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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 – Awake for the Master’s Return

The bridal imagery sometimes worries us, particularly when connected to men. Of course, the female connection can also evoke nervous giggles, as if Christ is a patriarch who is awaiting his harem of many brides. The Church, as a whole, is the bride of Christ. It does not belong solely to the consecrated virgin or woman religious, individually or corporately. However, there is a spiritual sense in the context of the evangelical counsels that these virginal brides of Christ participate in the great mystery of betrothal just as the ordained priest participates in the high priesthood of Christ. The virginity of our Lord makes possible any and all Christian celibacy. Another bridal image that makes us nervous is that of Mary, who foreshadows all that the Church hopes to become. The difficulty here is the clash of titles. Mary is Mother and yet also reckoned Virgin and as spiritual Bride. Catechesis upon this point requires a degree of precision and discretion. The bridal image emphasizes that the woman’s hand has been given and that the marriage is certain. The bride belongs to the groom. The Church belongs to Christ.

A more common image that is applied to the celibate man is the biblical figure of a faithful servant, a steward or watchman, entrusted with his master’s business, awaiting his return. References in Scripture to the watchful sentinel refer not only to men who put off sleeping but who also dismiss the distraction of the marriage bed. While it has largely gone out of fashion, the use of a personal man-servant by wealthy men, like the comic book Alfred to Batman or the literary Jeeves to Wooster would help illustrate the point. He sacrifices his personal life for that of his master. The celibate priest is the ultimate man-servant, to Christ and to his holy Church. His is a radical response to the Gospel summons, ““Gird your loins and light your lamps” (Luke 12:35). He does not simply work a nine to five job; rather, his commitment is perpetual. He is always on call. Married clergy might do a fine job but they are forced by practical necessity to compromise this commitment. There are facets of their priestly service which they must departmentalize. As I heard one married priest explain, “When I am ministering to parishioners, I am pastor and Father with a capital ‘F.’  When I am home at the dinner table, I am husband and daddy or father with a small ‘f.'” It does not work this way with the celibate priest.

Rectory staff were surprised and amused years ago when my mother called and asked for me as “Father Jenkins,” but such was her respect for the priesthood. My brothers and sisters might call me by my first name, but no one else. It is even my preference that nieces and nephews call me Uncle Father Joe. I am always on duty. I keep a stole in my pocket and oils in the car. Like any good soldier, I keep my arsenal against sin close at hand. Continuing with a military connection, the Armed Services will often restrict volunteers for the most dangerous missions to single men without families. Similarly, the Church must engage in battle with the most dangerous enemy of all and so she calls forth celibate men to her priesthood. This minister of Christ is called to lay down his life for his flock. He belongs to no one woman but to a community of women and men. He belongs to Christ. Every time he processes down the aisle to the altar at Mass, he is Jesus entering Jerusalem to die.

Celibacy is about so much more than refraining from sexual activity, entering marriage and having children. It signifies the urgency of proclaiming the kingdom and the immediacy of Christ’s presence. The celibate priest is the genuine messenger who goes about his assigned task without looking back. Just as the apostles abandoned their father, the fishing boats and their nets to follow Jesus; he also wants to share Christ’s life and mission in a radical way. Our Lord promises to make them fishers of men.

Men are not angels but they can be angelic, an expression going back to the patristic period in the Church’s history. The word angel means messenger and thus, in mission but not nature, men can share with them the sublime duty of manifesting divine truth, glory and will. Angels are not hampered by weak bodies. They are free and move at the speed of thought. While men cannot match their metaphysical properties; the celibate priest is compelled not to tarry in God’s service because of any natural obligations proper to married men.