February 10, 2019
In a recent press conference, Pope Francis stated that he had no desire to appear before God as the pope who had abolished the requirement of celibacy for Catholic priests. You can imagine that this examination of the papal conscience met with groans, shrieks and howls in certain corners of the Church. Worse, perhaps, this pope seems bent on destroying his ‘liberal’ credentials.
Well, since I am on the side of the pope on this one, let me offer some reflections on the topic of priestly celibacy.
Dom Columba Marmion, O.S.B. observed, in a famous book on the priesthood that celibacy for the sake of the ministry is nothing less than an heroic act of charity! At twenty-four, I certainly did not think of myself as doing something heroic when I signed up for celibacy. I was young and dumb and had not really thought about long cold nights and days and months and years alone. Moreover, the priesthood itself seemed to be worth any sacrifice – how mercenary of me!
But then again, who knows what lies ahead when choosing a major in college or choosing a partner in life – or even in choosing a breed of pet? We do what we do because of what we think it will do for us. Only later do we come to understand the price of free choosing and the meaning of for life.
If one does not grow into one’s commitments, then, one will surely outgrow them. I have never known someone to say that celibacy was no longer worth the effort; only that the effort had gotten too great. And just when you think you have met and conquered the last demon on the path to celibate perfection … there’s one more around the next corner. For life really means for life.
I really appreciate the ‘sympathy’ with which married and divorced and whatever Catholics – to say nothing of the accusations of failure at an impossible task – offer to me and my brothers! But let me ask a question or two.
Why would anyone want any but the most heroically loving men to be in charge of their parishes, their kids, their consciences?
Isn’t that the real shame behind the present crises around the failures of priests to be celibate? That they were not heroic enough?
There is little sympathy then for the failures and those who think celibacy is impossible anyway use these failures as rocks to throw at a church that challenges it ministers to be heroes.
I appreciate Dom Marmion’s admiration for the celibacy of priests. But that does not mean that I think of myself as heroic. Celibacy is like every life-choice. It must be remade every day, and even every minute of every day, or it winds up being a hollow gesture made once upon a time and, then, forgotten in the welter of things and people and places and other tasks that come along.
I think I will continue with this topic next week.
Really and truly and decisively yours,