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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 – Consecrated Virginity

Restored in 1970 and attributed to Pope Leo the Great, our esteem for priestly celibacy can be amplified by a parallel ritual and promise made by women who are consecrated as perpetual virgins. We read:

“You have poured out your grace upon all peoples. You have adopted as heirs of the new covenant sons and daughters from every nation under heaven, countless as the stars. Your children are born, not of human birth, nor of man’s desire, but of your Spirit. Among your many gifts you give to some the grace of virginity. Yet the honor of marriage is in no way lessened. As it was in the beginning, your first blessing still remains upon this holy union. Yet your loving wisdom chooses those who make sacrifice of marriage for the sake of the love of which it is a sign. They renounce the joys of human marriage, but cherish all that it foreshadows. Those who choose chastity have looked upon the face of Christ, its origin and inspiration. They give themselves wholly to Christ, the son of the ever-virgin Mary, and the heavenly Bridegroom of those who in his honor dedicate themselves to lasting virginity.”

Pledged to say the Liturgy of the Hours and to regularly participate at Mass, these wonderful women must make their own way in the world while vowing themselves as brides of Christ. Suppressed for a time, it is fitting that this vocation should be restored in a day and age when most do not prize virginity. Much that is said about it could also be said of priestly celibacy, although the priest is signified on the male or groom side of the analogy. Those who fault priestly celibacy would even more ruthlessly attack consecrated virgins. However, this opposition is more the reason why both celibacy and virginity must be preserved as constitutive features for callings in the Church.

Note that virginity is accented as a great honor or benefit.  It makes possible an elevation of dignity. If celibacy were a miserable sacrifice, one would hardly know it from the joyous ritual. The young woman is dressed in a wedding gown. She will be presented with a ring and a veil. I recall recently seeing photographs of a beautiful young woman being consecrated to perpetual virginity. Her friends and family were excited and happy for her. Others objected to the ceremony and what it would entail. Controversy was bred because many really no longer believe. They thought she was wasting her life. She would never marry and from that day forward would never date or pursue a romantic interest. All her talk about a spiritual spouse in Christ angered the critics. Did she hate men? What was wrong with her maternal instinct? Jesus was no where to be seen, if he even still existed, how could he be a husband to her? Their practical atheism was full in force: invisible equals absent. Hers was a relationship with the Lord that had blossomed; theirs, if they ever believed, had been aborted or feigned altogether. Those who did not understand were said to pity her and women like her. The same negative sentiment is held out for priests who are faithful to their celibacy. But the happy priest views it as a treasure, a great prize, yes, even as an exultation. The traditional warning for the celibate was to guard against pride.

It cannot be denied that there were abuses in the traditional negativity toward marriage. While it is a great mystery that signifies the unity of Christ with his Church and an awesome participation in the creative work of God; the mechanics of the marital act externally resemble the sexual congress of animals. The Church counsels that passion and not lust should accompany the act, but this admonition falls largely on deaf ears. Human bodies are objectified and made interchangeable. Viagra facilitates erections and contraception insures infertility. Sex is separated from marriage, first in fornication and cohabitation, and second in adultery. Pornography makes possible a voyeurism over interaction; indeed, it establishes a virtual adultery. Critics fail to understand virginity and priestly celibacy just as they generally confuse the meaning of sexual love in marriage.

A Christian culture and society has collapsed all around us into a neo-pagan one. Values have not merely shifted but in some cases, reversed. Virginity was once regarded as such a premium that theologians had to make concerted efforts to protect and support matrimony. But today it is virginity that is spurned while marriage, or at least sexual congress, is paraded as essential and in unqualified demand.