AT THE recently held 16th National Convention of The Philippine Federation of Married Catholic Priests, I contributed these three premises and conclusions (edited for publication here) to the conversation on how married Catholic priests could practice their ministry.

1. At no instance do we find Jesus instituting an elite priesthood (according to the order of Melchizedek) apart from the common priesthood of the laity. Priests of the order of Melchizedek functioned exclusively as official ritual worshippers in the holy of holies. Christ’s priesthood was one of service, a ministry, to the suffering, members of the human community.

Hence, the priesthood we left to get married did not come from Christ but from historical developments that led to the emergence of an elite priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek. This should have been completely replaced by the common priesthood of service of the whole Christian Community.

2. Christ did not leave a dogma behind. He left no structure and no laws to govern it. The Catholic Church as it is configured today was not specified as such by Christ. It is a product of history.

Hence, we do not have to organize, as Church, in the exact same way our predecessors organized. We do not have to practice our ministry in the same manner our predecessors practiced theirs. We organize and practice our ministry according to current demands for service.

3. Christ came to teach us by example how to become fully human and so left us with the “new commandment” to “love one another as I have loved you.”

This takes priority over his wish, not a commandment, at the last supper to “do this in memory of me.” The mission of Christ’s followers (priest and laity alike) is to live Christ’s life of compassion for “the least.” Christ wants his mercy lived more than his sacrifice ritually commemorated. The last is empty without corresponding works of mercy to the sick, the hungry, the prisoners, the homeless, etc. in our midst.

By being married we left Melchizedek’s priesthood of ritual worship to join Christ’s servant priesthood of the Christian community. For basically the same reason Pope Francis tells priests to go from the altar to the sheep and smell like them. Pope Francis, like Christ, wants less worship by ritual and more worship by mercy to suffering humanity.

Celibate priests are hard put to smell like sheep in the current setup where the church is more a center of ritual worship than a hub of service to people in distress.

We could easily do it as our being married has placed us unequivocally with the sheep. Freed from duties at the altar and unrestricted by outdated Church laws, we have no choice but to worship Christ with mercy and not with ritual.