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Monday, 24 February 2014

THE PRIESTHOOD AND CELIBACY


A Case for Celibacy by Priests
By Fr. Robert Barron

(As seen on CNN.com)
The scandal surrounding the Rev. Alberto Cutie has raised questions in the minds of many concerning the Catholic Church's discipline of priestly celibacy. Why does the church continue to defend a practice that seems so unnatural and so unnecessary?
There is a very bad argument for celibacy, which has appeared throughout the tradition and which is, even today, defended by some. It goes something like this: Married life is spiritually suspect; priests, as religious leaders, should be spiritual athletes above reproach; therefore, priests shouldn't be married

This approach to the question is, in my judgment, not just stupid but dangerous, for it rests on presumptions that are repugnant to solid Christian doctrine. The biblical teaching on creation implies the essential integrity of the world and everything in it.

Genesis tells us that God found each thing he had made good and that he found the ensemble of creatures very good. Catholic theology, at its best, has always been resolutely, anti-dualist -- and this means that matter, the body, marriage and sexual activity are never, in themselves, to be despised.

But there is more to the doctrine of creation than an affirmation of the goodness of the world. To say that the finite realm in its entirety is created is to imply that nothing in the universe is God. All aspects of created reality reflect God and bear traces of the divine goodness -- just as every detail of a building gives evidence of the mind of the architect -- but no creature and no collectivity of creatures is divine, just as no part of a structure is the architect.

This distinction between God and the world is the ground for the anti-idolatry principle that is reiterated from the beginning to the end of the Bible: Do not turn something less than God into God.

Isaiah the prophet put it thus: "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts and my ways above your ways, says the Lord." And it is at the heart of the First Commandment: "I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods besides me." The Bible thus holds off all the attempts of human beings to divinize or render ultimate some worldly reality. The doctrine of creation, in a word, involves both a great "yes" and a great "no" to the universe.
Now there is a behavioral concomitant to the anti-idolatry principle, and it is called detachment. Detachment is the refusal to make anything less than God the organizing principle or center of one's life.

Anthony de Mello looked at it from the other side and said "an attachment is anything in this world -- including your own life -- that you are convinced you cannot live without." Even as we reverence everything that God has made, we must let go of everything that God has made, precisely for the sake of God.

This is why, as G.K. Chesterton noted, there is a tension to Christian life. In accord with its affirmation of the world, the Church loves color, pageantry, music and rich decoration (as in the liturgy and papal ceremonials), even as, in accord with its detachment from the world, it loves the poverty of St. Francis and the simplicity of Mother Teresa.

The same tension governs its attitude toward sex and family. Again, in Chesterton's language, the Church is "fiercely for having children" (through marriage) even as it remains "fiercely against having them" (in religious celibacy).

Everything in this world -- including sex and intimate friendship -- is good, but impermanently so; all finite reality is beautiful, but its beauty, if I can put it in explicitly Catholic terms, is sacramental, not ultimate.

In the biblical narratives, when God wanted to make a certain truth vividly known to his people, he would, from time to time, choose a prophet and command him to act out that truth, to embody it concretely.

For example, he told Hosea to marry the unfaithful Gomer in order to sacramentalize God's fidelity to wavering Israel. Thus, the truth of the non-ultimacy of sex, family and worldly relationship can and should be proclaimed through words, but it will be believed only when people can see it.

This is why, the Church is convinced, God chooses certain people to be celibate. Their mission is to witness to a transcendent form of love, the way that we will love in heaven. In God's realm, we will experience a communion (bodily as well as spiritual) compared to which even the most intense forms of communion here below pale into insignificance, and celibates make this truth viscerally real for us now. Though one can present practical reasons for it, I believe that celibacy only finally makes sense in this eschatological context.

For years, the Rev. Andrew Greeley argued -- quite rightly in my view -- 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. It is something much stranger, deeper, more mystical. It is the fascination for another world.


Everyone Hates Celibacy!
By Rev. Robert Barron

A few weeks ago, in the wake of the Fr. Alberto Cutie scandal, an editor at CNN.com asked me to write a short piece (800 words) on the meaning of celibacy from a Catholic standpoint.  So I composed what I thought was a harmless little essay, laying out as simply and straightforwardly as I could why the Church reverences celibacy as a spiritual path.  I purposely avoided a number of the hot button issues surrounding the matter, and I pointedly insisted that any explanation of celibacy that involves a denigration of sex and marriage is inadmissible.  Well, I sent this article off to CNN, rather proud that it would appear in such a prominent venue.  

Then they started coming, first on my own e-mail:  critiques, as vociferous as any I’ve ever received.  A little taken aback, I went to the CNN.com site and found the article posted on the main page—and followed by nearly a hundred comments, 98 of which were sharply negative.  About a week later, the article was picked up on Anderson Cooper’s blog site and once again, it was accompanied by unanimously disapproving commentary from readers.  It appears as though this matter of celibacy strikes a nerve!  And thereupon, I think, hangs a tale.  

What were the criticisms, you ask?  Well, they came from two basic camps, the evangelical Protestants and the radical secularists.  Over and over, Protestant critics informed me that celibacy had no biblical foundation, and several of them pointed to a passage from the fourth chapter of 1st Timothy to the effect that “deceitful spirits” will one day invade the church of Jesus and “forbid marriage.”  Well, the last time I checked, St. Paul, a celibate, told his people that, though he wouldn’t impose celibacy on them, he would prefer that they remain as he is (1 Cor. 7:7), and Jesus, a celibate, told his disciples that some people “make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom,” that is, they eschew marriage, and that he would urge those who are able to embrace this sort of life to do so (Matt. 19:12).  I don’t know, but that seems like pretty good Scriptural support to me!  As for first Timothy, the Catholic Church forbids marriage to no one.  In fact, throughout its history, the church has condemned as heretical those movements—Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Catharism—which did look upon marriage and sex as aberrational. No one in the church forbade me to marry; rather, I chose not to marry in order to pursue another path of love.

From the secularist side, I heard ad nauseam the claim that, in defending priestly celibacy, I was out of touch, otherworldly,  didn’t have my feet on the ground, etc., etc.  Well, yes.  At the heart of my argument was the assertion that celibacy is a living witness to a supernatural way of love, to the manner in which the saints live in heaven.  When he was challenged by the Saducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, Jesus said, “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.  They can no longer die, for they are like angels”  (Lk. 20: 34-36).  The Catholic church recognizes that even now certain people should live as eschatological signs of this world to come, as embodied witnesses to a transcendent kind of love.  It struck me that the vehemence of the critiques I received on this score flowed from the extreme challenge that celibacy offers precisely to the secularist view of the world.  Another standard charge from the secularist camp was that the practice of celibacy has led and continues to lead to the sexual perversion of priests and the abuse of children.  It frankly amazes me how persistent is this delusion.  Though it’s been said thousands of times already, it evidently bears repeating:  the overwhelming majority of sexual abusers of children are not priests and are not celibates.  To say that celibacy is the cause of sexual abuse is about as reasonable and statistically defensible as to say that marriage is the cause of sexual abuse.  Please don’t get me wrong:  the sexual misconduct of way too many priests is a serious problem indeed, and one that the church has to address at many levels.  But it’s a mistake to correlate it to simple-mindedly to celibacy.  

A criticism common to both the evangelicals and the secularists is that celibacy was a cynical invention of medieval Catholic bishops and Popes eager to consolidate their hold on church property.  If priests were married, you see, their wives and children would inherit the wealth that would otherwise have gone into the coffers of the church.  I don’t doubt for a moment that there might have been some hierarchs who thought along those lines, but to reduce the discipline of celibacy to such commercial considerations betrays a pathetic grasp of the spiritual history of the human race.  Celibacy has been embraced by religious people trans-historically and trans-culturally.  Certain Hindus, Buddhists, Sufi Muslims, and Jewish Essenes have, over the centuries, abstained from marriage for spiritual reasons, convinced that it ordered them to God in a unique way.  Why can’t the same be said of Catholic priests?

I mentioned above that the very venom of the reactions to my article is telling.  In a certain sense, celibacy is meant to annoy, puzzle and unnerve us, for it witnesses to a dimension of existence that we can’t directly see, that remains alien to our experience and our ordinary categories of thought.  Celibacy make a lot of people sputter and scratch their heads.  Good.

Posted: 6/30/2009 10:23:03 AM by Word On Fire Admin 

NOW READ THIS:


 The irony is that this Eastern rite priest, standing heroically before the barricades, is probably married.


POPULAR ROMAN CATHOLIC MEDIA ATTACKED MARRIED CLERGY 
An article by someone in the UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLIC CHURCH.


Firstly, I think that Fr Robert Barron's articles on celibacy are excellent.   The offending article in the Word On Fire blog has been taken down, so I hope the Ukrainians are pleased.

In fact, there is nothing that anyone in the Eastern churches could object to in Fr Robert Barron's two articles.  The Catholic view of both East and West is that marriage and celibacy are complementary, and any local Church would be sub-Catholic if either of these two vocations were missing. It can be argued that the witness of celibacy is probably more necessary than ever. That is not the issue.   The question is whether priests should be married.

Here there are two great traditions, each with as much claim to be Catholic as the other, each has been much blessed by God.   All agree that priests cannot marry; so that an Orthodox or Greek Catholic priest who loses his wife in an accident, for example, cannot marry again.   All agree that bishops should be celibate: hence, Eastern bishops are normally monks.   The great difference is that secular clergy in the East, in both Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches, are chosen from among men who are married, though sometimes unmarried men are chosen, in which case, they have to remain celibate; while in the Latin West, secular priests are chosen from among those who choose the celibate life, though sometimes ex-Anglican clergy etc are ordained, even if they are married.

Hence, it is an over-simplification to say that ''Catholic priests are celibate;" because Greek Catholic priests are just as Catholic as we are, and there are exceptions, even in the West.   

We can never use any argument in favour of celibacy that assumes that our Latin practice is more Catholic than the Eastern practice: it is simply not true.
We must get used to the idea that "Catholic" includes a number of traditions, all of which are equally Catholic.

However, we can claim rightly that Tradition, which is the history of Grace in the Church from the time of the Apostles until now, the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church down the ages, has taken a distinctive form in the Latin Church, just as in the other traditions, and that one of its distinctive graces that has borne much fruit in the Latin Church is clerical celibacy.   It is part of what we are, something we do not want to lose because of the secular atmosphere of modern times.   As Fr Robert Barron argues, the fact that it annoys the secular world is something in its favour!

On the other hand, I wonder if it is justifiable to impose it in situations where it is clearly not working.   I have been to parts of Peru where the people get Mass once a year, if they are lucky.  Of course, the pentecostals are having a field day, because they can mould their structures to their situation and we can't.   What a contrast to Greece where every village has its Sunday Mass etc because a local married peasant is ordained. 

In fact, the Orthodox tradition and the Latin tradition are based on exactly the same principles; and Father Barron's arguments can be used to support the Orthodox pattern as well, even with its married secular priesthood.   He writes:
Everything in this world -- including sex and intimate friendship -- is good, but impermanently so; all finite reality is beautiful, but its beauty, if I can put it in explicitly Catholic terms, is sacramental, not ultimate.
In the biblical narratives, when God wanted to make a certain truth vividly known to his people, he would, from time to time, choose a prophet and command him to act out that truth, to embody it concretely.

The Orthodox and Greek Catholic tradition is in complete agreement that this is what happens; but, in their tradition, the person who must embody this truth is the monk or nun: that is the essential witness of monasticism to such an extent that a married monk or nun is as illogical as a square circle.   A secular priest is a member of the Christian community in the world: the monk is apart, bearing witness by his life to the impermanence but sacramental value of the world.     

Father Timothy Radcliffe, speaking to the Congress of Benedictine Abbots in 2,000, said:
I would like to suggest, then, that the invisible centre of your life is revealed in how you live. The glory of God is shown in a void, an empty space in your lives. I will suggest three aspects of the monastic life which open this void and make a space for God: First of all, your lives are for no particular purpose. Secondly in that they lead nowhere, and finally because they are lives of humility. Each of these aspects of the monastic life opens us a space for God. And I wish to suggest that in each case it is the celebration of the liturgy that makes sense of this void. It is the singing of the Office several times a day that shows that this void is filled with the glory of God.

Part of this void, this space, is brought about by celibacy which is essential to the monastic vocation.   The practice of celibacy spread from monasticism to the secular clergy in the Latin West, but not in the East.   I believe that a celibate clergy was God's gift to the West, but that God has taken the Orthodox down a different path.   As someone said, ''Diversity is divine: only division is diabolical."  Let us not turn a wonderful diversity into a terrible division by our prejudice. 
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