Jesus teaches us, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Our life decisions in response to His call are irrevocable. Elijah’s disciple, Elisha, burned the bridge to his past— his plowshare, the implement of his livelihood— to guarantee that he would not look back (cf. 1 Kings 19:21). Such was his trust in Elijah. Burning a bridge that distracts us from our vocations frees us to look forward and to keep busy with the Lord’s work. Such is our trust in the Lord.
Folks who marry “until death do they part” trust in their mutual promises and the marriage bond. They are not interested in looking back. Yet it’s always hard to transition from newlywed joy to the maturity of marital love. After a few years, marriages settle down for the long haul. The minor annoyances initially overlooked with the newlywed marital bliss can easily fester into significant obstacles to happiness. Typically, the couple is merely learning real-life selfless love and bearing with the faults of others.
There are many excuses one can offer for walking away from marriage, among them, variations of woulda, coulda, shoulda. Sorry, ladies and gents. Burn the bridges and stay away from your long-lost boyfriends and girlfriends. In marriage counseling, a wise therapist is quick to remind couples, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9)
Priests also put their hand to the plow with their ordination promises to follow Jesus. Faithful priests trust the Church. But it’s always difficult for any priest to sustain his newly ordained exuberance as he transitions to a mature priesthood. After many years, priestly life becomes routine. Every priest, weakened by his sins, must endure the everyday slings and arrows of ministry. Such a priest is just learning to love according to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Grow up. “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (John 15:20)
There are also many excuses a priest can use to justify walking away from his priesthood, variations of woulda, coulda, shoulda. Priests, like everyone at some point in their lives, have put their hands to the plowshare and are commanded not to look back. Priests and laity alike need God’s grace and the anchor of Church teaching to give ballast to their promises and to direct them on the journey.
The Church is one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic. The Church is the spotless bride of Christ, and Mary is the model of the Church. But Holy Mother Church is always under assault from the outside, and increasingly, from her own members as well.
Like the Church, the ministerial priesthood is also threatened today from all around. It is tempting for any priest to respond by surrendering his life to comfort, minding his own business, avoiding any controversy because the world thinks his existence has lost all significance. But this resignation betrays the High Priesthood of Jesus.
When encountering difficulties, after putting one’s hand to the plowshare, is it time to look back? Nope. It’s time to punch back, keep busy, and burn a few bridges to worldly affection if necessary.
The threats from the outside the Church, it seems to me, can best be combated by confronting the threats from the inside. Anybody who gives any thought to contemporary Church events cannot ignore the manufactured problem of ambiguous teaching at the highest levels of the Church. Honesty is in short supply, and we seem unable or unwilling of thinking and behaving like Catholics with integrity.
- The former Vatican nuncio (ambassador) to The United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, has made credible and precise charges against high ranking ecclesiastical officials. The same accusations against a priest would quickly be investigated and would likely end his ministry.
- Disgraced ex-Cardinal McCarrick continues to live at Church expense in a Kansas monastery, yet he hasn’t said one word revealing who his partners in crime were.
- When it comes to homosexuality, the Holy Father famously said, “Who am I to judge.” Little or nothing has been done to root out the gay network in the Vatican and among the bishops.
- Just the other day, the new Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky composed a prayer honoring Gay Pride Month.
- The working document for the upcoming Amazon Synod is scandalous by its ambiguity. The entire Old Testament is dedicated to the worship of the One God. But many bishops are now flirting with the syncretism of indigenous peoples, calling into question the value of celibacy, and tinkering with the Church’s constant teaching on Holy Orders.
- The Holy Father has refused to answer several legitimate questions from cardinals on the indissolubility of marriage, Communion for the divorced and remarried, and the existence of moral absolutes.
Skeptics may question my credentials for daring to make these observations. It’s true; I rank very low on the ecclesiastical food chain. But I’m not as stupid as I look.
Young men burn their bridges and follow Jesus as priests without looking back. Newlyweds burn their bridges and commit to faithful marriages until death, come hell or high water. Single folks remain chaste and dedicate their lives in Christian service. All too easily, we lose our way, but the Church is always our refuge for forgiveness and direction. It isn’t too much to ask—nay, demand— that our clerics, starting with high ranking clerics, guide their flocks with clear thinking and clear witness to the firm certainties of the Faith.
Priests, bishops, and popes are ministers of the Faith, not the masters. We are entitled to the clarity of authentic Catholic teaching, and there is no disrespect or shame in claiming our rights. The Lord is trustworthy, and so is authentic Church teaching. Stop tinkering with the Faith. Stop the clericalism.
“O God grant, we pray, that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth. Through Christ our Lord.” (Collect, 13th Sunday)
Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.
Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published by CatholicCulture.org.