

That is it which one would need to increase awareness of, so that the church grows together into a "fraternal" community. The fact that your patron saint and model, Francis, not only had a very high esteem for priests, "because of their ordination" (as he writes in his "Testament"), but could also himself be downright authoritarian, cannot, incidentally, be totally overlooked.

A position of responsibility brings with it a special danger, as the whole spiritual tradition knows. To not confuse responsibility with patronizing, patience with with indifference, modesty with submissiveness, affability with conformity, etc., requires a great spiritual maturity.

Unfortunately, the behavior of public officials is at times an anti-testimony.

But where would the suggestion you made at the end of your interview lead, to separate "the sacrament of Holy Orders" and "power"? Who should then exercise "power" with which qualification, with what right? The time of the prince-bishops, who were laymen according to canon law, is over.

The Church binds the delegation of authority and special responsibility to criteria, including a lengthy education and an examination of the character and religious qualifications of a candidate in order to minimize risks. And the rite of consecration expresses confidence in believers’ prayer that the Holy Spirit will not remain idle.

Is this just a spiritual castle in the air, far from reality, an all too power-filled reality?

As long as the office of leadership ("munus regiminis") – even if that were just a distant ideal! – is dialectically connected with the "diakonia Christi" (Jn 13: 13-16; Lk 22,27), that is to say, with the alienation of oneself, if need be unto the giving up of one’s life, there is at least hope that some, many, if possible all of them – hope that one will not lose sight of the summit, even if one were to relapse. If, on the other hand, you declare the summit non-existent, you will remain in the fog of the valleys.

As for the possibility of women's access to Sacred Orders, especially to the priesthood, you assume that John Paul II's "Ordinatio sacerdotalis" does not the degree of ultimate binding force expressly claimed by the document itself (n.4), that it lacks the formal explanation pronouncement as dogma.

However, it has now been repeatedly explained (most recently by Cardinal Ladaria on May 29, 2018) that, and why!, this letter is binding as an expression of the ordinary Magisterium.

(1) Response ad propositum dubium concerning the Teaching Contained in “Ordinatio sacerdotalis”, 28 October, 1995; (2) Concerning the Reply of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Teaching Contained in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 28 October 1995, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19951028_commento-dubium-ordinatio-sac_en.html; (3) In response to certain doubts regarding the definitive character of the doctrine of Ordinatio sacerdotalis, 29 May 2018., Luis F. Ladaria, S.I., Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/ladaria-ferrer/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20180529_caratteredefinitivo-ordinatiosacerdotalis_en.html)

By no means everything that is "de fide", that is to say to be accepted in faith, is formally dogmatized. But if some circles insist on it, they might achieve just that …

That would at any rate be easier than the opposite way. For that would not only rescind a document of the papal Magisterium (which could scarcely be formulated more emphatically!), but abdicate a tradition of the whole church, which was not merely practice, but a practice that had undergone reflection.

In such a case one would have to in my opinion even ask the question, whether a church that had for 2000 years discriminated half of the faithful – and the more fervent half at that! – can be really the church of Jesus Christ, led by the Holy Spirit. Of course, the question is relevant only if one maintains – and I believe we both do – that the Church together with its basic structure is built on the will of Christ – otherwise it would not matter anyway; in that case nobody needs something like a sacramental ministry.

You then declare frankly that certain theological arguments do not convince you.

I do not deny that in the course of reflection on the sacrament of Holy Orders and its recipients, less judicious or viable arguments were brought into play. For good theologians (like Thomas Aquinas) they were however never the main reason.

But fundamentally: what degree of persuasiveness can theological arguments achieve in so far as they rest on the historical revelation of God? If there really is revelation, if the eternal truth of God has become man in Jesus Christ, then this is given to us as an event. In other words, that and how God acts in the history of salvation cannot be demonstrated with "conclusive reasons," because this action is rooted in the freedom of God. The theological arguments can only show the inner coherence, the connection with the whole of revelation. There will always be leeway for assent to the argument. This also applies to the question under discussion here.

You ask why the representation of Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, that is to say, of his actions, especially during the celebration of the Eucharist, cannot assumed by a woman, since men are also present in the pews. Literally, challenged by your interviewer's provocative question, you said, "Why should sexual masculinity be a necessary condition to represent the man Christ when, conversely, the church is to be the bride of the Bridegroom of (sic) Christ? Then the church should consist only of women. "

Yes, if that were the church's argumentation, I would also not find it convincing! For one thing, the sacramental representation of Christ does not simply depend on nature, "the Y chromosome." Otherwise every man, qua man, could represent Christ.

Secondly, there seems to me to be a misunderstanding of the notion of representation, a probably widespread misunderstanding.

In the "symbolic" language of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, the people of God as such, composed of men and women, is "feminine" (in the sense of "receiving") in relation to God, and all together form the "body", none of the members is the head. Moreover, every creature is receptive in relation to God, every soul – as the mystics of both sexes say – is the "bride of the word of God," which must first be received so that mortal man may "bear fruit that remains."

This also applies to those members of the Church who are ordained to the priesthood. Even a priest is and remains "receiving" in relation to God, remains a member of the body of Christ. One can also say with Pope Francis that he must not forget the "Marian" dimension of Christianity, which is the first and fundamental vocation of the Church, the "Prae" before the "Petrine" vocation. Therefore, only a baptized person can be ordained, and ordination cannot replace baptism.

That a priest can "represent" the "vis-à-vis" of the church, that is, Christ as head and bridegroom, is only possible because of the sacrament of ordination. This enables him to "re-present" something he can never become. The persons in the pew, on the other hand, do not "represent" the church – at best in the sense that the whole may be present in one part – they are it by reason of their membership in the body of Christ through baptism (cf Can. 204 – § 1).

But why cannot this sacrament of representation be conferred on a woman?

A sacrament always includes institution by Christ, i.e. the linking of a visible object or operation with a new meaning and an effect guaranteed by Christ Himself. In principle, he could have ordered it differently, he could have completely foregone the sending of the apostles, or he could have left everything (and not just a lot) to later development in the believing community. But if something is to be a "sign", then it must point to the designated content in the best possible way (significance). Oil or wine have a different significance than water. At a "wedding dinner" we think of something other than a birthday party, however lavishly it might be celebrated. This aspect is not playing around with pictures, but relevant, because the sacraments are by definition "perceptible signs" for an invisible reality.

And it seems to me very reasonable that a woman is not a significant sign for the bridegroom of the church. Likewise, a man is not a significant sign of the Church as bride. So religious women often receive a ring on the day of profession, whereas that is unusual for monks – although they both live the bridal love for Christ, they are a visible sign of it in different ways.

The reasonableness of the argument is based not only on a natural preconception – just as the sacraments are not merely religious variants of natural rites – but on the connection between the reality of creation and the historical revelation of God; One could also say that the reality of creation and its symbolism is used for the communication of salvation. Christ "interprets" creation when he establishes the sacraments. The symbols used in the Scriptures as the deposit of the self-communication of God are therefore not simply "pictures" that could be replaced as desired. Rather, they are the way the unfathomable divine mystery of Christ's love is made accessible to us. That the relationship between Yahweh and his beloved people be described as a marriage bond, that the Gospels designate Jesus as the "Bridegroom," that Paul speaks of the Bride Church (2 Cor 11: 2; Eph 5), who owes her life to the Bridegroom, or that the eschatological fulfillment, the joy without end, whose sacramental anticipation is the Eucharistic celebration, resembles a wedding feast (eg Rev 22), is not arbitrary imagery, but expresses that humanity, indeed the individual, will be wooed by God's love. Not the other way around.

That this reasoning seem strange to not a few people, because premises of thought have changed, says nothing about the truth. It could also be the premises that need testing and metanoia. The content of faith is not simply what one just finds obvious. Karl Rahner once wrote in an "open letter" (in the context of the priestly way of life): "Christianity is still a highly unfashionable thing; also in that area about which I have so long tried to write. Thank God it is. "

Greetings in Christ,

Marianne Schlosser