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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Priestly Celibacy – The Return to Innocence

St. Paul gave practical advice about human nature when he warned that it was better to marry than to burn; in turn some have viewed his words as an assault against marriage. Given the analogy of marriage as a reflection of Christ’s relationship to the Church, this is ridiculous. Marriage is a sacrament by which Christ grants grace. It is holy. The Manichee taint hates matter and despises marriage because it binds men and women in the flesh and creates still more corporeal beings. Christian celibacy cannot rightly raise up itself as an institution on the bones of marriage. If marriage falls, so does celibacy. Evidence of this fact is apparent in modern society. People are largely sexually active, but increasingly without benefit of marriage; simultaneously, celibacy is ridiculed and vocations to the priesthood cannot keep up with the need for shepherds. Christian marriage and the family constitute the cradle and birthplace to celibate vocations. This is one of God’s sweet absurdities or ironies. Our Lord delights in contradictions and makes them signposts to his kingdom: we must die to live, we must surrender to find treasure, we must forgive those who hurt us, we must love our enemies who hate us, and we must first have married vocations before we can have celibate priests. Social theorists might speak of marriage as a human construct imposed to protect civilization from the brute animal that would pillage, rape and murder. It restrains man’s lust and inhibits him from taking the wife or daughter of his neighbor. It gives man a structure of support and also ties him down with responsibility within an intimate communion of interdependence. The Christian would argue that marriage is a natural bond of divine institution. It is marriage and not the lascivious beast that defines him. Men and women are made for each other but not in a way analogous to the apes or animals. Husbands and wives find something of God’s watchful gaze in each other’s eyes. They discover a facet of divine love in their intimate embrace and know they are not alone. They participate in the Almighty’s awesome power in the creation of new human life. The promotion of celibacy and the quality of it as a sacrifice is necessarily enhanced when marriage is enthroned upon it’s rightly high throne.

The Church and society have long been at loggerheads about marriage and virginity. A female who embraced virginity and spiritual marriage with Christ was praised in pious circles. However, an unmarried woman might ordinarily be derided as a spinster and pitied by married women. A handsome man who became a priest is sometimes lamented by women as “what a waste!” A single man might still be regarded as a catch but a confirmed bachelor is viewed with suspicion. Is he gay? Is he eccentric and too much to handle? Maintaining a healthy tension has often proven difficult or impossible.

Our traditional regard for sexual innocence readily touches something spiritual, but what? It may be our Lord’s admonition that we must become like innocent little children. It may also reflect a dim memory of our own childhood and the innocence we once knew prior to the full emergence of reason, on one hand, and the breakthrough of puberty, on the other. We had yet to be possessed by the movement of passion, trusted our parents with a faith that was only second to God and saw the world with both wonder and a sense of simplicity. Religious virginity and vowed celibacy hint to what we shall become in the kingdom by opening windows to our first days in this world where we knew the trust and unblemished saintliness of children. At the moment of our baptism, we became perfect saints. We desperately want to return to that innocence and holiness.