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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: Making Too Much of Mind Over Matter

I have rewritten this post several times, struggling to express something that is hard to define.  Christian celibacy emphasizes mind and will over attraction, passion, instinct, etc.  But none of us exist outside of the human family and all men and women are creatures of God. Both the celibate and the atheist might place too much emphasis upon the mind. It can become a form of idolatry.

Neither an extremist celibacy that hates our biological nature nor an atheistic materialism that denies the spiritual component to our identity should be given the upper hand.  It is curious that this latter group might look down upon our physicality, giving the gravity to the mind even as we tamper to improve, manipulate or mechanically duplicate elements of our constitution.  Ours is the age of computers and robots.  But the minds of men are more than electrical brains and the body a masterpiece beyond that of any fabricated automaton.  We might suppose that the mind can do all things; that whatever we can imagine, we can make real.  And yet there is also a reductionism:  there is a scientific empiricism that impugns other types of truth and which looks upon human genius as something which might be replicated in the mechanical.

We were made for God. This is a truth of our nature. Atheists will sometimes embrace an exaggerated science as a place-holder for where God belongs. They will leap to assumptions or rally around conflicting math or parade man’s growing understanding of both the universe, large and small, or point to man’s technological breakthroughs.  Science rests upon all sorts of philosophical presuppositions. It can act as a kind of religion for those who explicitly claim no religion.  Science might overreach itself, arguing that no restraints should be placed upon what the mind can conceive, even the horrific.  Some critics warn that we are playing God.

I am reminded of the controlling “IT” in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Winkle in Time.  A warning, for sure, it portrays a dark disembodied Mind which takes over everything, exerting a powerful telepathic bondage over people. Do not get me wrong, the mind is a wondrous gift. Look at all the technology and breakthroughs that have been made possible by human genius. But we can wrongly regard the gift of the mind as if it is the giver of all gifts.  We have fashioned weapons of war that could destroy the planet and all life upon it.  Separated from will or love, the mind can be a cruel task master.

Christian celibacy is not simply the victory of the mind over the flesh. If the bestial is close to the animals, a narcissistic mental egoism is reflective of the devil. If thinking heads could be severed from their bodies so that they could devote themselves to mental deliberations unfettered by physical desires, this would not constitute an effort at perfect celibacy. True celibacy is neither the destruction of our sexual faculties nor the negation of our gender-identity. Rather, it takes all that makes us human and makes of it a sacrificial gift to God.  Men and women are human beings, not angelic ones.

The fiction that man is a mind distinct and locked in a human body can lead to a terrible separatism.  We are our bodies.  According to their natures, both angels and men must surrender and conform to God’s loving providence. If the will is poisoned by hatred or by the wrong kind of love, then the mind alone cannot straighten us out.  We would be given over to the demonic.

An emphasis upon the mind does not necessarily mean that one is good or holy.  The two components of the human soul are also found in angelic beings:  intellect and will.  But men also have physical bodies and we cannot pretend otherwise.  These bodies are liable to original sin, weakness and corruption.  They also possess certain positive abilities and attributes which must be acknowledged or integrated so that we might be holistic persons.