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Posted August 21, 2005

Closing Thoughts on Celibacy

Taken from articles in Commonweal
August 12, 2005

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Taking all of this into consideration, I remain convinced, having seen both arrangements, that a married parish priesthood is important, and a better idea than the alternative. At the same time, the celibacy that is central to the monastic witness should be encouraged and even celebrated in a society that has exalted sex — especially sex freed from parenthood and commitment — to nearly idolatrous levels. Still, monks, with the exception of the very few who can be healthy hermits, need monastic community. So do single men and women: not necessarily the community of the monastery, but more community than the church usually offers — a pastoral need that all Christian confessions needs to address. Meanwhile, the blessed and sacramental community of marriage is the place in which most Christians find their way to salvation. The priests who minister to them should share it.

By Rev. John Garvey – an Orthodox priest, a grandfather, and a Commonweal columnist

For years, Andrew Greeley has been arguing — quite rightfully — that the priest is fascinating and that a large part of the fascination comes from celibacy. The compelling quality of the priest is not a matter of superficial celebrity or charm; that gets us nowhere. It is something much stranger, deeper, more mystical. It is the fascination for another world, for that mysterious dimension of existence hinted at by the universe here below and revealed to us in the breaking of the bread. I for one am glad that such eschatologically fascinating persons are not simply in monasteries, cloistered convents, and hermit’s cells, but in parishes, on the streets, in the pulpits, moving among the people of God.

There are, I realize, a couple of major problems with offering arguments for celibacy. First, it can make everything seem so pat, rational, and resolved. I’ve been a priest for nearly twenty years, and I can assure you that the living of celibacy has been anything but that. As I’ve gone through different seasons of my life as a priest, I’ve struggled mightily with celibacy, precisely because the tension between the goodness and ephemerality of creation is no abstraction; rather it runs right through my body. The second problem is that reason goes only so far. As Thomas More said to his daughter in A Man for All Seasons, as he was trying to explain why he was being so stubborn: “Finally, Meg, it’s not a matter of reason; finally, it’s a matter of love.”

People in love do strange things: they pledge eternal fidelity; they write poetry and songs; they defy their families and change their life plans; sometimes they go to their deaths. They tend to be over the top, irrational, confounding to the reasonable people around them. Though we can make a case for it — as I have tried to do — celibacy is finally inexplicable, unnatural, fascinating, for it is a form of life adopted by people in love with Jesus Christ. Rev. Robert Barron, professor of systematic theology at Mundelein Seminary

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee wrote in his reply to the 2003 letter written by his priests [who wanted more discussion on a married priesthood], “This is the time we priests need to be renewing our pledge to celibacy, not questioning it.” This is how I and many of my fellow seminarians feel: We are eager to take this pledge! We know our society and we know ourselves. If our religion were a matter of practical concerns and mundane pleasures, we would pass it by in the same way that we passed by so many other seemingly valuable things on our way to conversion to the supernatural order. The church is not like any of these other things. It is able to fulfill longings that nothing else can. I believe many priests look at the real-life problems of the church and move too quickly to a secular or so-called practical solution. But young men and women today turn toward the church because it is otherworldly. We want celibacy because we want to signify to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ that God is something very much worth living for. We want to marry the bride of Christ as other Christs! This is the reason we became seminarians. This is why we are willing to speak up in favor of mandatory celibacy.

We have heard the teaching of John Paul II that we will be given the special grace of celibacy in order to live out our priesthood. We eagerly proclaimed to the world in our letter that, as future sharers in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, we “yearn with all our hearts to offer this celibacy up to the Lord with undivided hearts, at the service of his church.” Franz Klein — a seminarian of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, is studying in Rome.