When the above song came out in 1992, I was a sophomore in high school. By that time I made no secret of my interest in becoming a priest. One day, in the presence of some friends, an influential adult in my life jokingly told me that this would become my theme song. "Never gonna get it, never gonna get it..." he sang, amid howls of derisive laughter.
Now you may think, kind reader, that I have since held this man in contempt. Au contraire, for (1) he was a faithful Catholic very much involved in his parish; (2) he and I remain friendly even as our lives have moved onward from those days; and (3) you had to know him and the company he kept, which quite often included me. To my mind, he was not guilty of blasphemy toward the priesthood as much as, perhaps, an instance of contumely. (There was a lot of contumely going on in that period of time in Schuylkill County.)
|This image was captured as he was slowly crying out, "ConFUndantur!" ("Let them be brought to disorder!")|
Exsurgit Deus, et dissipantur inimici eius (Ps 68:1)! When you have a touch of Egomaniacal Inferiority Complex, your foes become God's foes, and either they, or you, or God, must die. This puts some serious torque in your life...In time, I would come to adopt a more compassionate attitude toward all who have ever made sport of me for any reason. May we all do the same. It's a lot better than taking it out on yourself, anyhow. Trust me, after a couple of decades of doing that, it gets old.Misunderstanding and mockery of the celibate priesthood are "as old as the hills." Every new attempt for clarification sheds more heat than light on the conversation. Most recently, the new Vatican Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, gave an interview to John L. Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter. According to Allen, the Archbishop offered "the standard moderate Catholic line--priestly celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma, and can therefore be revised, but it nonetheless has value."
Call it "moderate" if you're into politicizing religion, but to me, it's just Catholic.
|"Promises, promises, my kind of promises, / can lead to joy, and hope, and love--yes, love!"|
(I just had to listen to Dionne Warwick's signature version now.)
The Word on the Virtual Street
Jesuit Father Kevin O'Brien, speaking as a vowed religious, offered a kind of Apologia pro vita sua to the Washington Post the other day, specifically with respect to the "rightness" of his choice for celibacy. I can add little to his words.
The money quote: "In a world that tends to avoid commitment, prize independence, esteem competitiveness, value instant pleasure, and reduce everything to the practical and material, both the [married] couple and I profess by word and action that the most authentic and joyful human life is one lived for another."In light of the recent hullabaloo Blogger Simcha Fisher re-posted one of her articles from two years ago: "Time for Married Priests?" offers a laywoman's perspective on the practical dimensions of celibacy. I am not naive to suppose that some people would closely scrutinize, and adopt harsh and unforgiving attitudes toward, a married priest and his family. In conversations I do mention practical aspects of celibacy such as potential conflicts with family and material concerns, but always as part of the larger context of Christ-as-Bridegroom. As it hear it coming out of my mouth the
What I Got
As a Latin-Rite Catholic studying to be a diocesan priest, I knew that voluntary celibacy was a prerequisite for seeking ordination. I'd like to think I possessed a mature appreciation of that sacred promise. But I can assure you, without violating the seal of my own Confessions (which, anyhow, applies not to the penitent, but to the confessor), that my appreciation of celibacy has had some growing to do, even since ordination. I venture to say, without personal condemnation, that many priests have shared this lot.
The choice of celibacy is not meant to be a shield against human intimacy, a back-up plan for losers in love, or a path to material comforts or personal privilege. These deficient motives tend to backfire on the bearer, and leave behind a trail of wreckage. For that reason it is important to affirm what's at stake: Celibacy leaves unfulfilled the normal human drive for sexual union, partnership, and parenthood. The human race as such depends on these things for its survival, but the individual person doesn't. However, the weight of these drives presses in on each person and demands reckoning.
The candidate for priesthood or consecrated life must squarely face what he or she is setting aside, and must commit to a healthy lifestyle that includes prayer, companionship, culture, and fitness--all suitable channels for sexual and creative energy. Thank God, I have paid increasing attention to these things over the years, to good effect.
If "they" were to repeal mandatory celibacy tomorrow, which they won't, it would not affect me anyhow; I wouldn't thenceforth be able to "play the field." I have made that choice for life. That's not a sentence, but a statement. "For life," meaning "to engender in people's hearts a love for God, neighbor, and self"; "in order to be a living sign of the ultimate fulfillment that is the life of heaven."
These motives are difficult for people to grasp, especially if they don't have faith. The same faith that invites us to see the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the appearances of bread and wine, also invites us to consider how intentional non-marriage and reverence of the sexual faculty are motives for profound, passionate charity.