Monday, 17 June 2013


I suppose I should be grateful for Joseph Shaw for pointing out a worrying article by Fr Ron Rolheiser OMI on the nature of celibacy.

For personal reasons I am deeply fond of the OMI  and their founder, St Eugene de Mazenod.  I am less fond of the writings of Fr Rolheiser.  This particular article is worrying as it is not joyfully positive about celibacy.  It sees it as part of suffering (which we know is a necessary part of the human condition), with the emphasis being on the solitude of the celibate.  Is solitude a form of suffering? The "infinite solitude" of God is our only joy, surely? Is celibacy something to be suffered?  I can't believe this to be the case.

Firstly and most importantly Chastity is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it is not something to be suffered but wells forth from The font of joy. It is available to all, the Holy Spirit doesn't refuse His gifts and their fruits to anyone.  Celibacy is founded on a healthy and prayerful understanding of Chastity. Secondly, we are all called to be celibate who aren't in the married state and therefore the development of our sexual selves is something only to be worked on within the married state, it isn't a given, it is a gift of marriage. We are supposed to marry as virgins, right? Marriages that incidentally should be continent and chaste, where the partners are fully in control of their sexual selves. Thirdly (and here I will have a grump), I can't stand descriptions of celibacy that aren't joyful coming from priests, because THEY CHOSE THAT STATE!  It is only us widowed that had celibacy thrust upon us, and we have to damn well make it work. Marriage is a choice, the priesthood is a choice, the consecrated religious life is a choice, widowhood isn't a choice! Celibacy is good, celibacy is fruitful, God has given it to us, so why should it be otherwise? Celibacy is natural outside of marriage and as not everyone is called to the married state, celibacy can't be unnatural.

I think what I'm trying to say is that we are forgetting about love in all of this; agape, that is to say "disinterested love". The love that only seeks the good of the other and the glory of God. This love is the love that sounds so difficult in 1 Cor 13, yet is so necessary for our salvation.  This is the love Christ has for us and the love we are asked to return to our neighbour.  It is gentle, patient, kind, never seeks its own way..... you know that passage as well as I.  BUT most importantly, it stems from an act of the will.  Agape must be willed.  Obviously, it cannot be achieved by the will, as it comes from God, but the soul must will that God enters in and transforms that person into one capable of demonstrating this love.  The "holy daring" of the saints is nothing more than a stubborn desire to will this disinterested love into being at whatever cost.  It works on all levels and should be what we are all trying to do; "be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect" Mat 5:48. That isn't a command to someone else, it is for us all.  God is love, that perfect love is "disinterested"and that is what we should be striving for.  And it simply can't be done if we see the non-development of our sexual selves as something that must be suffered.  Finally, isn't there something more to being adult male and adult female beyond that which is sexual?  Surely the gift of male and female as companions for each other  that was given by God to our first parents, was not primarily sexual, because if it were, our first parents would have known they were naked before the Fall.


Patricius said...

A profoundly sane post!

I seem to recall Fr Rolheiser banging on and on and on about sex in the pages of the Catholic Herald some two decades ago. I am surprised that anyone still bothers to read him!

Robert said...

Dear Rita

You make some good points here. Especially in the difference between the choice of celibacy or marriage against the not-choice of widowhood.

Of course, there is some suffering in any sacrifice, that is the nature of sacrifice. But a more positive way of looking at some sacrifices, such as celibacy, may be to regard them instead as offerings.

I think there may usually be an element of fear in sacrifices, and while they can be motivated by love, there is also often that fear, sometimes servile, sometimes the holy fear with which one should approach God.

But offering seems, to me at least, to more suggest an approach and motive of love, more of a gift than a sacrifice, less of fear and more of an overwhelming sense of: "What can I do for the Lord?"

And if sexuality is a gift, then celibacy should more properly be a gift, an offering. A "Thank you for this gift, I will treasure it, but I will not use it. I will retain it, untouched, undefiled, displayed out of reverence and gratitude and joy."

And I also don't see why celibacy must imply loneliness, or solitude. Sex is only one of many ways of relating to others. And in this day and age, sex may actually be a great hindrance to the many other ways of relating to people. It may block other forms of intimacy. I don't see why a priest or a religious or a widow, for that matter, with a healthy, positive attitude toward celibacy can't have a rich and abundant "family life" filled with much joyful intimacy of several sorts.

God bless you!