|CELIBACY ACHIEVED: WHAT IT REALLY LOOKS LIKE
|September 15, 2005
Anyone who knows my work and research is aware of how diligently and persistently I have traced the process, practice, and achievement of celibacy. My primary interest, having taught in Catholic Seminaries for over 15 years, has been the goal of helping men toward the achievement of celibacy. The crisis of celibate failure, especially focused on the sexual violation of minors, has obscured the nature, grandeur, and frequency of religious celibacy-achieved.
From studying history and interviewing hundreds of priests I concluded that ten elements were consistently present and intermingled in some way or another in the life of a man or woman who really “achieved” celibacy. Those elements are spiritual, social, and physical bounded together by service. [prayer-balance-beauty / learning-security-community bonding / order-work-physical care] (Cf. A Secret World: Sexuality & the Search for Celibacy, 1990, p. 269 or Celibacy in Crisis, 2003)
Recently I had the experience of witnessing the achievement of celibacy, on the hoof so to speak, at the 90th birthday celebration of a priest I have known for nearly 40 years.
At the Mass he celebrated with 8 of his former assistants in the parish he founded 43 years ago, the power of his celibate service was palpable. His status is a retired pastor emeritus who still volunteers for the 6:30 A.M. Mass, who has never relinquished his visits to the sick, at homes or in hospitals. He is still a “priest available.”
At the end of Mass he said a few words from the lectern. They were meaningful. He said that he had to give some accounting for his long life as a priest. He first thanked God for his genes—his sister, a Mercy nun 97 years old was present along with another sister 94, her children and various other nieces and nephews. He began with this acknowledgement and praise of nature for the vigor he still possesses. Grace does build on nature.
He expressed thanks for his vocation and the chance to imitate Christ. He accredited the people of his parish with teaching him about life, living, loving, suffering, handling crises, loss, and death. He said that he learned from married people how important are friendships and relationships. He said that he was eternally grateful to three of his seminary classmates (each of whom has now preceded him in death). The foursome golfed, fished, hunted, learned and prayed together over all the years. He said, “There is nothing sadder than a lonely (isolated) priest.”
This man has had it right all these years. Still walking 2 miles a day, still praying, still interested in life and people, still eager to learn. He concluded his remarks by reading a prayer of Lacordaire familiar to most priests:To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures; To be a member of each family, yet belonging to none; To share all sufferings; to penetrate all secrets; to heal all wounds; To go from men to God and offer Him their prayers; To return from God to men to bring pardon and hope; To have a heart of fire for charity, and A heart of bronze for chastity; To teach, pardon, console, and bless—always. What a glorious life, And it is yours O priest of Jesus Christ.
There is something unique about celibate service. At a time when many people are advocating a married priesthood [and in time that too may come] but even more troubling and confusing, in a time when priests and celibacy are denigrated, a truly celibate priesthood should be remembered and celebrated.
NOTE: JEAN-BAPTISTE HENRI LACORDAIRE was a lawyer who trained at the seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris, became a priest and later reformed the Dominican Order in France. He lived from 1802 to 1861 and was a notable preacher. Every author who has written about him calls him a “Liberal.” He was a champion of freedom, religious and social. And indeed, it seems he was brilliant and consequently elected to The French Academy. He cared about educating the masses not just the privileged. He knew controversy, but was always faithful to the Church. Lacordaire was a good example. He too, championed celibacy-achieved.