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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: In the Face of Atheism

Atheists claim to be the ultimate integralists in that they deny the spiritual component in the human being. They have a high appreciation of the mind but define it wholly in terms of the brain which they regard as the most important organ in the human body. They are right to say that people are their bodies. They are wrong to claim that these bodies are not animated by souls. We are, in their estimation, thinking and loving meat. They propose a high or lofty estimation of man; but they demean him as entirely an animal or a biological machine. The intellectuals among them would consequently equate or compare human knowing with the ever-increasing computational power of computers. As materialists, they would likely suppose that a day will come when a technological invention will rival or surpass the human mind. Science fiction has already given us such characters in Space Odyssey’s Hal and Star Trek’s Data. The critique I would render is that to surmise such is a form of errant reductionism. We should not reduce the human mind to computation, no matter how complex. Machines like animals might mimic man and his sentience, but without the infusion of a soul by God, that is all they will ever do. We mistakenly try to close the gap by restricting the abilities of the human mind, denying its self-reflective knowledge, literally bending back unto itself— which would be impossible without the soul.

Why this apparent aside in a reflection about priestly celibacy? It is simply to acknowledge the unbelieving and even hostile environment where the priest finds himself. It comes down to a fundamental element. If there were no God and nothing of man that could survive death, then the very institution of the priesthood would be ludicrous. It would be an utter waste of time, resources and energy. Celibacy would be the tree topper on a Christmas tree voided of meaning. This touches the essential demarcation where people of faith and those without part ways. Without the gift of faith, the testimony of Scripture will not move atheistic critics. The Church has placed great confidence in reason and philosophy but not all atheists are all that reasonable. They reject logic and philosophical proofs as language games. “Show me heaven with my telescope. Reveal to me the Eucharistic change under the microscope. Where is God in a world where the innocent suffer and evil flourishes?” When it comes to a discipline like mandatory celibacy, they would argue that it is a waste of the only life a person will ever have. A priest-friend many years ago was taken in by such assertions, and by the inherent skepticism that permeated his graduate studies in anthropology. “Given that there are so many religions, how could we be certain that any are true? Would it not be easier to say that they are all equally false?” He left the ministry and got married. After an accident, he felt abandoned. He stopped believing entirely.

It occurred to me, ever since, that men seeking ordination must be totally certain of the Church’s claims. Dismissal from the seminary is no cause for lasting shame; defection from the priesthood brings with it a lasting stigma and possible scandal.  A good priest can work miracles of faith, even if he cannot clearly see the fruits.  A bad priest is a devil that can do incalculable harm to souls.  The priest will face fire from every side. Only if he is absolutely convinced of his faith and calling can he endure both the emotional assaults and the possible challenges from the various academic disciplines. He must be smart, holy and loving.  Our men must be celibate priests in a world that has stopped believing and where many believers have become practical atheists, living as if there is neither divine judgment nor resurrection.