Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Is Celibacy Impossible?

A comment on one of my earlier posts characterized popular opinion on the abuse crisis, starting with one basic and mind-boggling statement: Lifelong celibacy is impossible.
It's true that this pretty much sums up our culture's belief. It's just taken for granted, despite 2,000 years' worth of evidence to the contrary, and the present witness of tens of thousands who are right in the midst of doing the impossible. When you think about it, that blithe, almost dismissive (can you just see the shrug that goes with it?) statement is an insult to those faithful many. It is as if to say, "You don't count. We don't even see you."
Nor, evidently, do they remember some of the giants of history, or even of our own era, who lived this vow faithfully and even heroically. John Paul II, for one: athletic, vigorous, manly in every way. What about the example of Cardinal Bernardin? I remember how remarkable the timing was when CNN broke "the story" of accusations against the Cardinal: it just happened to coincide with the network's own "special report" about scandals in the priesthood. (This was in 1993.) "By the grace of God, I have always lived a chaste and celibate life," he said calmly at the press conference.
There are so many examples of life-long and life-giving celibacy that it boggles the mind that people could claim that it is impossible.
And yet, they are right. Jesus himself (another famous celibate!) admitted it: "With men it is impossible, but not for God. With God all things are possible" (Mk. 10:27). Ask any faithful celibate of past or present, and he (or she would tell you that it did not and does not happen automatically. It is, as Cardinal Bernardin said, "by the grace of God" and human cooperation in discipline and effort.
Is that the real problem?


Carmela James said...

Ooh, this is one of the issues that gets me riled up. I definitely agree that lifelong celibacy doesn't happen automatically, without God. Maybe that IS the problem, because society at large seems to reject God--of course they will not be able to remain celibate without Him.

But I'd say the problem is with society, not with celibacy. Taking Christ as an example of lifelong celibacy...there are plenty of people out there who believe in Him, but think that he was married to Mary Magdalene and had children, throwing His celibacy out the window. I once had a professor at community college tell me that it was a biblical fact that Mother Mary had other children besides Jesus. (And the class syllabus said that I wasn't allowed to argue with him.) So it seems like society takes many of our pillars of celibacy and says "Naah, they weren't," without any real evidence.

I take a medication that causes severe birth defects, so girls absolutely cannot get pregnant while taking it. Every month I have to re-input my two methods of birth control into their databases and take a pregnancy test. Of course, my two methods are "abstinence" and "abstinence". I heard that the company that makes this medication is considering removing abstinence from the list because they do not consider it an effective form of birth control. (They figure that anyone who claims to be practicing abstinence is lying.)

When I think about it, NOTHING really happens but for the grace of God, does it? I woke up and ate breakfast this morning, not through any power of my own to work contrary to God's wishes, but because God allowed me to get up and eat breakfast rather than drop down dead.

Anonymous said...

Celibacy is SO not the issue. Please, like these pedophiles would be content and remain chaste in marriages to women?!? C'mon, liberal "Catholics". These charlatans didn't become priests to serve God; they became priests to have easy access to children. Let us thank God and *pray* for the majority of priests, who are good men who have given up all to follow Christ! Let's also pray for the Church to be wholly cleansed of this "filth" (the Holy Father's word for it).

Arlene B. Muller said...

I'm a happily celibate single woman. I am close to my parents. I have good friends. I am active in the Church, and I am a Secular Franciscan. I am happy in my career. I remember that a GYN asked me on several occasions what kind of birth control I use--he and his staff AUTOMATICALLY ASSUMED that I use birth control. I told them the only foolproof method--I'm a virgin--only one Birth in 2000 years and the Child was very much wanted!
I do think that celibacy presents more of a challenge for the majority of men than for the majority of women. But millions of holy men throughout the centuries have remained celibate even when--like our beloved St. Francis--they had to meet temptation head-on by throwing themselves into the snow.
Pedophiles have a psychological disorder. If a normal man was having a struggle with remaining chaste he would not seek out a child or adolescent. Some married professional men have been guilty of pedophilia as well. Even one priest who is a pedophile is too many, but priests are not the only ones guilty of these horrible acts, and there are many innocent priests who have been wrongfully accused and awaiting the wheels of justice, which grind slowly, to vindicate them. Unfortunately once a person has been accused of such an act it is difficult to undue the damage done to his good name.

Anonymous said...

Carmela is right, but she doesn't go far enough. Modern secular society not only rejects God, but it also fails to see a need for God. Who needs a saviour when there is no such thing as sin? It is Original Sin writ large.

These are dangerous times for Catholics and the other denominations better be wary because they are next. Some have already tasted the bitter cup.

Anonymous said...

What's the point of celibacy?

“In the Roman Catholic corporation, the senior executives live and work, as they have for a thousand years, eschewing not just marriage, but intimacy with women ... not to mention any chance to familiarize themselves with the earthy, primal messiness of families and children.” No wonder that, having closed themselves off from women and everything maternal, they treated children as collateral damage, a necessary sacrifice to save face for Mother Church."
- Lisa Miller, Newsweek

Carmela James said...

Miss Miller obviously has no idea how vocations work.

Carmela James said...

I should have clarified what I meant by that.

Priests are actually better fathers to us than our biological fathers. Their relationship with us is closer to God's relationship with us.

I can get quotes to support that later, when I'm not writing on the run.