Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

18 September 2013

Never Gonna Get It

My lovin'...
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.)
I have several Orthodox Christian friends. I very much identify with Orthodoxy's theological and liturgical Weltanschauung, having grown up with several Eastern Catholic parishes and friends in Saint Clair. In my youth I was told that "the Irish Bishops" in the late 19th-early 20th century somehow forced Eastern Catholic bishops in America to impose celibacy upon their priests (cf. Wikipedia article). Since the Second Vatican Council, and especially since the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II, Eastern Churches have been encouraged to regain and retain their customs, including the option for marriage before priestly ordination. I say "option," because monastic priests, of West and East alike, always take a solemn vow of chastity, which precludes marriage; and a voluntarily-unmarried candidate for priesthood must promise celibacy before being ordained to the ("transitional") diaconate.

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 argument explanation sounds to me like it might be received with either complete consternation or credulity, or something in between.

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.


  1. God bless you Father, excellent post as usual.

  2. I found this to be quite beautiful. Especially: "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." Thanks!

  3. Dear Father, it is sad and telling of our culture of narcissism that many cannot understand the pure love of giving oneself for another. There is so much obsession over sex to the point that it permeates (and therefore narrows) every stinking aspect of life and reduces to only sexual beings. Only joy is through is sex, only power is saying no to sex, bbbut wait, only power and freedom is through any sex as to whomever you want; every deed and word from the workplace to social situations is scrutinized for sexual intent and or content - you get my drift.

    Here we have this human condition with unbounded aspects, dimensions and capabilities, and it has all been reduced to a worldview through a carnal lens. What a profound loss for a world that was headed in the proper direction.

    Some years ago, sadly when my children were very young, my marriage ended. I made the decision, out of genuine love for my children, to be celibate until they were through high school. I saw in other single parents how the rules would change (not to mention the emotional abandonment of the children) depending upon whom they were dating. It was heartbreaking to see children suffer as a result, thus my decision.

    I don't regret it one iota. It was something given freely out of genuine love for another. It's tragic that most people cannot even grasp that concept.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story here, as well as your keen observation regarding the confused state of the culture. We must attend to the total gift of self in marriage, within which the sexual embrace finds its expression; outside of this context it becomes subject to all sorts of manipulation, and sometimes even within it! Your children, I pray, appreciated your heroic efforts in raising them with a good example. God's peace!