Today, 6 May 2012, is the memorial of Blessed Bartholomew of Montepulciano, a man who ended his days as a Italian Franciscan friar and priest in the 14th century. How this came to be is the interesting question, because prior to answering this particular call of God’s he was married and living a comfortable life.
Blessed Bartholomew of Montepulciano started out life as Bartholomew Pucci-Franceschi. Even when and where he was born has not been preserved by history. What we do know is that prior to the major spiritual change in his life Bartholomew was married for many years, had a wife and children, and was a wealthy man.
It is easy to forget that the good God has quite a history of asking married people to follow Him in religious life. Several of the Apostles were married. Some of the male relatives of St Bernard of Clairvaux who followed him to the monastic life were married. A good number of the holy founders of the Servite Order were married. St Nicholas of Flue was married before God called him into a hermit-like life. Obviously a similar call must have been placed on Bartholomew’s life, and he answered it with all his heart after his wife gave permission and herself took a vow of chastity. The promise of Jesus definitely includes married people: ‘I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, wife, brothers, parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not be given repayment many times over in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.’ (Luke 18:29-30)
We don’t know the actual catalyst for this major change in direction in Bartholomew’s life. For some people that catalyst is serious illness or a near death experience. For others the grace of conversion comes with the grace to live in reparation for the major sins in the past. It would not be uncommon for someone who had badly given into lust, pride and greed to desire to live in reparative chastity, humility and poverty. For a third group their lives had been steadily growing in holiness and this call was a natural next step. For yet a fourth group perhaps this was a chance to follow a vocational call that they had rejected in their earlier days. Others may have been going long their merry way when God sent them a heavenly visitation ( a la St Paul at Damascus, St Mary of Egypt or St Gabriel Possenti) What ever the reason was for Bartholomew, the catalyst was in an abundant outpouring of grace.
We do know that Bartholomew fully embraced the Franciscan spirituality of poverty and humility. He was unafraid to be treated as a fool for the sake of Jesus. Imagining how people and children would have treated a once wealthy man who was now going about in the poor habit of a Franciscan, ridicule and taunts must have been commonplace. We are also told that sometimes Bartholomew experienced visions of Our Lady and of the angels. Franciscans have a particular charism of devotion towards Our Lady (the sheer number of defenders of her Immaculate Conception point to this) and to the angels (the Portincula Indulgence underlines this). Certainly he lived out his Franciscan vocation in a manner that would have made St Francis of Assisi proud.
Bartholmew’s life teaches us another lesson, and one which a great many people need to hear. When God’s call came it asked him to leave his wife. That sacrifice was the way Bartholmew was able to show God how much he loved Him and how much His rule was No.1 in his life. Married clergy, which so many people have the unexamined idea is a good thing, is not in His perfect plan for the Church. Married clergy don’t make that visible statement of love, sacrifice and God’s supremacy in their lives.
Let’s examine the largely unexamined idea. Our Protestant brothers and sisters have used this model, and even they know it doesn’t work. The unhappiest woman in a parish is the pastor’s wife? Why? Because the pastor can never put her first in his life. Even if she is up to her ears in sick children and frail parents, as soon as someone tells the pastor about a dying parishioner, he has to go. To not become bitter, she would have to be a saint. Did you know that Protestant’s have coined a term, PKs, (Pastor’s kids), because it is so well recognised that most of the children of a pastor go through a big rebellious phase because Dad never had enough time for them, he was never there when they needed him, because they always had to share him with the parish? Married clergy is a bad idea for all concerned, for the man himself – split in two directions, for his wife and family, for the parish itself – because they don’t have total access to him in their needs, and many feel guilty about seeking his guidance. The Catholic Church has been around for many centuries more than the Protestant Churches, so you can trust that She has been there, done that, and knows through vast experience what is actually best for priest and parish.
Examining the life of Blessed Bartholomew of Montepulciano raises the question for each of us: if God called me to the religious life, would I be able to follow; if He called my spouse, would I be able to surrender my spouse to Him? What ever the Lord is asking of us at the present time, may Blessed Bartholomew pray that we be enabled to respond as whole-heartedly as he did.
Blessed Bartholomew Pucci-Franceschi of Montepulciano, pray for us.