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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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How a Celibate Priest Looks at Women

Friends have joked from time to time that I seem shy in public. What they mean is that I tend to look at the ground. I am not the only priest who does this. What they interpret as shyness is something more or quite deliberate. Many of us were taught or picked up from other priests what was commonly called a concern for the “custody of the eyes.” The proverb is quite true that “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Men are both visual and tactile. We like to see and to touch. This starts with childhood. A little boy sees a cookie and his eyes open wide with delight and he immediately reaches for it, even if it is forbidden by his mother because it will spoil his supper. The man appreciates that there are sweeter delights than cookies and candy. The hormones kick in, we pass through puberty, and suddenly we are all eyes and maybe hands for the girls. Women might be drawn to the fact that a priest is one man who does not treat them as a sexual object. He is regarded as safe and as a spiritual man. This is as it should be. The priest wants to save souls, and in this he must regard men and women as the same. More than this, he must give every woman the same regard— young and old, smart and dull, fat or skinny, attractive or ugly, etc. He must look upon them with the eyes of Christ. Nevertheless, the priest is still a man.

I recall that one sensitive woman became hurt because the local priest seemed to have time and eyes for everyone but her. He would glance at her and look away when he talked. She complained that he did not like her. The woman was quite wrong. He liked her very much, too much. The priest thought she was intensely attractive. He looked away so that he might not look her over, up and down. Women can also become upset if they should notice or suspect that a priest (like other men) is devouring them with his eyes. Flattery for one is deep disappointment for another. The priest is concerned about such impressions. He is also worried about his own soul. That is one of the reasons why I (along with many other priests) avoid beaches and public pools. Scantily clothed women make the proper custody of the eyes almost impossible. These images linger in the mind and what enters the mind can quickly move to the imagination.

Priests face many hurdles, but by the grace of God we remain strong and resilient. Celibacy is but one area of challenge but it is a crucial one if we want to continue as shepherds of Christ’s flock. We are faithful, obedient and do our duty.

As a priest mindful of his duty, I am drawn to Robert Frost’s Poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” A stanza reads:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Priestly Celibacy: A Truth Some Discover the Hard Way

A number of years ago, I had regular association with seminarians. As a young priest, I discovered certain truths which I lamented were not shared with me in my own formation. I passed them on to these good men. The most pressing of these revelations was that the seminarian and priest had less to fear from the bad girl as they did from the good one. Clergy are religious men, generally turned off by overt seduction, fragrant immodesty and sexual vulgarity. However, their hearts are very vulnerable to the woman whose piety is reflective of their own. A pretty girl who loves the Church and the priesthood can very quickly start loving one particular priest. Priests are men and their temptation is ironically found in their seriousness. A religious woman, modest and demure, will come to the priest for spiritual guidance and the sacraments. She will be the first to volunteer and the last to go home. She will sympathize with the priest and defend him against his critics. She never misses Mass and expresses how she is deeply moved and enriched by his preaching. In short, if priests could marry, she is everything he could ever want. He seeks, within the sphere of ministry, to be a father-figure and spiritual physician for her soul; but according to nature, a part of him begins to long for physical intimacy with her, for a shared life, and for a home where he could claim her as wife and mother to his children. The priest has no choice but to minister to her and other women like her. We cannot neglect the very ones most drawn to the faith. However, the priest must be honest about his emotions and very circumspect about his actions. He must not fool himself— this woman is dangerous to his vocation as a celibate priest. And he might pose a threat to her. No excuses can be tolerated so that he can spend more time to be near her. The priest needs to focus less on friendship with such a woman and more upon his duty to her as a priest. His energies must not be directed exclusively toward her. His promise mandates that as a priest, he should remain morally strong, for his own sake, for hers and for the larger believing community. Along with others, he gives her the sacraments; but he should not go out of his way to give her special favors and gifts. The Eucharist is enough for her; anything more constitutes the beginnings of flirtation. He might presume that she is safe with him; certainly more so than with other men who would quickly take advantage of her. But he is lying to himself and placing them both at risk. Unchecked, one day they notice their eyes upon one another and there comes the full awakening of what they have done. He holds her hand or gives her a quick embrace or maybe they even share a tender kiss, and a boundary line is crossed. It is still not too late but to break it off now will wound them both, possibly for a lifetime. He could have spared them both something of this pain. Some priests will leave ministry and if there is marriage, the woman will always carry guilt. She will think, “Did I cost the Church the services of a good priest? Did I selfishly steal him for myself?” If the priest makes distance, then they will be haunted by a love unfulfilled and a friendship that was needlessly destroyed by their weakness. There is a lesson learned. Sometimes you cannot be with the person you love. You cannot have everything you want. We usually associate love with presence and union; however, there is a sacrificial love that lets go or surrenders the beloved. Many priests have had this experience and can say, even many years later, “I loved her so much, I let her go.” Such a business can take a man to the Cross. One priest confided that he accidentally ran into a girl that he had fallen in love with over a quarter of a century earlier. It tore him up inside but he made distance from her to preserve his priesthood and to protect her honor. She was very cordial and introduced him to her husband and children. He tried desperately to keep tears from his eyes. Afterwards he was visibly shaking. Although older he thought she was still beautiful. All his old feelings returned and he spent the night in tears. He realized that he still loved her, that he would always love her. She could have been his. Her children could have been his children. But they went their separate ways. She was happy and had her family. What did he have? Hopefully he would look upon his years of priesthood with a sense of accomplishment and joy. Quickly as possible he needed to shrug off the ghost of unexplored potentialities. The fact that he had not ruined her life should have given him a degree of peace. He did the right thing, for both of them.