Two short anecdotes today on why a priest may be qualified to give marital advice and then what qualifications to look for in a priest.
by Daniel A. Lord, Questions I’m Asked About Marriage
What right has an unmarried priest, bound by the vows of celibacy, to give advice and counsel on marriage?
Do you recall the story of the literary critic who was taunted because he who had never written a novel had the presumption to criticize novels and novelists? The critic’s answer was brief but to the point: “I don’t know how to lay an egg, but I do know how to tell a good omelet from a bad one.”
A priest is remarkably well-equipped to discuss marriage problems, for:
1. The fact that he himself is unmarried permits him to view marriage without prejudice or bias.
2. In his own field the priest is in a position somewhat analogous to that of a physician or a lawyer. The success of a physician does not depend on his having had the disease that he is trying to cure in his patient.
The success of a lawyer does not depend on his having been in a difficulty similar to the one from which he is trying to extricate his client.
Quite the contrary. Both the physician and the lawyer are experts. Each has been trained in his professions. The healthier the physician, the better fitted he is to care for his patient; the more law-abiding the lawyer, the more able he is to satisfy his clients.
And the priest, who is trained to handle the problems that arise from human relationships, has the right to give advice and counsel on marriage, because:
a. His knowledge of moral theology shows him all angles of love and marriage as they have presented themselves in all ages and as they have been interpreted by the Church.
b. His studies in pastoral theology have trained him in the sympathetic approach to and understanding of human relationships.
c. His reading of professional priestly journals keeps him currently informed on the newest thought and developments in this field.
3. His priestly experience gives him a very decided advantage. Many people, married and single, tell him of their problems and difficulties and often of the solutions which they themselves have worked out. Innumerable people come to him to talk to him, to consult him, to work out with his advice their life vocations.
4. The priest has another decided advantage: He can draw on the rich experience of Holy Mother Church, who for twenty centuries has been deeply concerned with human happiness and with the promotion of all that makes life less difficult and more satisfying.
Every resource of the Church is at the priest’s command, and those who seek his advice and counsel are thereby benefited.
When a priest gives advice or counsel on love or marriage, he is not offering his private judgment on these matters; he is speaking with the age-old, world-wise experience of the Church of Christ.
When choosing a director, be careful to select one who has the necessary qualifications. He should be not only virtuous, but prudent, charitable and learned. St. Francis de Sales gives the following opinion on the subject:
“Go,” said Tobias to his son, when about to send him into a strange country, ‘go seek some wise man to conduct you.’ I say the same to you, Philothea. If you sincerely desire to enter upon the way of devotion, seek a good guide to direct you therein.
This advice is of the utmost importance and necessity. Whatever one may do, says the devout Avila, he can never be certain of fulfilling God’s will, unless he practice that humble obedience which the saints so strongly recommend and to which they so faithfully adhere.
And the Scriptures tell us: ‘A faithful friend is a strong defense: and he that hath found him, hath found a treasure: … a faithful friend is the medicine of life  and immortality: and they that fear the Lord shall find one.’ (Ecclesiasticus, c. VI, vv. 14-16.)
But who can find such a friend? They that fear God, the Wise Man answers—that is to say, those humble souls who ardently desire their spiritual progress.
Since it is so essential, then, Philothea, to have a skillful guide in the devout life, ask God fervently to give you one according to His Heart, and rest assured that when an angel is necessary to you as to the young Tobias, He will give you a wise and faithful director.
In fact, the selection once made, you should look upon your spiritual guide more as a guardian angel than as a mere man. You place your confidence not in him but in God, for it is God who will lead and instruct you through his instrumentality by inspiring him with the sentiments and words necessary for your guidance. Thus you may safely listen to him as to an angel sent from heaven to lead you there.
To this confidence, add perfect candor. Speak quite frankly and tell him unreservedly all that is good, all that is evil in you, for the good will thus be strengthened, the evil weakened, and your soul shall thereby become firmer in its sufferings and more moderate in its consolations.
Great respect should also be united with confidence and in such nice proportion that the one shall not lessen the other: let your confidence in him be such as a respectful daughter reposes in her father, your respect for him such as that with which a son confides in his mother. In a word, this friendship, though strong and tender, should be altogether sacred and spiritual in its nature.
‘Choose one among a thousand,’ says Avila: “among ten thousand, rather, I should say, for there are fewer than one would suppose fitted for this office of spiritual director. Charity, learning and prudence are indispensable to it, and if any one of these qualities be absent, your choice will not be unattended with danger.
I repeat, ask God to inspire your selection and when you have made it thank Him sincerely, and then remain constant to your decision. If you go to God in all simplicity and with humility and confidence, you will undoubtedly obtain a favorable answer to your petition.”
The truly religious wife finds God at Mass and from Him receives the strength to become the ideal helpmate to her husband. She does not leave God at church but keeps Him with her every minute of the day in every nook and cranny of her home. Each menial, repetitious task she must perform is a work of love for her husband and children, and through them, a work of love for her Creator. – Fr. Raoul Plus, S.J. 1950’s, The Wife Desired (afflink)
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In With God in Russia, Ciszek reflects on his daily life as a prisoner, the labor he endured while working in the mines and on construction gangs, his unwavering faith in God, and his firm devotion to his vows and vocation. Enduring brutal conditions, Ciszek risked his life to offer spiritual guidance to fellow prisoners who could easily have exposed him for their own gains. He chronicles these experiences with grace, humility, and candor, from his secret work leading mass and hearing confessions within the prison grounds, to his participation in a major gulag uprising, to his own “resurrection”—his eventual release in a prisoner exchange in October 1963 which astonished all who had feared he was dead.
Powerful and inspirational, With God in Russia captures the heroic patience, endurance, and religious conviction of a man whose life embodied the Christian ideals that sustained him…..
Captured by a Russian army during World War II and convicted of being a “Vatican spy,” Jesuit Father Walter J. Ciszek spent 23 agonizing years in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia. Only through an utter reliance on God’s will did he manage to endure the extreme hardship. He tells of the courage he found in prayer–a courage that eased the loneliness, the pain, the frustration, the anguish, the fears, the despair. For, as Ciszek relates, the solace of spiritual contemplation gave him an inner serenity upon which he was able to draw amidst the “arrogance of evil” that surrounded him. Ciszek learns to accept the inhuman work in the infamous Siberian salt mines as a labor pleasing to God. And through that experience, he was able to turn the adverse forces of circumstance into a source of positive value and a means of drawing closer to the compassionate and never-forsaking Divine Spirit.
He Leadeth Me is a book to inspire all Christians to greater faith and trust in God–even in their darkest hour. As the author asks, “What can ultimately trouble the soul that accepts every moment of every day as a gift from the hands of God and strives always to do his will?”
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