Category Archives: Priestly Celibacy

08 – Priestly Celibacy Series – Eunuch (2)

jesus faces

The ordained priest, who is the instrument of The Priest, Christ Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Prince of the Most Profound Peace, has charge of the marriage bed shared by Jesus and His Bride, the Church.

Look, I am NOT a follower of slimy interpretations of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. The saint was clear that this is about mercy based on JUSTICE.

The ordained priest, acting in Persona Christi (in the Person of Christ) keeps the bride perfect in purity by his administration of the Sacraments. He prepares the Bride for Christ with Baptism and Confession. In his office as Eunuch, the priest does what the Lord does in preparing, metaphorically, the Bride for marriage. Scripturally, the doctrine proclaimed is as strong as the images provided in, e.g., Ezekiel 16:6-14…

And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live, and grow up like a plant of the field.’ And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood; your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yea, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with leather, I swathed you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I decked you with ornaments, and put bracelets on your arms, and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose, and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. Thus you were decked with gold and silver; and your raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and embroidered cloth; you ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful, and came to regal estate. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor which I had bestowed upon you, says the Lord God.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Calvary is where the marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church, is celebrated and, so to speak, consummated, that is, by way of mercy founded on JUSTICE. The priest is ordained to be an alter-Christus, another Christ. But there is only one Christ, one Priest, one Lord, one King, one Bridegroom, in whose Person the ordained priest acts (in Persona Christi). The ordained priest has a priestly character in Christ’s image that is far different from all other Christians’ ‘royal priesthood’.

The celibacy, the chastity, the continence and even perhaps the virginity he can enjoy finds its fulfilment in the charity of this wedding of Jesus and His Bride of which the eunuch priest is officially in charge and in which he participates, being married to the Church by the Sacrifice he offers, by the marriage vows he pronounces in Persona Christi, in the Person of Christ: This is my body — given for you in sacrifice… This is the Chalice of my blood — poured out for you in sacrifice. Total self-giving to the other. The priest is in love with the Church, also his Bride, through, with and in Christ Jesus.

From the Congregation for Clergy:

“Through Him, with Him, and in Him, the priest becomes the servant of mankind. His very being, ontologically assimilated to Christ, constitutes the foundation of being ordained for the service of the community. Total commitment to Christ, aptly effected and witnessed through celibacy, places the priest at the service of all. The marvelous gift of celibacy is clarified by, and draws inspiration from, assimilation to the nuptial gift of the crucified and risen Son of God to a redeemed and renewed mankind.”

Note that this nuptial gift has nothing of the sexual about it, nothing of a pornographically fallen eroticism that is so often effervescently spoken about these days by some few in glowing terms, making the Last Supper and particularly Calvary some sort of sexualized experience even for Christ. That’s the most blasphemous perversion of the Theology of the Body of Saint Pope John Paul II. Blasphemy.

The begetting of children, the primary end of any marriage, is wrought in Christ’s marriage with His Bride, the Church, not by sexual activity, but by way of JUSTICE: He took on the consequence of the guilt we incurred because of original sin, death, which is also the worst we can give out, and is, therefore, exactly what we  deserve in justice… He took this on and, standing in our place, the Innocent for the guilty, He had the right in His own justice to have mercy on us, to tell our Heavenly Father: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”

This is how He begets the children of God, usurping the rights of Adam over us, and then the rights of Satan over us. Satan had rights over us because Adam was obedient to Satan instead of God. But the Lord transformed us from being the members of the fallen body of Adam that had been given over to Satan into the members of His Mystical Body. To become the members of His Body is marriage terminology of Saint Paul.

Saint Paul speaks of the Body of Christ, for this we become by way of the Eucharist, coming from the Last Supper and Calvary. These are united by Christ’s usage of the present participles: This is my Body now being given over for you… (eδιδόμενον) This is the Chalice of my Blood now being shed for you (ἐκχυννόμενον).

The priest, in acting in the Person of Christ, pronouncing these words, must himself be at the ready and in fact be laying down his life for his Bride, the Church, all in total self-giving for the other, the height of matrimonial love for the other. Here’s what Saint Paul has in Ephesians 5,22-33 (RSV):

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Note that the purity of chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven brings with it a lively silence of heart and soul, an openness to listening to the Incarnate Word whom the priest preaches and whom the priest brings upon the altars where the nuptial joys of the Paschal Mystery are celebrated. The ordained priest rejoices by means of His obedience to the Incarnate Word, obedience meaning to be so transformed by that to which one listens that one’s life is conformed to this. The Father speaking the Word into us – that Word which resounds in the ever so lively silence of the chaste heart and soul – so transforms us into another Christ, an alter Christus, that there cannot be loneliness, only purification… and abundant innocent joy, beatitude and goodness.

Perhaps the fact that it is the bridal chamber of Christ’s own marriage with His bride, the Church, by way of His two wedding vows at the Last Supper, as manifested on Calvary — the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — that is meant for His Apostles, His priests, when He says in the passage about the eunuchs, the keepers of the bed, of the bridal chamber:  He who is able to make room, let him make room. He who is able to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the Bride of Christ in Persona Christ (in the Person of Christ), let him offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

We miss so much of this because of bad translations. When Jesus, in parables, speaks of His Apostles as “wedding guests”, the real translation is “sons of the bridal chamber.” When Jesus speaks of His Apostles as Eunuchs, He actually says that they are to be Keepers of the Bed, that is the wedding of Christ with the Church, which is an exercise of mercy founded on JUSTICE, Jesus on the Cross, which is the Holy Sacrfice of the Mass and the Sacraments which flow from the Sacrifice: Baptism, Confession…

NOBODY BUT NOBODY speaks of these things unless it’s blasphemy on the one hand or just total mayhem of sexual licence on the other.

In all of this, we have forgotten about Jesus. Priestly celibacy is all about Jesus. He came into this world to die. And THAT’s how He married His Bride, the Church. Being a “Eunuch” is all about laying down one’s life for the Church, the Bride of Christ.

By the way, all priests are married. So…

  • Priests should stop whining that they’re not married. Those who do are liars. They are afraid to lay down their lives for the Church. They see no reason to do so. They don’t love the Church. They couldn’t care less. It’s not about the Church for them. It’s only about their own sexual license. Where are the martyrs, you ask? You won’t find any martyrs among the whiners.
  • Laity should stop telling priests condescendingly that they should be married. They already are married. If only they knew it, and we wouldn’t be in such dire straits.

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07 Priestly Celibacy Series – Fulton Sheen

fulton sheen preaching mass

This series on priestly celibacy began with a guest post. That was Ignace de la Potterie, S.J. And now we have another, this time on something noted by the Venerable Fulton J Sheen, this being recalled by a priest friend, a past student of mine, who has far surpassed his teacher in all things. For that, I rejoice.

That priest is presently across the pond. He’s been been distracted by this blog from time to time. He has gone to the point of sending in some Flowers for the Immaculate Conception from the patio-rooftop from which he can see the Vatican. It’s rare for him to make such an intervention. But in following this series on Priestly Celibacy he couldn’t help but rejoice in recalling what the Venerable Sheen had said. Behold:

Dear Father, [I’m always happy to see the spelled out version instead of the abbreviation “Fr.”, and “Father” instead of “Reverend” or “Rev.” Priests need to know they are Father. We need to remind priests of their fatherhood of their parish families. This is all part of priestly celibacy. Don’t use nicknames or merely names with your priests, like “Skippy” or “Jim Bob.” Remind them of their calling, especially if you think they’ve lost the plot.]

A blessed Lent to you! [Lent is about the blessings of deepened friendship with the Lord Jesus.] I have been ever so grateful for your recent celibacy posts. It is refreshing to see faithful, truth-preaching priests amidst the chaos of these days. [Thank Jesus’ good mom for dealing with the awful likes of me.] May my own donkiness* be as simple and humble as yours one day! [Already done, my friend. Already done.]

I also wanted to send along an interesting bit I heard from Ven. Fulton Sheen today. [“heard”… In other words, he’s listening to the shows and retreat conferences and talks given by the Archbishop. I think I wore out all the little cassette tapes of his talks back in the 1980s. Good memories.]

He was talking to priests about celibacy and started with the Old Testament. He said there were only 3 instances when a “temporary celibacy” arose:

[1] before theophanies (e.g. Moses commands this before ascending Sinai);

[2] in wartime (David and his men when they receive the show bread from the priest);

[3] and at the dedication of the Temple.

How applicable these are to us, no?

[1] For as priests we are constantly in the Divine Theophany of the Eucharist and the Sacred Liturgy—[3] we are constantly in the Temple of the Church, and are temples of the Holy Spirit. [2] And if it isn’t clear to all and sundry that we are at constant war as priests, then they haven’t been paying attention! Spiritual warfare, war with the spirit of the world. But we have angels on our side.

Anyway, I know you refer to the good Fulton Sheen every so often, so I wanted to send this along. I look forward to the future posts about “making room” and celibacy. Know of my prayers for you. I will offer Mass for you tomorrow morning. God bless! [I am very humbled by you’re offering Mass for me, dearest Father. Thank you. I shall return the favor in just a few hours, at the parish’s Noon Mass at Holy Redeemer.]

Pax,

Father […]

* Donkeys are always in the midst of the Holy Family, from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt and all the way back to Nazareth and, years later, bringing Jesus into Jerusalem for the Last Supper and His Passion, Death and Resurrection.

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06 – Priestly Celibacy Series – Eunuch (1)

miguel pro martyr

Blessed Miguel Pro as he starts to fall a split second after being shot, immediately after famously saying, “Viva Cristo Rey!”

Of all the posts in this series, the present article – 06 Eunuch (1) – and then the next in the series after this – 07 Eunuch (2) – are by far the most important.

Mt 19,12 – Eunuchs for the sake of Heaven’s Kingdom

(1) For there are eunuchs who have been brought forth from their mother’s womb like this and (2) there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men and (3) there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. He who is able to make room, let him make room.

Eunuch — from the Greek words εὐνη, which means bed, and ἔχειν which means to have [and, in context: have charge of something], is understood to be someone who has [charge of] the bed [that is, for someone else]. “The bed” may very well refer to a large harem of a powerful king. The eunuchs would not dream of touching any of the women of a king like Solomon, even with his three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:3). This kind of misbehavior would mean certain death. To keep them from physical temptation, most eunuchs were castrated by means of even total removal of the genitals… However, this is merely the prudence of whatever king, and has nothing in itself to do with the actual office that is being executed by the eunuch, the keeper of the bed. To be a eunuch and to be castrated are not synonymous. At any rate, eunuchs, not surprisingly, often came to be the most trusted individuals of most any empire. They were often second only to the king in power. Not infrequently, they were more powerful than king or emperor who was only a figurehead for the eunuch who actually ruled the land. The “bed” which is being supervised by the bed-keeper, the eunuch, was often a reference to the political relations of the king. We still hear this as a euphemism for political maneuvering: “So-and-so is in bed with so-and-so.” Eunuchs were so respected, I suppose, because the horrendous barbarism so often inflicted upon them was seen to be some sort of participation in a materially effective redemption, something seen as a correction of the havoc original sin has caused, havoc which is manifest both within individuals and in relations with others. Indeed, the destruction of the image of God in man by original sin wrecks havoc on the impetus for man and woman to come together and procreate. But hacking off genitals is not the way to go for the true redemption of specifically that kind of destruction. Such violence only causes further spiritual and psychological chaos inasmuch as attempted repression of the dreaded devastation caused by original sin can only bring about more frustration. This only makes the individual and all of society much worse.

Having said all that, the word eunuch is by far the richest of all of the terms we’ve seen, and it is the only one used by Jesus Himself in describing those men whom He calls to Himself for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, though there is a synonymous phrase He uses, which will also be examined briefly further below. Again, Matthew 19:12 reads as follows, with my rather precise translation:

(1) For there are eunuchs who have been brought forth from their mother’s womb like this and (2) there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men and (3) there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. He who is able to make room, let him make room.

The usage of the term eunuch by Jesus admits of three types, the first two have similarities, while the third is unique.

The first, “there are eunuchs who have been brought forth from their mother’s womb,” is a not infrequent correctable congenital defect.

The second, “there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men,” refers to those who not only have the office of eunuch described above, but have also suffered the humiliation of being castrated.

The third type of eunuch, “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven,” cannot refer to self-castration despite the fact that some of the greatest thinkers, such as Origen († @ 254), have mutilated themselves because of what they thought they saw in this passage (perhaps paying too much attention to the Latin Vulgate translation). The Vulgate at this point changes the phrase to say “castrate themselves” (se ipsos castraverunt). While this has a correct spiritual sense, one must further nuance this rendition by paying more attention to the original Greek!

Those who do something for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven do what they do only with the greatest respect and reverence for God’s economy of salvation. It would be positively anti-evangelical to castrate oneself while saying that this was done for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thinking one can save oneself from temptation and sin, and also do something positive for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, and simply because one castrates oneself, is a most gross, crass insult to the saving power of the grace or charity (χάρις – caritas) which Christ granted to us from the Cross.

Being continent, chaste, celibate and possibly even virginal for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven must be wrought in a manner which demonstrates that the establishment of the Kingdom is paramount in our lives, that the transformation in grace of the individual (Ephesians 1:3ff ) who would generously give himself to the Lord (with the generosity provided to Him directly by the Lord) is what has enlivened the individual in the Trinity’s fullness of life.

This does not mean that the carrying of the cross in regard to faith-filled chastity is any kind of burden, a woeful curse, a cruel condemnation to suffer the most useless loneliness – an attitude only those suffering from the most stultified torpidity come up with. That there would be those who would not be open to the radiance of Jesus’ loving union with His Bride, the Church, is here recognized by Jesus with His ever unsurpassed agility in setting the matter straight. He offers this admonition: “He who is able to make room, let him make room.” This is often mistranslated to read: “Let he who can receive this, receive it,” or “Let he who can understand this, understand it,” or some such thing along the lines of “Let him who has ears to listen, listen!” Instead, here, we read about making room. This, take note, is the named office of the eunuch, who is to have care specifically of the bedroom (again: εὐνη, which means bed, and ἔχειν, which means to have [and, in context: have charge of something], is understood to be someone who has [charge of] the bed [that is, for someone else]). One’s vocation to the priesthood depends upon one’s being able “to make room” because of having received that very ability from the Lord. The question then, is, what is “making room”?

Stay tuned for Part II !

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05 – Priestly Celibacy Series – Virginity

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Virginity — to be a virgin, comes from virgo (virginis), which is like unto virga, a twig, a slender branch, a young sprouting shoot. In other words, someone young, male or female, who does not know willing sexual intercourse.

Saint John, a priest, Apostle, and Evangelist, uses the word virgin for men in the Apocalypse 14:4. The beloved disciple himself is thought to have always been a virgin. The same word, παρθένος (virgin), is used for the Blessed Mother of God (Luke 1,27, etc.).

Continence, celibacy and chastity can be thought to have primarily negative meanings to which positive spiritual motivations must be added. Virginity has a primarily positive meaning, the pristine, wonderful, lively goodness of men and women who, for even very positive reasons, have not (yet) known willing sexual intercourse (or willing sexual compromise for that matter).

Saint Augustine, not a virgin, came to know chaste, continent celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven more than many virgins.

I should add here that unwilling sexual intercourse, such as being raped, would not disqualify one from being a virgin even in the strict sense. The hymen may be missing for many reasons, including disease or disfigurement or birth defect. Whatever. Can women who have been raped be admitted, for instance, to the order of consecrated virgins? Yes, of course they can. Much has been made of comments to the contrary, but I would bet that those who made such comments did not have rape in mind! Honestly!

What about those who have known willing compromise? Let’s review: Saint Augustine, not a virgin, came to know chaste, continent celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven more than many virgins. Does that make him a virgin? No.

However, I don’t think people should be singled out for a past life. Women who were previously married, but, for instance, their spouse died, and they want to get remarried, don’t want to wear a white dress since that would somehow negate the great married life they had with their beloved who have now died.

But should women who fell in weakness before getting married be forced to wear a non-white dress? That, in my opinion, would be perverse. And what about the men? Honestly!

Also, by the way, our ever virgin Blessed Mother remained a virgin before, during and after the birth of Christ. Why? There are many reasons. A very important one was the her Son was the Son, by whom we all exist, and with whom we are to be unified as members, so to speak, of His Mystical Body, of which He is the Head. The Blessed Mother is the mother of us all, giving birth to the rest of us in her Son by way of her perfect intercession for us under the Cross, those birth pangs which brought us to see the light of day in the Son of God. She is not the mother of a monster — as I think Saint Bernard said — the mother of only a Head, for instead, she is mother of the whole Christ, the Head, Jesus, and us, the members. This divine work was first wrought by Holy Spirit, not the intervention of man. This divine work continued by the Holy Spirit, not the intervention of man. The virginity of Mary is a sign of all of this.

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04 – Priestly Celibacy Series – Celibacy

crucifix

Celibacy— from cælibatus and cælebs and the indo-european roots, means alone-living, that is, living alone, or, at least, unmarried. This is simply descriptive of that which we see in this world. If it is without a spiritual dimension, celibacy is sterile, cold, lonely, something which positively rejects the way God made us. Here is where some of those in Holy Orders limit their understanding, and whine about loneliness and lack of fulfilment, begging to have a physical marriage in this world, or putting themselves in de facto concubinage, i.e., the state of being with someone in one’s cubo (in Latin), that is, “cube” or hut or shack. “Shacking up” is simply a translation of concubinage. A concubine, then, is the person with whom one lives without the benefit of marriage. Celibacy, living alone, is the most unfortunate word to be used for the marriage of the priest to the Bride of Christ, for this is hardly living alone, or being in an unmarried state. The priest is to be married to the Church. He must understand that, or he’s in deep trouble. And if he’s in trouble, others are as well. To avoid misunderstanding, the words for the sake of the kingdom of heaven are added from Matthew 19,12, the passage about Eunuchs (which will be discussed further on in this series, please God).

Now, did I mention whining above? Perhaps I shouldn’t tread so roughshod over those who never had anyone to invite them to a deeper understanding of their marriage to the Church through the Sacrifice of the Mass they offer daily. I suppose one can be so enthusiastic that others come to know the awesome love that celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God entails that one gets a bit carried away.

It’s just that I remember when I was much younger than I am now, during one of the first trips of Saint John Paul II to the United States, that a priest was chosen by some Federation of Priests or other to address the Holy Father in the name of all the priests of the United States. “Speak for yourself!” I exclaimed to the television. He went way, way, way over time. No one knew what to do. 15 minutes. 20 minutes. Half hour. 35 minutes. 40. John Paul was most patient throughout the most whining diatribe of cloudy thinking imaginable. The priest’s biggest gripe was that priests are soooooooooooo loooooooooonely. Yep. I bet that’s true… for those who don’t know that they are married to the Church. Anyway, this fellow, although American, was very, very Irish. Finally, he finished. All looked for the response of Pope John Paul. What could he say after this diatribe, this whining, all this “Boohoohoo!” Knowing the priest was Irish, Saint John Paul II simply said — quoting the popular song — “It’s a long way to Tipperary!” Muffled laughter was heard throughout the crowd. JPII is awesome! Here’s the greatest Irish singer ever, ever, singing “It’s a long way…”

Meanwhile, Jesus on the Cross, cites Psalm 22, “My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?” Lonely, in the very moment when His self-giving to His Bride, the Church, is complete? No. Look at the rest of Psalm 22, and discover the wonderful filial unity with His Father, the trust, respect, the love. No, really, look up Psalm 22 and read it right through. I dare you. This is important. This is the heart and soul of our redemption, of our salvation, of Jesus’ marriage with His bride, the Church. This is the very moment when He is drawing all to Himself. Here is the completion of the wedding vows of the Last Supper which priests offer daily: This is my body given for you in sacrifice, my blood poured out for you in sacrifice. If priests don’t get this, they are absolutely dead in the water. Done. This is the Mass they offer. This is their marriage with their bride, the Church. If they don’t understand the Mass they offer, they are absolutely dead in the water. Done.

Save celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, save the priesthood.

Save the liturgy, save the priesthood.

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03 – Priestly Celibacy Series – Chastity

mudbowl faith by the sword elijah

This is the football “Mudbowl” jersey I helped to design for the “philosophers” of the seminary where I was teaching. The “name” at the top is for my own jersey only. I was one of the spiritual directors for the philosophers. Note the fiery sword of the great prophet Elijah!

As we continue our series, we’re still establishing some of definition of the terms. It’s all technical vocabulary. It’s worth the effort. Knowledge is good. Truth has good effects. Know the truth. Set the truth free in your life and you will realize that it it The Truth Himself who has set you free. Let’s talk about chastity:

Chastity— to be chaste, comes from castus, the past participle of carere, which means to [be] cut off. The meaning of “cut” is not in reference to castration[!] but refers to the result of living in a manner contradictory to the fallen ways of the world, keeping the commandments, cut off from the utter stupidity of the world specifically to be in awe before God, especially the priest (see ἁγνός – 1 Timothy 5:22).

“Do not lay hands too readily on anyone [in reference to ordination to the priesthood], and do not share in another’s sins. Keep yourself chaste.” (1 Timothy 5:22)

That term, ἁγνός, refers in its most ancient usage, going back to Sanskrit, to one who is set aside for worship. I find that to be most impressive. However, it our present usage:

Everyone is meant to be chaste, so that begetting children in the married state is living chastely. Chastity is holiness of life in regard to sexual morality. Priests are held up as examples in this regard since people have a sense that priests are to know that they are married to the Church, and are therefore to have the ferocity of spousal self-giving that is faithfulness, and this as a faithfulness in their vocation unto death to themselves so as to live for this Bride of Christ, the Church. What a travesty is bad example!

Christ “married” His Bride, the Church, at the Last Supper, with those ferocious wedding vows said by the priest today in the first person singular, acting in the Person of Christ: This is my body, given for you in sacrifice…. This is the chalice of my blood, poured out for you in sacrifice. This is total self-giving to the other, in this case right through death.

Again, if the priest does not realize that he is married to the Church by the very sacrifice that he offers at daily Mass, then surely he will be lost to all sort of sexual idiocy, at least in his spirit if not otherwise.

The sword here is double-edged. The same sword which would cut the priest off from the stupidity of the world, setting him off for worship, for offering the Sacrifice, is the very same sword which is medicinally cut him off from that worship should he fall into such grievous un-chastity that such a cutting off is merited.

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02 – Priestly Celibacy Series – Continence

holy souls hermitage ad orientem 3

As we begin this series, the definitions might seem a bit pedantic, but even these will start to get rather interesting. Anything really worthwhile takes some effort, right? Bear with these first posts! Our first word to describe is continence, which can have a spiritual sense to it, however physical is seems.

Continence — from continentia and continere, means to contain. In its most graphic sense, this refers to the proper containment of sexual behavior, but not at all to the repression of untoward sexual behavior (which repression, as mere repression, is always evil, for mere repression fails to correct problems and is only escapism).

So speak of continent sexual behavior is open to the understanding that one who is continent or contained enjoys a lively peace of soul in that, by grace, he is contained in God, “hidden with Christ in God” as Saint Paul says, happy to walk in God’s presence. To put it another way, when speaking of “containing”, one recalls this from Saint Paul (2 Corinthians 4:5-7):

“We do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ. But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.”

Other passages from Saint Paul come to mind:

“Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Or how about this one…

“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

One will sometimes read the phrase perpetual continence as referring to the result of undertaking a promise or vow of chastity, so that the application of the word refers to not getting married and having children.

When understood with the nexus virtutum in the Thomistic sense, continence, in reference to temperance, can be said to be a virtue. John Paul II speaks of the “imperative of self-control,” bringing one to “the necessity of immediate continence and of habitual temperance” (27 Oct and 4 Nov, 1984).

Biblically, priests who are incontinent deserve death, such as Hophni and Phinehas, the ever so truly evil sons of Eli, who spent their priesthood raping the women at the entrance of the temple (1 Samuel 2,22).

This description of continence may bring up more questions, and that’s good. The series continues.

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Filed under Missionaries of Mercy, Priesthood, Priestly Celibacy, Priestly Celibacy Series, Vocations