Sacrifice and Balance in a Life of Ministry

By Mark A. Taylor

Several readers wrote to thank us for our January 22 issue on preacher’s kids. Their e-mails made me realize we had touched a nerve. With preacher’s kids, as well as with preachers themselves, we live in constant tension: We want them to be everyday folks while we silently feel that, somehow really, they’re different.

I thought about this again when I read an intriguing column in the February 8 Wall Street Journal by Richard Cipolla, a married Catholic priest. If you’re like me, you didn’t realize there is such a person, but Cipolla was ordained in 1984, he reported, “under a special provision set forth by Pope John Paul II.”

Ignoring all the questions this raises for me about Catholics’ attitudes and beliefs about the priesthood in general, I was fascinated by how much Cipolla’s experiences parallel those of preachers we know.

He spoke of financial pressures. “When I was ordained, it was made quite clear to me that I should not look to the church as my main source of income but rather to a full-time job outside of the church.” More Christian church ministers than we’ve counted are in the same position, and many more must depend on a spouse’s income for survival.

He spoke of spiritual struggles, explaining the impact on priests’ children who hear everyone in the church call their dads “Father.” How much different is this from some of our preachers’ kids who feel Dad’s concern and counsel usually go to others before them?

He spoke of “sacrifice that is at the heart of the priesthood.” This sacrifice “comes not from the vow of celibacy,” he wrote. “It comes from what is given up as husband and father for the sake of Christ’s church.” But quickly he added that sacrifice is at the heart of every Catholic. And we would agree that sacrifice is at the heart of every Christian life. All of us—not just paid servants of the church—are those who have heeded Christ’s call to take up the cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24).

Were we to sit across the table from this married Catholic priest, I’m sure we could uncover many points of disagreement. But isn’t it interesting that his perspective on life in the church—based on his personal experience—is so similar to ours? And isn’t it informative that his struggle to find balance in a life of service is so much like our own?

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