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Priestly Celibacy – Earthbound or Heaven Directed

We are not all the same. Personalities, drives, passions, weaknesses, temperaments, hopes and dreams vary among the members of the human family. There is a commonality with our humanity, but men and women are not like ants. We are similar but different. Siblings can grow up in the same household and yet be very dissimilar. We see this with religiosity all the time. We also experience this variation with human sexuality. I do not mean a distinction between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Rather, I mean the level of passion that drives men. Some men find it overwhelming while others know their sexual drive as a nuisance. Still others seem hardly bothered at all. Are these the “eunuchs who were so born from the mother’s womb” (Matthew 19:12)? It might seem that members of this latter group are immediately cut out for the life of a celibate priest; but there is much more entailed with a vocation to the priesthood.

There are various means of holiness and Christian discipleship. Restricting ourselves to this discussion, the Church seems to assume that virginity or celibacy is a more immediate sign of the kingdom, a more direct path than married life. While marriage signifies something of Christ’s relationship with the Church; marriage as an institution is heavily rooted in the material world. Men and women as bodily creatures are drawn to union. It is from this union that we have the creation of new corporeal beings. Husbands and wives are intensely aware of the need for shelter, clothing and food. The spouses become preoccupied with the necessary details of maintaining a home and caring for children. When they get older, one or both may have a special duty and devotion to provide for the medical and physical needs of the beloved. This may come down to providing for feeding, toilet needs and basic efforts at washing. Until death do they part, the emphasis is upon bodily persons. The celibate man, by contrast, is not preoccupied with such basic needs. He has only himself to worry about.  (Although he might embrace a life of such service to others, as with a hospice or missionary work.)  Generally speaking, though, he more easily looks toward non-material requirements and goals. No one completely escapes the reality of being earth-bound, but certainly the celibate is a powerful and evocative eschatological sign.

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