February 17, 2019
I never stop being surprised that people who are having problems being or staying married want as spiritual advisers people who have the same problems. Wouldn’t priests be more insightful and sympathetic to the stresses on married folk and families if they were married, too?
There is no doubt about it. Priests would be more sympathetic. Whether they would be more insightful would depend on whether they had found a successful strategy for dealing with whatever particular problem or stress is under consideration. But …If people want sympathy, they should go to those who are experts at self-pity; if they want insight, they should buy one of those magazines at the check-out.
But let me tell you what forty-plus years of marriage preparations, marriage counseling, marriage retreat work, marriage tribunal work and dealing with children of divorce – some of whom were in their fifties! – have taught me.
Marriages fail because the love in them has ceased to be – or never was -- heroic. That seems harsh, it is not meant to be so. Anyone who has survived a marital crisis will tell you that it took heroic effort; total self-sacrifice. And those who have to deal with life after a failed marriage will tell you that only heroism makes it possible to live alone in fidelity to vows now shattered and for children who now have only a single parent.
And celibate priests are supposed to know how to live heroic love when living for others without a partner! Who then can be more sympathetic and insightful? When is the need more real?
And there is no one who better understands the plight of children who have to learn how to live with only half the love they have known to date; no one who is better able to offer advice on living alone, becoming a caring adult when one is victimized by adults who do not care.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus was celibate? How many married men with children could willingly face death if it meant leaving the family without them? How many wives or children would willingly sacrifice their husband and father? Even if it meant salvation for the world!
The ‘ties that bind’ grow stronger with each day of heroic loving. But heroic love bent to that end, cannot easily be redirected to another goal.
But Protestant clergy are married and still minister! True enough. But I know lots of clergy couples and the stresses of caring at home and on the job are nearly devastating to the clergy person and almost as much so for the spouse and children. They tell me this freely and without prompting. I suppose that this makes the successfully married effective protestant minister a more heroic lover than I – actually, anyone is more so than I – but the Catholic route is otherwise.
I am still working out the intricacies of celibacy for myself – it is for life after all; but I am in no doubt about the value of my celibacy for you. As the skinny young ‘server’ says when they serve up your burger: Enjoy!
Really and truly and celibately yours,