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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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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.

7 Responses

  1. study, knowledge, honesty, striving, good friends, prayer. fasting. abstinence/
    , aloneness. confessions, renewall
    , optimism that it can work, makes celibacy possible

  2. Hi, I just came across your blog. I’m a consecrated virgin living in the world. From the reply that you got, it goes to show how little the world really knows about celibacy. Such a shame. They miss out on the beautiful points of giving oneself to God totally. The world is so caught up on self. The “me generation”. I thank you for your vocation. I’ll keep you in my prayers

  3. Thank you, Father, for this beautiful post.

    FATHER JOE: Vielen Dank.

  4. Father Joe,

    I have read you blogs on and off for years. You are an intelligent priest and a great apologist for the Church. Your recent blogs about celibacy are insightful but I have an issue with God.

    I can’t help but wonder if God gives a damn about certain people. Some people were made to suffer from the day they were born. It’s like a curse. Prayers don’t help. People don’t help. No one cares if they rot on the floor. What pleasure does God get in this? No matter how some people try they are always behind, always. How do you know for sure God cares about everyone? He may care for some people but what about everyone? After all he is God, he can love whomever he wants.

    It’s like a dance. The good looking guys only approach the most attractive women. The rest are not even considered. I think God can dislike some humans. Even if they have done nothing wrong. There is no evidence to the contrary.

    FATHER JOE: Bad things happen, and maybe it is hard to see the reason, but I do believe that God cares for everyone. There are some heroic people who remind us of this. They shine light on our selfishness and our tendency to feel sorry for ourselves. The challenge is to see and think and feel as our Lord.

    The Church says that God’s love in unlimited. Where is the evidence?

    FATHER JOE: Where is the evidence? We did not merit anything. We could not force God’s hand. And yet, God sent his only Son to suffer his passion and die on the Cross for you and for me. We are not promised that this life will always be easy; rather, we are promised meaning and grace and a place in the kingdom.

    It seems to me that some people (including myself) are meant to be ignored for their whole existence. We can pray all we want. We were never invited in the first place. I am not an atheist. I just believe that God, who created us all, chooses who he wishes to associate with. Some people, he doesn’t even notice.

    FATHER JOE: Where is the evidence that God cares? I believe he communicates himself in prayer, but we also experience God’s love in his servants. Do you think I decided not to get married and have a family because I did not want these things? I did them for you and all the people like you. I made a promise to my bishop to go where I am sent and to do as I am told. Do you think a man like me likes being told anything? No, I do not. But I embraced this too, for you and people like you. If you were totally ignored, then I would have deleted your comment. There would be no response. I would not care. But I do care. There are so many other things I could be doing with my life. But I do care and so I surrendered my life into God’s hands. Thousands of other priests also care. Millions of volunteers and missionaries care, too. Our Lord himself reached out to the poor, the sinners, the outcasts, indeed, to any and all who were marginalized. The Church does the same. And it is all because we care. We know God’s love and want to be conduits of divine love to others.

  5. You go on and on about priestly celibacy.

    What are you trying to prove?

    You deny yourself a basic human experience, along with intense intimacy and happiness, and for what? You are lying to yourself and are trying to convince all of us to buy the lie. Celibacy adds nothing of significance to the priesthood. If it did then there would be absolutely no married clergy and yet they are approved and their numbers are growing. I think you are mad and resentful. You woke up one day, alone in your bed, and probably started crying. You wondered, what the hell have I done with my life?

    You were told that celibacy is best and that it makes you special, able to exercise divine power. But you have no extraordinary powers, at least none from keeping your zipper closed and your heart shut off from women. If anything, you have defaced your soul, making yourself into a sick caricature of a man. You are incomplete and will die alone without a family that loves you. I know, you were told that the Church is your family. But honestly, what does that mean? The people in the pews do not care. How does your being celibate really help or matter to them? Do other priests act like your brothers or more like prissy gossiping hens? Is the bishop really your spiritual father. Fathers will do anything for their sons. They love their children. But if you get into trouble or a woman steals your heart, do you think he will understand? No way! He will write you off and kick you in the butt as you exit the door. You will find yourself destitute with a degree not worth the paper it is written upon. You will have no skills that anyone wants. You will be abandoned by the very institution which you gave the most productive years of your life, all the time buying into the propaganda. Leave ministry and your name will be purged from the ordination classes listed on the website and you will disappear from the National Kennedy Directory. No matter how many years you served faithfully, when you die, your name will never appear in the necrology of Masses. No one will pray for you because you left. That sounds like no family I know, at least not a healthy one! See what celibacy, real or not, does in twisting the meaning of family?

    Churches with married priests are thriving, growing even. How many celibate priests are sitting at the head of dying parishes? It is almost as if your infertility is spreading to the parish community. The young people are gone. Where are the children?

    The Catholic Church, at least the Roman part of it, is a broken institution with a morally sick priesthood. Look at the abuse cases and the deception practiced by bishops. If celibacy was a genuine form of love, then priests would have killed themselves before hurting a child. Bishops would have locked reprobates away to protect those in their charge. But we know what really happened. As with the posture of celibacy, it all came down to control and secrecy and MONEY. They only went public and placed policies into effect to deal with the crisis when MONEY was threatened.

    As for you priests, yourselves, how does it feel to be surrounded by gay men on every side, pretending to be moral and yet tolerant of secret sins, especially when no one can get pregnant? Are you straight? Did you know about this situation when you were first ordained? I have known priests, shocked by the situation, who got fed up with the pretense and left ministry. Why does the Catholic Church harp so much against homosexuals? It is because it makes it easier to hide the truth. Most of you are gay men, some hating themselves and their sexuality, taking it out upon their brothers and sisters in the homosexual, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered community. Even your officially recognized groups for gays urge celibacy upon the membership. You are simply trying to press upon them the solution you found for yourselves to hide your orientation and to quietly make an accommodation. Again, I will say it, you are surrounded by gays. There is even a lobby in the Vatican!

    Everyone thinks you are gay. Gays at a facility to treat troubled priests tried to get me to cross over years ago. I said no. They said it would make matters easier. I left.

    It is all a lie Joe. The whole show is a farce. It is all for nothing. There are lots of priests and bishops blogging these days. They talk about everything. But look how little they say about celibacy or their own sexuality. They point fingers at everyone else. They refuse to look closely at themselves or they refuse to tell the truth.

    Maybe you are a true believer? If so the charade of celibacy will only give you pain and sadness, no matter how much you try to smile through your tears. I know. I have been there. It is too great a price to pay.

    FATHER JOE: I would have to rewrite all my reflections to respond, and I am not yet finished. I think you are wrong on a number of points and there is no way for you to absolutely know my psychology or that of every priest. It is possible to be celibate, happy and fulfilled. But I am also cognizant that we are hearing part of your story and saddened by what turned you against the Church. There will always be sinners in the Church; but Christ and his grace is also present, and so there will be saints, too. Every day I remember in prayer, brother priests who struggle with their weaknesses and those who have left ministry. They are my spiritual brothers, and always will be.

  6. I have been enjoying and learning so much from your posts on Priestly Celibacy. Today’s post bringing Consecrated Virginity into the picture is also eye opening and the quote so encouraging. Thanks so much for sharing all of this with us!

  7. Reblogged this on What the Campus Minister won't tell you.

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