Someone seemed very upset. She asked me whether or not I heard what Amazon was doing. I naturally thought about the company. When people now say ‘Amazon’, they are usually talking about buying things. But she had heard about the Conference on the Amazon region that was being held in Rome under the auspices of the Vatican. It seems that the region of the Amazon, which is huge and very important ecologically, has had a difficult time sustaining its Christianity because of its dearth of priests.
One cannot imagine two more unlike concepts than that of the company and the conference, even though the same name is used of both! And yet one can see certain a certain similarity and a couple of differences.
One of the principles of both realms of thought is the idea of supply and demand. We see this most clearly in Amazon the company. As in all of commerce, Amazon the company responds to the fluctuations of the demand that people make of things. This is true in the kind of products it offers as well as how it delivers things. If something is not selling, it will soon go to the bottom of the logarithms of what pops up first when you express a desire to buy.
The reason why the conference on the Amazon was established was the demand that there be a more effective way of ministering to the pastoral need of the millions of Catholics who live in the region delineated by the Holy Father and the other organizers. Clearly, it is the same principle of supply and demand. Demand for Sacraments and ministry is very high, but the supply is low. Amazon the company would predictably respond with a whole host of possible solutions that would competitively try to outperform the rest in delivering that ministry to the people.
Thus, Amazon the company would surely dispatch men and women, married and celibate, to respond to that need. It is an approach that is completely utilitarian. While there are some moral principles in the background (honesty for example), the main purpose is to answer the need and to strengthen the company by its performance and its successes.
But in dealing with the Amazon as a distinct region of a world Church, the answers are not that simple. While utilitarianism is part of the solution (what works best), there is also the issue of fidelity to the mandate of Christ to teach all nations Baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. So what is done and how it is done must meet the will and the specifications of God Himself.
This includes the issue of unity. The Church is one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic. Included in that description is that the Church is ‘One’ Church united around the will of God. Teaching cannot be based on what is advantageous only to one part of the Church. This would be an easy decision for Amazon the company. Just change the celibacy requirement for the region of the Amazon while keeping it for other areas. But the Church’s teaching must be one. If it is permissible for one region of the Church for Priests to marry (based only on the need), then how can the Church withhold this dispensation for other areas of the Church?
There is also the issue of the apostolic nature of the Church. By this I mean that there must be a continuity between the teaching of the Apostles and the teaching of the Church today. If the Church has consistently taught something throughout her history, to suddenly change that teaching because it has become inconvenient in some way would be to betray the Church. It is saying that the Church over the centuries was teaching erroneously. Admittedly, this is more the case with the Ordination of women than about the mandate for celibacy in all instances of the Priestly vocation (priests were allowed marriage during the first millennium of the Church in the West and it is still allowed in the Orthodox Churches of the East, but a female priesthood has never existed in the historical Tradition of the Church).
My point is that, along with the unity of the Church, we also have the need for the Church to be consistent over the centuries in her teaching.
Therefore, while it is very easy for Amazon the company to respond to shifting patterns of demand, the Church, in addressing the pastoral problems of the Amazon region, must be consistent and universal in her approach.
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