A consecrated priest cannot be unmade. This is my profoundly untutored understanding of Roman Catholic canon law. It may be wrong. But when I was a cantor at the Cathedral of St. Augustine, I would sometimes lead congregations in song in this response: "You are a priest forever/In the line of Melchizedech". There are so many objections one can make: How can this be, given revelations of abuse and horror these past few years? How can this be, given women are excluded? How can this be, how can this be? But as spring rises amongst us with tender fig leaves and wild violets blooming and the Lenten season provides time for reflection and contemplation, it is resonant with me. And it has nothing to do with priests. It has everything to do with consecration.
My Dear Old Person and I were talking about our treasured beach walks not long ago. He said something along the lines of, I need to start to focus on photography on the beach; I won't always be able to swing a metal detector. And it's true. As much as he loves looking for lost or forgotten treasures he knows he'll have to use a different toolkit in the next few years. He is not the invincible man I married so long ago. We often talk about how things have changed in the course of his chronic illness, how frustrating it is for him to be unable to do things he took for granted just a few years ago.
Did you know him then? Do you remember when there was nothing he could not fix? Whether it was a motor vehicle of any kind or a light fixture or an irrigation system or a computer, he could fix it. Friends used to joke-but-not-joke that he could lay hands on anything mechanical and from its state of refusal or injury or wounded-ness he could call it back amongst the living. Did you know him then? Because it was true. It wasn't smoke and mirrors. At his core was a diagnostic ability sometimes found and revered in medicine, an almost mystical ability to dial in on underlying causes and invisible connections between systems that cause stutters or even abject failure. His mind made synaptic leaps and so-true connections that other minds - really smart ones - weren't able to make. Even for a mechanical and mathematical underachiever like me it was easy to see. And it's still there, of course. It's hidden behind some medical and chemical dysfunction which are normal parts of his prognosis. It's just harder to see, harder to trust. Unless maybe...did you know him then? He was the one who, back in the mid-90s, thought it would be a good idea to spend nearly $2500 on a PC with a hard drive barely sufficient to host today's operating systems. He was the one who took it apart. He added hard drive space, added RAM, added video cards...belief in the future that ultimately positioned me for a career of surprise and delight. Did you know him then? If not you might have to stretch to see all that today. And sometimes he will say, This isn't fair to you. You should find a person who...But I can still see him. I knew him them. I know him now. And he is consecrated to me, as I am to him.
Consecration cannot be unmade. The promise cannot be unmade. In some cases the consecration cannot be made "officially" - I think about gay friends who are not free to consecrate their commitments publicly. Still, people bravely make these promises and they are as sacred as any promise consecrated in any church or mosque or synagogue. Consecration, by my definition, doesn't mean some specific imprimatur of this or that religion. It is a sacrament, which we must each define by our own lights.
I'm not suggesting that there aren't very good reasons for humans to end relationships, to move forward as is right for each of us. I do not presume to judge what's right for anyone, for we must all make our own lives and our own joy. We must all make things right for ourselves, our hearts, our beloved ones - none can judge. But consecration is for always. You can pull up the plants but you cannot unplant the seeds. They will give rise to plants you may or may not choose to harvest and this is as it should be for each of us. For me and my Dear Old Person, I am thankful to the notion of consecration: as constant as a garden. It turns with the rhythm of the planets, and brings forth its own rewards.
May the blessings of wisdom, kindness, forgiveness and love be upon us all.