Friday, July 11, 2008

Priestly Celibacy: Introduction

Here you go Jason, this one's for you! :)

Jason is a seminarian hearing and answering his call to become a celibate priest. Check out his articles about discerning this call here for part 1 and here for part 2.

By Fr. James Farfaglia

What does priestly celibacy have to do with the Theology of the Body? Isn’t all of this talk about John Paul II’s teaching really just for married couples? Surprisingly, this is what a lot of priests really do think.

I have been asked to write a series of articles for priests on the topic of celibacy in light of John Paul’s Theology of the Body. Wow, what a task I signed up for! I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject. I am on a journey too. But, I do know that just as the whole business about sex and marriage is confusing for most people who are called to marriage, the whole business about sex and celibacy is really confusing for many priests. Wouldn’t it be better just to let Catholic priests marry? What’s the big deal?

I am not going to try and answer every concern and every issue just in one short article. These articles will be a work in progress. I am learning a lot about John Paul’s Theology of the Body and I welcome comments and corrections. However, I can promise you that in these articles I will be who I am: up-front, direct, honest and controversial. I thrive on controversy. Controversy makes life interesting and exciting. So, if you are ready to rock and roll, let’s begin.

Theology of the Body requires study. John Paul’s teachings from his General Audiences are not easy to plow through. Begin by purchasing a copy of Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by John Paul II and Michael Waldstein. Read this along with Christopher West’s Theology of the Body Explained. I can guarantee one thing: if you assimilate the message of these books and make it your own, you will see celibacy and the priesthood in a whole new dimension. These teachings are really awesome.

OK, so back to Theology of the Body. What does this have to do with a priest who is not married? Well, here is the first problem. We are married! Why do our people call us father? We are married to the Church. The Church is our bride. The priest is another Christ (alter Christus), who gives his life as a gift to the bride.

Celibacy is a special gift from the Holy Spirit. It is called a charism. It is a beautiful gift for the Church. The celibate priest, in and through his body; i.e., through his very physical reality, is a sign or a witness not only of his total gift of himself to his bride, the Church, but he is also physically, through his body, pointing the way to the eschatological reality of eternal life. “For when they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12: 25).

Eternity is not only perfect communion with God it is also perfect communion with all men and women in the communion of saints. The charism of celibacy is a sign or an anticipation of this eschatological reality. Through the gift of celibacy, the human person is able to immerse himself in a fulfilling communion with God and with humanity here on earth.

The priest gives his entire being to God in the covenant of spiritual marriage. In the Mass, he takes bread and wine, and pronounces the words of Jesus: This is my body and this is my blood given for you. In turn, he then gives himself totally and unconditionally to his bride: This is my body and this is my blood given for you.

Today, a lot of people are saying that celibacy should be optional. One of their arguments is that the charism of celibacy and the call to the priesthood are two separate things. They claim that some men are called to the priesthood without receiving the charism of celibacy. I have read Fr. Donald Cozzens latest book, Freeing Celibacy. The book is interesting and the author does make a lot of valid arguments. However, the Church has decided against optional celibacy for Latin Rite priests. I understand the arguments in favor of this decision made by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Pope Benedict and I am sticking with the popes.

However, I would argue that if the Church wants to maintain mandatory celibacy for its priests in the future, many reforms are needed that will make priestly celibacy easier to live within the daily circumstances of priestly life. I plan to talk about these suggested reforms in my articles. Reforms are needed in seminaries. Reforms are needed in dioceses. For the most part, the presbyterate is broken and polarized. There is little, if any, trust among bishops and their priests. There is little, if any, trust among priests. If the Church expects any normal heterosexual man to live out, with elegance and fidelity, the charism of celibacy, these reforms are essential. It would be cruel and unrealistic, on the part of Church authorities to expect any normal man, young or old, to live a healthy celibate life in the middle of the lunacies that go on today’s American Catholic Church life.

OK, I already warned you that I will be open, sincere, frank, honest and controversial. I hope that these articles will be helpful to those priests and seminarians who really want to live out the charism of celibacy with profound joy.

I plan to be back in two weeks with my next article.