Matt C. Abbott Matt C. Abbott
November 19, 2007
In addition to Father J. Patrick Serna, I asked Father John Trigilio, author, EWTN personality, and president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, to comment on the sudden departure of Father Francis Mary Stone from EWTN.
The following is Father Trigilio's statement:
Father Francis is indeed in my prayers. We were taught a saying when I entered the high school minor seminary in 1976, There but for the grace of God, go I. This means that we are all in need of prayer and in need of divine grace. Father Francis needs our prayers and so do all priests. All of us are tempted from time to time. All of us have weaknesses, vunerabilities, and our own demons. We know too well that we all make mistakes, are imperfect and have numerous idiosyncrasies since many cannot wait to point them out to us. Original Sin produced concupiscence which plagues every human being who has a wounded human nature. Only Our Lady and Our Blessed Savior had been spared this due to the miracles of the Immaculate Conception and the Incarnation. The rest of us men and women have to fight the good fight which is more often a battle inside ourselves and with ourselves, i.e., our own desires.
I have great respect and admiration for the good work done by Father Francis. I consider him a friend as well as a brother priest. I pledge my continued prayers for him. I remind him that his vows of holy orders made at diaconate and renewed at priesthood covenanted him to the Church as his spouse. He may have fallen in love with a woman but he is in one sense already spoken for, i.e., despite the vow of chastity and the promise of celibacy, he is married insofar as Ordination made him an alter Christus. As such, he and all priests have the same bride as does Christ. Holy Mother Church is the Bride of Christ, His spotless spouse, and we priests who are ordained as an alter Christus to act in persona Christi, have the same bride.
If a married man falls in love with another woman, whether she is married, single or widowed, he is still covenanted to his original wife. He made a promise to be true to her 'for better or for worse ... until death.' Likewise, a priest in the Latin (Roman rite) Church makes an oath of celibacy because he takes as his bride the bride of Christ. The Church, which is the parish, the diocese, the religious community, and indeed is also the universal church around the globe, is the spouse of every ordained priest.
Even if he discovers it was a mistake and he should not have been ordained or that he should not have taken solemn vows (poverty, chastity and obedience), like the married man (who may or may not have children from this marriage), he is still in a commitment which binds him for life. If there was an impediment to that covenant, then an annulment of matrimony or of holy orders can take place. Usually, however, it is more the case of the human heart finding someone at the wrong time and in the wrong place.
It does not mean that love is wrong. Human love is natural and is holy when it conforms to God's Will. The higher love of God, however, is rooted in the covenant and commitment we make to Him and before Him, as when a bride and groom get married or when a man gets ordained or when a person takes final vows and commits himself to consecrated religious life.
I can feel for Father Francis and can understand, at least a priori (and not a posteriori since I have never fallen in love with someone after being ordained) what it must be like to have those feelings. I urge Father Francis and all my brother priests, however, to remember the covenant commitment we made the day of our ordination or the day you took your final vows. God's grace can overcome even our imprudent decisions and yes even our bad judgments. Be open to divine grace and to the working of the Holy Spirit and you will be able to return to the path to which you belong. We all have second thoughts and some regrets along the way. We all imagine what it might be like 'on the other side,' as they say. But we must do what we can where we are now.
Father Francis is my brother priest and I promise him my support and prayers as I have with classmates and schoolmates throughout my 19 years of priesthood. I urge him to renew his first choice to embrace a consecrated life within the Church as an ordained priest of Jesus Christ. He may always love this woman but real love means wanting the best, i.e., willing good, to the other. The best she can have is a holy and complete relationship with Christ and within His Church. Many men have had to let their 'beloved' go so as to persue a more sublime and at times elusive lover. The Church may not give us a hug or a kiss; she may not whisper in our ear or laugh at our jokes; she may not cry in our arms nor tickle our feet. Nonetheless, the Church loves every priest as much if not more than any faithful, loving and devoted wife. The Church, local and universal, is our bride and she must always be our first and our only true love in the romantic sense of the term."God be with you Father Francis. We are praying for you and know that Our Lord, His Blessed Mother and your guardian angel will never let you down. GODSPEED."
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