OT 10: Celibacy and Marriage

Optatam Totius 10 begins:

Students who follow the venerable tradition of celibacy according to the holy and fixed laws of their own rite are to be educated to this state with great care.

They said and taught it forty years ago. It’s the way the West is: celibate clergy. We don’t whine about 800 years of tradition. We don’t make our own rules if we agitate for change. The Church admits this is a demanding discipline which must be imparted with great care. Great care entails more than “That’s the way it is” or “Our way or the highway” or other such silliness. It should be high up on the discernment and discussion list not because society or the Church has a fetish about sexuality. Sexuality is God’s gift to every human being. If sexual expression will be channeled into celibacy, then it must be taken seriously by everyone.

For renouncing thereby the companionship of marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt. 19:12), they embrace the Lord with an undivided love altogether befitting the new covenant, bear witness to the resurrection of the world to come (cf. Luke 20:36), and obtain a most suitable aid for the continual exercise of that perfect charity whereby they can become all things to all men in their priestly ministry.

My take: If a celibate isn’t giving offering “undivided love,” and isn’t rendering “perfect charity,” then clearly, something is amiss with either the candidate’s maturity or the calling to celibacy itself. If a celibate priest cannot exemplify a better ministry than he would in the lay apostolate with a wife and family, the whole point is lost and living sex-less (I wouldn’t call it spiritual celibacy) becomes a distraction–for the priest and for others.

Let them deeply realize how gratefully that state ought to be received, not, indeed, only as commanded by ecclesiastical law, but as a precious gift of God for which they should humbly pray. Through the inspiration and help of the grace of the Holy Spirit let them freely and generously hasten to respond to this gift.

See it? Celibacy is God’s gift. It requires grace to be lived fully and fruitfully. It is an act of freedom and generosity. If a person is being celibate with difficulty for the sake of becoming a priest, then I’d say a connection has been lost. Certainly, the freedom one should find in such a celibacy has been impaired. And such a lack of freedom, or suppression, if you will, is liable to appear in bursts of emotions, in addictions or compulsive behavior, or other pathologies of the psyche.

Students ought rightly to acknowledge the duties and dignity of Christian matrimony, which is a sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Let them recognize, however, the surpassing excellence of virginity consecrated to Christ, so that with a maturely deliberate and generous choice they may consecrate themselves to the Lord by a complete gift of body and soul.

I don’t read this in a negative sense toward marriage at all. Marriage reflects divine love. Consecrated virginity surpasses ordinary chastity outside of marriage, or, let’s say, an aimless life. Consecrated virginity entails the qualities of maturity and generosity. Lacking either, it fails the litmus test, and worse, remains potentially harmful for a less mature person.

They are to be warned of the dangers that threaten their chastity especially in present-day society. Aided by suitable safeguards, both divine and human, let them learn to integrate their renunciation of marriage in such a way that they may suffer in their lives and work not only no harm from celibacy but rather acquire a deeper mastery of soul and body and a fuller maturity, and more perfectly receive the blessedness spoken of in the Gospel.

A bit shortsighted, for it neglects the perils of chastity within the Church: by sexual predators amongst the clergy, by a forced eremitic life imposed on isolated priests, low morale in the priesthood, by peers less committed to celibacy or openly violating or urging others to violate promises made at ordination.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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