Called to Love, Part 2: Hooray for Celibacy!

I had started writing this big post about priests and their role in God’s call to love when that yahoo over in Tennessee came out with his prayer about his “smokin’ hot wife” and I was really torn: Roll out my post or just let him stand as an example of why clerical celibacy is such a great idea. Hmmm…(cue Jeopardy music)

Since you’re still reading (I hope) you can see that I stuck with the post. NASCAR guy has already gotten enough press. (I am very troubled to note that this is the second time NASCAR has come up in a post of mine. I guess I have some kind of underlying issue with auto racing?) As a side note, I’m glad he likes his wife, since it’s probably for the best that he doesn’t think she’s smokin’ ugly. I will not even begin to speculate on the guy’s
motive in offering such a prayer, though.

All that aside, in my last post I talked about God’s call to all of us to love and how that call can be lived out through the vocation of marriage. Catholics also recognize this call through the vocation of singleness, whether that is through consecrated virginity or through the priesthood. Having a lot of single friends, I very much appreciate that singleness is perhaps a bit more “normalized” within the Church. All too often, I think singleness within church circles can be treated like a disease, as if we should pity the poor people who haven’t found a match. To that, I would say that it’s always good to distinguish between single people who feel called to marriage and are hopeful to find a partner, and those who are called to a life of singleness. I think some people make the mistake of thinking everyone should or can get married, and therefore it is a tragedy if a person never does.[1]  Although I don’t believe that to be true, I do grieve for the way our society has made it almost impossible for good Christian single women who want to marry (and men, too, but women are the main victim here, sorry to say.) to find a decent prospect.

Mostly what I want to focus on for now, at least, is the priesthood. If you are interested in the “whys” of it all, take a look at this and this. I don’t want to get sidetracked on the issue of how celibacy for priests came to be a discipline, (not a dogma), or the exceptions that allow for married priests, etc. What I am interested in getting at is the complementarity of a celibate priest’s relationship to the Church, on one hand, and the marriage relationship, on the other. And I’ve got to say, I find this to be pretty profound and very inspiring.

And what is it that I find so inspiring, you ask? One word: sacrifice.

Sacrifice that calls a man to renounce any possibility of marriage and family for the sake of the Church- to make the Church his bride. Sacrifice that calls a man to make the Church his family, to nurture his flock. Sacrifice that calls one to dedicate more time than I possibly could, as a mother and wife, to pray for the good of the Church.

As a married person, I find this level of sacrifice, the very image of Christ’s sacrifice for his Church, to be indicative of the kind of sacrifice I should be willing to make. It’s really a game-changer when you think of the marriage relationship in that light. Instead of taking whatever I can get to ensure optimal comfort for myself, I should be willing to give whatever I can of myself to ensure the good of my husband and family, our own little domestic church.[2]

What I’ve never been able to understand is how this level of sacrifice can be condemned and the priesthood maligned. If you want my armchair-psychologist’s take on it, it’s possible some people are threatened by the thought that if a man can choose to rein in his desires, this might suggest that they have to as well.

I find it highly offensive when I hear it suggested that in light of the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church, it would really be best if men were allowed to marry. It is an affront to marriage and an affront to the call to singleness. As a married person, it offends me because it suggests that we marry because we are so biologically driven in our sexual desires that we can’t control ourselves and therefore, must marry so we don’t do anything too deviant. Marriage legitimizes lust. You may think that’s an overstatement, but as I mentioned in my previous post, that’s the message I heard. Paul’s admonition to marry rather than burn (1Corinthians 7:8-10) was used as the proof-text to show that marriage was the superior state.

I find this kind of reasoning to be offensive to my single friends, because it suggests that singleness can only be seen in the negative, that God cannot possibly give the grace to live a chaste life, or that anything good could actually come out of remaining unmarried. In contrast to this, the Church has a positive view of both celibate and married life:

Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away. Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the Kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with his will. Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce each other: Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good.

In light of the suggestion that celibacy is just not a healthy choice, let me throw out a crazy thought: we are all disordered beings. We are sexually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically disordered. We are all terribly broken. We all cry out, with the rest of the fallen creation, to be redeemed. Marriage does not “fix” our disordered-ness. Any person who would sexually abuse a child is particularly sick, and marriage would not prevent them from having a disordered view of sexuality. It is true that marriage sacramentally gives us the grace to live holy lives of service to one another: “After the fall, marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one’s own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 1609. I just don’t think it is true, however, that marriage is some magic band-aid for our tendency toward sexual sin. If that were the case, I’m guessing three-quarters of the world’s media outlets would be out of business. Can you imagine if there weren’t any more Anthony Weiner’s, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, Ted Haggard’s, Elliot Spitzer’s, Bill Clinton’s, Jim Bakker’s, um, pretty much all of Hollywood, Al Gore’s or Mark Sanford’s? I could continue the list but it kind of makes me sick and I think you can get the picture, anyway.

I was sitting in daily Mass a few weeks ago, and having not been received into the Church yet, I was on high alert as an observer. Each time I have attended Mass I’ve been struck by some tidbit of truth that I had never considered. On this particular day, I was practically moved to tears by the thought that, in this morally confusing time in which we live, when the definition of manhood and womanhood is so twisted, and depraved images held up as the ideal, that the priest that stood before the congregation was presenting a pure and authentic image of manhood.

God can give us the grace to live pure lives as married couples. God can give grace to those who are single. All of us, no matter how we are called, are called to love, and love means sacrifice. Love also has its perks, though, too. As I watched the priest offer the prayer of consecration, I was also reminded that that his life of sacrifice allowed him to offer the sacrifice of the Body of Christ for the Church. What a unique and beautiful privilege. How can we, as the Church, do anything other than encourage those who live to serve?


[1] I think it’s great when people say that they are praying for their child’s future spouse, but I have always wondered what would happen if their child told them that they felt that God was calling them to remain single for the sake of the
Kingdom.
[2] That is why I don’t buy into the arguments:  1. that priests should be allowed to marry because people need to see an example of a Godly marriage in their clergy, and 2. that unmarried priests are not able to relate to married couples to offer good marriage advice. There can be plenty of examples of good marriages within the Church. We are all supposed to build each other up and encourage one another. I also think the fact that Jesus was single is kind of a killer example of chaste leadership.
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This entry was posted in Holy Orders, Marriage, Nikki, Priesthood, Sacraments, Singleness, Vocation. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Called to Love, Part 2: Hooray for Celibacy!

  1. great post. 🙂 keep ’em coming. xo

  2. Jill D. says:

    Nikki/Jason,
    I really appreciate your blog and have been learning a lot through the transparent and intentional nature of every post. Thanks! 🙂

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