This, I promise, will be a short read!
I’ve always been intrigued by the Buddhist practice, at least in some parts of Buddhism, of allowing lay folks to spend some time living as a monk or nun. I think I read that the King of Thailand spent some of his formative years in this way.
I myself took temporary vows as a young Marianist, but such vows in Christian religious orders are simply a step towards final (life-long) vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (and for Marianists also a vow of stability).
So too, of course, marriage vows – until death.
Yet, starting with the latter, I believe that many, perhaps most young folks these days take temporary vows on the way to marriage vows or as an alternative to them. Serial monogamy or something like that. An understanding to be faithful or exclusive for as long as both parties want that.
And I suspect there is something similar going on in Catholic religious orders – women and men joining to try it out, perhaps only with the intention of trying it out for a while.
At any rate, I know that my years as a professed member of the Society of Mary — which I intended to be my permanent calling but soon enough realized was not to be – were for me an invaluable period of training in prayer, in learning, in vocational practice. I do not any longer practice poverty or chastity or obedience (except in my marriage – to “she who must be obeyed” as one wag put it), yet I sense that I do continue to live the vow of stability as I understand it. I still consider my life as a teacher and writer (and husband) a continuation of vocation as a Marianist.
So why not officially endorse and support this idea as Buddhism seems to?
Take the idea of “temporary fidelity” before or in place of marriage. It’s a reality which ain’t goin’ away soon. And far better than hook-up promiscuity. Etc.
And, my real point here, why not make this an official (canonical) category for Catholic religious orders and even for diocesan priests?
I’m not sure what the economics of this arrangement would be (though I suspect that many older women and men might readily help pay for the cost of their years in the monastery). But I suspect the richness such folks would bring to the monastery would only be exceeded by the benefits to the temporary member – and to the larger society to which they would return.
I also believe that the “thou art a priest forever” is both nonsense and true.
All of the men I know who were ordained as Catholic priests and then left the priesthood have continued to be priests in many ways – as priests in Episcopal or Lutheran denominations, as good priestly doctors and lawyers, judges and business leaders. (And for most Protestant denominations there seems a regular pattern of ordained ministers serving in other ways after leaving a position as pastor.) So in a real sense they remain “priests forever.”
But the idea is also nonsense. With too many men locked into positions for which they are no-longer (or never were) suited. Or shunned for leaving the priesthood. Why not understand (canonically, again) that the training they’ve received and the ordination given may serve greater good outside the church, or even for other forms of service within the church?
Maybe this is an idea which needs to be floated in Francis’ synodal process?
Just a thought. 😊