Grace to you!
Three letters in the New Testament are called pastoral letters. They include 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus. They are called pastoral letters because they are instructions, guidelines and words of encouragement for ordained ministers—shepherds (pastors).
They were addressed to those desiring or in the sacrament of Holy Orders; the order of service (leadership) in the Church, namely the elders/overseers (bishops and priests) and deacons.
From those letters we read the qualities expected of ordained ministers. The text of Timothy chapter three begins by saying; "If any one aspires the office of bishop, he desires a noble task" (3:1).
"Bishop" is Greek episkopos, which means “overseer or Bishop.” Of course, it is a noble task to be given a privilege to serve God and the Church as an overseer.
Nonetheless, Scripture lists at least fifteen qualities expected of that service. Call it the skill-set of a church leader. The person must be:
For Deacons, the Letter lists these qualities. The person must be:
Evidently, the bar for being an elder (bishop or priest) is very high. I will not comment on these lists because they are self-explanatory. As a priest, I will place this on my reading desk wall to remind me of these biblical expectations.
Let me say something about the second quality "married only once." Some translations like RSV say "the husband of one wife." It is based on this that some argue the priest or bishop must be married once. But this isn't exactly what the text is saying, otherwise Saint Paul to whom this letter is attributed or in whose name a disciple of his may have written, would be requiring what he didn't practice. Recall that Saint Paul, though an elder, wasn't married.
The emphasis is that those who desire ministerial priesthood should not have been married more than once. Many were already married before they were called by the Lord, as we shall see.
In those days, unlike the understanding today, to be married more than once would suggest that the person is either unstable, unfaithful, can’t control himself or simply following the common practice where people divorced at will—a practice Jesus Christ condemned (Mt 19:9). There was a negative feeling associated with it in the Christian community then. The Bible didn't say the person must be married once, but shouldn't be married more than once. You could already notice a pointer to self-control. Thus, what is mandatory isn't to be married, but not to be married more than once.
Following the history of the Church, we know that among the Apostles of Jesus, many were married before they were called to serve as apostles. Some (like Peter) who were married lived as if they weren’t married. A few like John and Paul weren't married at all before they were called and after they were appointed apostles. Down history, “marriage not more than once” was optional for bishops and priests until the First Lateran Council in 1123 when it was formalized as an ecclesiastical discipline for the Latin (Roman) rite.
There is much more to this than I can share in this brief reflection. In the meantime, though celibacy for priests isn’t a divine law, it is a unique gift, which I believe, helps the celibate keep a singularity of purpose in our commitment to ministerial service in the Church. It is a sacrifice too, and the Lord loves the sacrifice that costs the giver something. Scripture says, “Do not offer the Lord a sacrifice that costs you nothing” (2 Sam 24:24).
As a celibate, I feel totally dedicated to God and His people. When I help people or do charity for anyone, I know my obligation to do so isn't because of legal justice or even social justice, but social charity. I am totally dedicated to the work of the Church and owe no one—such as a husband should owe the wife and/or his children—a primary loyalty except to God and His Church.
This isn't selfish. For me, it is actually an example of selflessness. In celibacy I appreciate the Lords words; “foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20).
Pray for your bishops and priests. Pray for me too.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday Week 24: 1 Tim 3:1-13; Lk 7:11-17]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.