Monday, March 11, 2013

Throwing Priest's Wives Under the Bus

or The Grass is Always Greener
or What Would You Really Do if You Were Celibate (notice my usage of the subjunctive)

Fr Dwight Longnecker, former Anglican priest and now married with children Roman-rite Catholic priest, wrote a beautiful post titled Celibacy, Lust & Love last week. And then this exchange occurs in the comment box...
Fr Longnecker said: The superiority of celibate priesthood does not negate the good of marriage for a priest. My marriage is happy and my ministry as a priest is happy, but without denigrating marriage at all, my priesthood would be even fuller and more dedicated without the responsibilities of wife and family.


I said: This is the conclusion that I don’t understand- HOW does having a wife and family diminish your ministry? Is it because you can’t run off to Haiti at a moment’s notice?... because all priests I know get about 8 hours to sleep and then 4 or more hours a day that are not directly related to ministry.

Do you feel diminished because you sometimes think of your wife during a staff meeting at school (she’ll find what Mr. X said funny…I have to remember to tell her during dinner…) instead of thinking of the latest Mass collect? Is your ministry diminished because you decide to play Nerf guns with the kids instead of staying another hour at the chancery…talking shop with fellow clergy after the meeting? Is your ministry diminished because you decide to grocery shop with your wife instead of golf with buddies? I’m not ‘anti-celibacy’ by any means…but let me tell you- the fact that my husband has to support wife and family makes him wake up at 3 in the morning to go anoint someone at the hospital…passing 8 sleeping celibate priests on the way

Fr Longenecker responded: By being free to not be concerned at all about money and also being free to live more simply and move anywhere instantly.

My question now is: Speaking generally to all married priests with these dilemmas-  Would you really be free to not be concerned about money and would you really move anywhere instantly if you didn't have the responsibilities of a wife and family? Or is it just a thought- knowing that being burdened with wife and family makes it impossible to change ministries instantly- Not that you would ever do that. 

Priests, married and celibate, are given faculties and assignments by their bishops. A priest can request a change, but it is the bishop who makes these choices. So priests very rarely "move anywhere instantly." 

I understand the financial concerns that come from being responsible for others, but a priest, married or celibate, is responsible for himself and ministering to all of his parishioners. Remember when Pope John Paul II installed a swimming pool in the Vatican? Some were scandalized by the supposed decadence, but most understood that the health benefits of swimming would be beneficial for the Pontiff. It is the same way with the local parish priest. All of the celibate priests I know have housekeepers, cooks and gardeners. Why do they receive these benefits? He will be available to minister to the people and so he will be physically capable of ministry. This is why a priest who is "worth the wage" receives a stipend for his ministry. If he doesn't eat or receive medical care, he cannot minister to the Church. 

Of course, we can talk about simplicity. And yes, there are some priests, normally monks who are in strict observance communities or the even rarer hermit, who live on almost nothing. But the run-of-the-mill Catholic parish priest receives housing and a salary. Depending on the ability of parish and diocese, these celibate priests can receive much more. Yes, he can compare himself to other professions which require a Master's degree and feel like he is living in relative poverty, but the typical parish priest makes much more money than the very rare missionary to Haiti.

I feel the lesson is this: everyone should accept and develop their lives depending upon their vocation and not advocate against their state in life. It is ungrateful to be otherwise. Fr Longnecker's public thoughts of being a more devoted priest if he weren't with family responsibilities is unfair. While he can advocate for celibacy in general, theological terms, the specifics of his situation should be positive only. I know these are strong words, but he is ungrateful in that he is a minuscule exception to the celibacy requirement in the Roman-rite. I understand that some married priests want to stay 'under the radar,' so don't mention your marriage at all. We all have misgivings and frustrations with our state in life, 

Have you ever met a mother who is vocal about her preference for the opposite sex that her baby turned out to be? The baby is all dressed in blue, and the mom sighs that she's disappointed that she doesn't get to buy all the cute pink ruffly clothes. I must confess that I find that attitude really disturbing. It's one thing to say 'a girl would be fun' before the sex of the baby is known, but when that sweet baby is in your arms, he needs your total acceptance and love. 

What if your husband was having second thoughts about being married to you? What if he fantasized about being married to the girl he dated before you met him? What if he published a Facebook status update like: "I would be a more devoted husband if I didn't have to deal with Sarah's lupus. I could have devoted more to my career if Maria had married me." Devastating, no? 

38 comments:

  1. Good for you.

    I like Fr. Dwight's contributions to the blogosphere, but let's be honest here. Would he have been ordained a RC priest if there was a chance he'd advocate for optional celibacy for non-convert, non-Easterners?

    Besides, I know plenty of celibate priests who are anything but totally devoted to their flocks and who definitely do not drop everything in order to serve at a moment's notice. They get attached to things just as strongly as anyone else. They may not be married to a woman, but they might be married to their golf game, their social life with their other priest friends, their other hobbies...the internet is full of complaints from people whose needs have been unmet by "busy" priests, who wonder why their priests can't find time for hospital ministry...etc....

    Grrrr.

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    1. I hope my 'point' got across- I have no problem with Fr Longnecker being 'pro-celibacy' in general- but I feel we should be publicly 'for' our state in life- not forcing everyone to be what we are...but...do I make any sense?

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  2. Fr Longenecker has already said that he is glad that there is an option in the Latin Rite for former Episcopal/Anglican priests who are married, but would have accepted mandatory celibacy, thus he would have remained in the lay state for his whole life more than likely. He is also straining to keep this to be an exception, which it needs to be. You put words in his mouth, which isn't right.

    Though I think your rhetoical questions to Fr Longenecker are patently unfair, I would suggest that yes, his ministry is diminished rightly or wrongly. Firstly, those priests who he could spend a few minutes talking with after a meeting are his brother priests, whom he would normally be forging close friendships with. Often former Anglicans are left out, because others see them having it both ways (not true, but still, it happens). A celibate priest also needs to make time for those people he has known for years, because he is often their best recourse in times of trouble.

    I am less concerned about your husband's need to support his family than I am about the (seemingly exaggerated unless corroborated) number of priests not doing it. Are the patients Eastern Catholic, are there assignments to hospitals, does the hospital have his number but not the others? That's the other thing. Some priests-like mine- carry on extra duties such as Vicar General or Judicial Vicar, and thus do not get hospital assignments in the dioceses. Others have so gleefully allowed for EMHCs that they forget that only a priest can judge how often- and which ones- the Sacraments should be given to a person (like, do they need weekly or monthly Confession, do they need Anointing, is it time for Viaticum, etc)

    My former pastor was moved in 2 months' time after several coincidental events occurred. I am a military child, and I know families cannot easily move on two months' notice. It does happen, especially in the Army, but it's not good for everybody. Also, it is expected that your children attend the parochial school; you will either be plucking them out of school every 3-5 years (or less) or always explaining why you homeschool. The latter happens no matter who you are as a parent, but it is divisive, in my opinion, in a Roman parish.

    "All of the celibate priests I know have housekeepers, cooks and gardeners." That level of clerical support is gone in most of the Roman Church in the West today. In fact, not even the sisters took care of the rectory by the time my mother was 10 in 1973.

    In the Western CIC, all that is required is that one's lifestyle be in keeping with the clerical state, and to report certain affairs to the bishop. That's it. Obviously, they are not living like Haitian missionaries, and no one said they were.

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    1. Matthew- Thanks for visiting...and I'm sorry if you feel like I was unfair to Fr Longnecker

      Just briefly about my example of 'hanging out' at the chancery after a meeting...like everything, it is a balance that even celibate priests need to make. Some meetings (like a monthly deanery meeting) might be a half day with prayer and a meal where the clerics 'team build'- so they have been socializing quite a bit during the meetings and between talks. A man who has a family- or a man who is feeling under the weather or just needs to prepare a homily- might decide to leave the meeting when it is over. Others will 'hang out' together- a bit like after work. Some people are friends with the people they work with and others have different priorities. Just a thought

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  3. I do have to wonder, did he feel the same way when he was an Anglican priest? That his ministry was diminished because he had a family when he was Anglican? If not, what makes the difference? Was he considering his vocation less important then? If yes, why doesn't he emphasise that? I'd be really curious.

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    1. The norm in Anglicanism isn't being bound to celibacy, though, as it is the Catholic Church, with exceptions made for men already married in Eastern rites and on those rare occasions in the West. However, he can speak from having been a celibate priest prior to his marriage in the Church of England.

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    2. Thank you. I would still be interested in his thoughts on that. The norm is not really impacting one's individual ministry, though.

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    3. Matthew, the norm of celibacy is for priests of the Roman Catholic Church. The norm in the Eastern Catholic (and Orthodox) Churches is for the parish priest to married. It is not an exception but the ancient Apostolic practice of the Eastern Churches.

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  4. This topic is so interesting to me. When I was young, I believed as Matthew did (side note-I am the same age as his mother) though I will say where I lived in NYC, all the rectories had housekeepers and cooks, even those staffed by order priest who took vows of poverty. I work for the church; in our diocese most rectories are staffed so that the priest does not do his own laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, yard work and so forth. If there is no one to cook, they usually eat out. I have seen table expenses in excess of my mortgage payment. If in fact, these men were married to the Church instead of a woman, I'd be thrilled. They are not. They are married to a lifestyle that allows them to live quite well, with little accountability. A pastor is the king in his kingdom in a way a husband is not. These words are harsh, and not true for all priest, but many. I have said this before, if my husband paid as much attention to me and our family as some priest I know pay attention to their flock, we'd have a poor life together indeed. I pray constantly for priest to turn their lives over to the Holy Spirit and serve with joy and passion.

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    1. Deanna- thanks for commenting- and depending on the resources of the community, different benefits are given to the priests.

      I hope there will be a silver lining to this quandary...with all these married deacons and a few married Roman-rite priests around- I hope that it will renew a sense of the monastic in the celibate clergy.

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  5. I like Fr. Longenecker, but ... Wow! I wonder what his wife thinks of his comments. I'd be very hurt if I were her.

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    1. I'm sure all is forgiven- and I'm the bad guy for drawing attention to his answer...good thing this is a micro-blog!

      Once again for everybody....my point is that one can fight for one general norm (example- Public schools must be well-funded because society depends on the outcome of these schools!) but then be specifically 'for' what one has chosen -or they should chose a different path- (example- Our family loves homeschooling and it is the best for the kids now!)

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  6. I guess here again the sacrament of ordination is considered insufficient to give a priest (married) the power to exercise his ministry successfully. I don’t recall in Catholic theology where the sacrament becomes dependent upon the state of priest. It is sad that married priest are put under a great deal of pressure where they feel that they must cave into the false ideologies as he did.

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    1. Thank God the sacraments are not reduced by our human frailty

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    2. False ideology? No--he is not questioning the validity of his sacramental ordination! He is being practical; like St. Paul was in telling men to remain single, for the married man is concerned with earthly things (after all, he HAS to be, marriage is a really practical AND supernatural sacrament).
      All he is expressing is that a celibate priest is ABLE to minister more freely, though priest wife points out that very few in her neck if the woods seem to. That sad fact doesn't shake down his comments though.

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    4. He may not be questioning it but any comments that claim that a celibate priesthood is better than a married one is built on a carnal ideology and not the power of the sacrament. I could say the same thing that celibate priesthood is ineffective to minister to married people since they can’t relate. This of course would be a carnal approach. The truth is through the sacrament any man has the full power of God and is not hindered by their state to minister effectively.

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  7. There is no doubt that an unmarried man can live much simpler and devote more time to his job than a married man. My wife & child would not like it very much if I worked 80+ hour weeks at my work at the expense of my marriage/family or decided that we were going to eat ramen noodles for the next six months. Having a family does place an added burden on any mans shoulders, a priest included.

    Could this be what Fr. Dwight was referring to? That without a family he could give more of himself to the church?

    Of course, this raises another question. If we had more men pursuing a priestly vocation, either as a celibate priest or married priest, there would be more men to spread the workload around to, resulting in a man not needing to give so many hours to the church. Of course, one of the issues with a married clergy is that the Catholic Church is not setup to pay a married man properly for his ministry, requiring him to seek outside employment to provide for his family, thus requiring him to take jobs such as the night chaplain at the local hospital when there are many other priests who are still asleep at that time.

    I'm an Eastern Catholic and love the tradition of a married priesthood as well as the celibate monastic lifestyle. It has worked well for 2,000 years in the East and in time could work in the West as well.

    And of course, many years to your husband for his priesthood.

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    1. Personally- I think the 'new' movement of married deacons in the Roman-rite will take care of a lot of the work load- so there is no need to change the tradition in the Roman-rite- I know nobody is perfect, but married deacons can do a lot- and should be expected to with continuous education and formation

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  8. I attended a conference on the married priesthood some months back where a (married) priest made an interesting point: that celibacy, in the early days of the church, was in part designed to make it possible for a man to (literally) die for his faith. Unburdened by family obligations and responsibilities, he could truly give his all, and might more willingly pay the ultimate price.

    Which makes me think: until they bring back the lions and burning at the stake, maybe we need to rethink the necessity of celibacy...

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    1. Deacon Greg- well...under communism there were married catholic priests who became Orthodox so they wouldn't be sent to die in Siberia (from Romania)- I also know some Romanian priests who were in prison for years ( a friend of mine was 15 years younger than his next sibling because his priest father was in prison for 14 years...)

      Deacon- thank you for your devotion to the Church

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    2. Fr. Anonymous, thank you for all that you do for the Church! Thank you for this beautiful testimony, too! I am inspired by reading it! I wish many more would do so!!

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  9. I think it's worth noting that in the Orthodox tradition (where it is kept), the pastor of a parish *must* be married. Clearly, they don't see a problem here, and neither do I. Yes, it's true that an unmarried priest can devote more time to his flock than a married priest, but that's only if one assumes that devoting time to one's family is a *failure* to devote time to one's flock, which is a ridiculous assumption. A married priest's family - if it is a prayerful, orderly, and holy family - *precisely* serves as an example of the Christian family to that pastor's parish, and thus both the wife and the children participate in the pastor's ministry insofar as they function as a family. With that in mind, saying that an unmarried priest is more capable of serving the parish than a married priest is just patently false. Both are equal in capability, but each offer unique gifts to their flocks.

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    1. Thank you for your perspective- I know I sound like a broken record, but when celibacy means monasticism it seems to work better (not that they can't be in a parish, but they are spiritually sett apart)

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    2. As an unmarried Byzantine Catholic Presbyter, I know that, with God's Divine Grace. I will remain so for the remainder of my life. But I have worked side by side with my married fellow Byzantine Catholic Presbyters. They are as committed as I am to my Eparchy, Parish and Parish Families. They work as hard as I do, and I frankly find it offensive for Fr. Dwight and Mr Roth to assert otherwise from their limited experience.I travelled to Eastern Europe during the Communist oppression of the Byzantine [Greek] Catholic Churches. I met numerous married priests, their wives, and children who suffered for their committment to communion with Rome. Suffering that articles and comments like those of Fr. Dwight and Mr. Rush apparently ignore. The number of married priests martyred for communion with Rome and Faith in Jesus Christ would certainly be in the hundreds if not thousands.

      I believe that making celibacy mandatory for ordination to the Presbyterate, seriously damages both celibacy and the presbyterate. And that is my opinion as a faithfully celibate presbyter.

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    3. Fr Anonymous- thank you for your comment- we know that there is plenty of work to go around in cultivating the Lord's vineyard

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  10. This has made for good discussion with my seminarian husband...and I look forward to chatting with some of the other (engaged, celibate, not sure) seminarians later this week.
    God Bless You.

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    1. I would like to be a fly on that wall ;) feel free to report back!

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  11. Like your priest-husband, we have a priest at our parish who does hospital ministry. When he first came to the parish, he lived at the rectory but wasn't involved with the parish. Instead he was responsible for hospital ministry only. After a time, given our situation with the shortage of priests at the parish, he became more involved, putting in his turn on the Mass schedule rotation. I'm sure it's balancing act for him to be at the parish and the local hospital.

    Thanks for this post-this was interesting to read. Periodically this topic is bought up in Latin-rite Catholic blogosphere and newspapers.

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  12. I'm listening to the commentary waiting for the anouncement on the person of the new pope on Hungarian TV, where the moderator is joined by a Roman Catholic priest, and Father Csaba is explaining various aspects of celibacy, the nature of the priesthood and celibacy and whether there could be a chance for a move towards a similar attitude as the Byzantine Catholic churches. He is totally cool about the whole discussion. Well. He us totally cool.

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    1. hey- we just want to be accepted- and the married deacons are 'enough' in the Roman-rite....maybe in the future old married deacons can be ordained priest...but if the super deacons do their jobs well, it will take much of the pressure off

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  13. Hate to say it, but the celibate priesthood more perfectly mirrors Christ as priest; whether or not the individual man replicates that life is not really the issue.

    I am guessing that is what Deacon Longnecker is referring to.

    This is the reason for a preference for ordaining celibate men in the Roman Rite and also the reason the Eastern Chirches require this for bishops. To think that the beautiful familial experiences and demands placed on members of our married clergy is belittling marriage is equivalent to saying that the ordination of men is a refusal of "feminine genius."

    All that being said, I love being a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, and love our priest and his family!!!

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    1. The scriptures use the image of matrimony more than anything else to describe the Lords relationship to the Church not celibacy. For this very reason marriage is a sacrament and for the express purposes of representing something not of this world. You need to read your history! The reason we don’t ordain bishops in the Eastern Church has nothing to do with your understanding of celibate priesthood. In fact, for centuries our bishops were married such as St. Gregory of Nyssa. It was for practical purposes that we stopped doing this and not spiritual. There was often a temptation for corruption. For example, bishops ordaining their children. The Fathers thought the best representatives for bishops should be taken from the ranks of our monks.

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  14. Thanks to all for their thoughtful comments!

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  15. When I read this priests comments, I immediately thought about how much men (ALL men) seem to value independence. I remember the time I told my husband I wanted to buy a china cabinet / dining room table set at a garage sale. We'd been married a handful of months and it seemed (to me) like "just the thing" for our tiny home. My husband balked... but NOT because of the price. Instead, it KILLED him that we would now own a big piece of furniture! Why? Well... it would mean we couldn't pack all our belongings into his car and move at a moment's notice! Say what?! I was horrified. Who wants to move at a moment's notice? He claimed it was the princple of the thing. Say WHAT principle?! So-and-so many years of marriage (and kids) later, I believe it was simply this: Men like the idea of being flexible, mobile, not-tied-down... free. I do believe my husband had to sort-of "offer up" being "domesticated" to the point of giving up this sense of "freedom." He could not donate huge sums of money to the poor whenever he wanted - he HAD to spend it on diapers (yes, this bothered him for awhile). He could not stay after at work to assist someone scrambling to wrap up a project; he HAD to come home for dinner with his family. Once I got over taking all this personally, I realized it was just him being a guy. And same with this priest, I think. Sure, unteathered by a specific person depending on you day-in-and-day-out you can do a WHOLE LOT MORE for the Church (and for anyone else and for yourself). You can do it to the extent you want, at the time you want, and in the way you want. You are so much more FREE. You have so much more independence. And yet I'm reminded of what Father Zosima of The Brother's Karamazov tells the woman who struggles with faith: it is so easy to love the masses who are not in-our-face day in and day out. We can have a great deal of good will towards them. And yet we find ourselves hating the flesh-and-blood person before ourselves. We must love the latter person first and our faith will increase. (Bad paraphrasing, I know. I'm sorry.) Final thought: what do you seek in life? Comfort or crucifixion of the flesh? If the latter, please keep your wife. Marriage will take you straight to heaven!

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    1. P.S. ~ I post as a Roman Rite Catholic whose brother is a celibate monk and soon-to-be-priest. Yet I TRULY believe these married priests have an amazing gift to offer the Church! It is the gift of intimate selflessness born of doubly dying to self - once "on the job" (in ministering to the Church) and once "off the job" (in serving his family). If that won't make someone a saint, I don't know what will!! Are married priests who yearn for celebacy just actually wanting the chance to sleep in every once in awhile, to leave their socks on the floor of their penitential cell (my brother tells me he just keeps his socks in a heap at the foot of his bed - so easy to find them!), or to skip washing out the sink after they shave? Married priests are denied these petty pleasures. Just wondering...

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    2. Thanks for this comment= and PRAYERS for your brother

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  16. I've been following this thread, on and off. I've been thinking about what was being brought up, originally; and how it relates to my own thinking pertaining to the subject. I don't think the issue is celibacy or not (I do remember reading about couples having joined respective monasteries, living lives of celibacy).

    The issue seems more on the grounds of perceived burden(s) when we're thinking about a priestly vocation; and how to live it out most fully, while maintaining the role of husband, within a family.

    On a side note, I'm reminded of the ads on Ancient Faith Radio about Mastering the Art of Marriage, by Fr. Constantine Nasser (sp?).

    Personally, I've debated what kind of life I should live. I know when I thought about joining the military (thoughts still flow time to time, honestly), I thought about the effects this could have on my ex I was engaged to, at that time. It's not a matter of having her in my life being a burden on my duties, on its face. Rather, it was how she; and more importantly, we as a couple (at that time) would handle it, together.

    As with any relationship, the nature should be symbiotic, in its most ideal form.

    My own parents are a testament to the burdens of separation, physically by virtue of the other's vocation - my dad being a Navy veteran of 24 years. My mom would endure periods of time where my dad would be out to sea, three to six months out of a time. She'd by herself, raising the three of us (until my brother was born). All of the sudden, my dad would be deployed to the Persian gulf, during the first Iraq War.

    Years later, after my dad's retirement in 2004, my dad took on another vocation: Knights of Columbus; and other parish activities (waking up early to cook the breakfast treats for every mass; and exhausting his personal budget in the process). I know my mom would give him grief for utilizing his own funds to provide what he thought was for the good of the parish.

    As long as the other is supportive of the other's ministry, it shouldn't be a burden, in a perfect world.

    I know my parents are enjoying their time doing the Why Catholic Program, together.

    In the same spirit, I'm sure Matushka will do what she can to support Father Cailin's vocation, to the best of her ability; and I'm sure this isn't even a burden, for him, but a blessing.

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