It's less than a week before Spring Break, and then only one more month until the summer. God is smiling down upon our valley with this foretaste of spring and I hope you are enjoying it, as I am. Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus and the patron saint of the universal Church. He is also patron of fathers, of husbands, of workers, carpenters, and many other things. It is very fitting that this day was chosen for the inaugural Mass of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. More on that below. First, some notes about this week's schedule.
Please note we are meeting at 6:00 this Wednesday night, NOT 6:30 as usual. This week we are being joined by students from the Methodist and Presbyterian campus ministries (and perhaps others) in an outdoor Stations of the Cross. We will meet at the Catholic Student Center at 6:00 to begin our prayer, which will proceed across our campus. We'll end up at the Methodist church, where they will host us for dinner. So please join us in sharing one of our most beloved traditional Catholic devotions with our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, and enjoy their fellowship and hospitality.
SUNDAY AND HOLY WEEK
Please note there is NO MASS on campus Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday. Sunday evening Mass on campus will resume April 7. For those staying in Cullowhee over Spring Break, Sunday Masses at St. Mary's are at 9 and 11 am, as usual. If you need a ride, please post a message on our Facebook group or contact me. If you can offer rides, please post that, as well. Everyone have a wonderful spring break and a blessed Holy Week!
Our Spring Retreat this year is all about forgiveness; God's forgiveness of us, and our need to forgive one another. The dates are April 12-14 and it's only $20 to go. We'd like to have a final count before we leave for Spring Break, so please sign up this week if you have not already. Sign up sheet is here on our fridge -- where every family keeps important information. Or just email me your intent to go and I can add your name.
MORE ON THE HOLY FATHER
In a somewhat unusual move, Pope Francis this morning opted to not use the normal readings for the Mass for the Inauguration of the Pope. Instead he chose to use the readings from today's Solemnity of St. Joseph. This is a wonderful reminder to us, linking the patron of both fathers and of the Church to the Bishop of Rome, who is spiritual father for the whole Church.
What this brings to my mind today are the strong links between the sacrament of matrimony and the sacrament of holy orders. Both are sacraments of vocation. All too often in today's discourse the two are pitted against each other. We are told that celibacy is a bad thing, because marriage is a good thing. We are not often told the opposite today, but in the past there have been ultra-ascetic heretical groups that forbade marriage altogether as an evil and required celibacy of all believers. Both are wrong. Neither is the position of the Catholic Church.
The Church teaches us that marriage is good, and worthwhile, and holy. But the Church teaches us also that some people are called by God to set that good aside for the purpose of another good. While Christian marriage is a great witness to God in the world (the family is often called the "domestic church"), those who give up the possibility of marriage to embrace life in the priesthood or as professed religious give witness to God in a different sort of way. They are able to give themselves in service to the Church and her people fully, in a way that a husband or wife, responsible for one another and for children, simply cannot.
I see this personally even as a campus minister in our small Catholic community here at WCU. I am not clergy, and I am not called upon to do all the many things that clergy are expected to do; I cannot hear Confessions, I cannot baptize your children, or witness your marriages; I do not receive 3am phone calls to come to the hospital and administer Last Rites. But even with my much more limited ministerial responsibilities, I often have conflicts between ministering to my students and being a husband to my wife, and a father to my children. I am a finite man with only so many hours in the day. And my wife and children will always win. Always. Because marriage is my vocation.
I could not even begin to imagine being a pastor responsible for the spiritual needs of a large parish with a wife and kids at home. I know some do it. Contrary to what many think, there are some married Roman Catholic priests (mostly former Anglican clergy who have received special dispensation from the discipline of celibacy). But even they will admit that it is not the ideal. It's hard. We in the Latin Rite allow for married men to be ordained as deacons, and in the Eastern Rite churches married men may even be ordained priests. But even then bishops are only selected from among the celibate clergy, because it better reflects the ideal of Christ's self-sacrificial priesthood.
When a man forgoes the good of being a husband and a father so that he may be ordained as a priest, he is allowing himself to be husband to the Bride of Christ (the Church) and a father to all her children. This is true of your parish priest. And it is true of Pope Francis. The title "pope," it is good to remember, comes from the Greek word papas, which which is a very informal word for father; like our English word "papa." Papa Francis, like Papa Benedict before him, is spiritual father for over a billion Catholics. Please pray today, on the feast of St. Joseph, patron of fathers, for strength, courage and guidance for our Holy Father. And remember, he can only be father to us because of the sacrifices he has made in his life, including the great sacrifice - and gift - of celibacy.
Pope Francis is already being called a "reformer." But what does that mean? To the secular media, a "reformer pope" is one who might allow contraception and abortion, married priests, and so forth. But true reform of the Church means something else. For a glimpse at what a Pope Francis reform might look like, check out this article from the Catholic Culture web site.