In this weekend’s second reading we hear: “All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17). To say “God is love” is the same as saying “God is gift.” For to love is not just to give a gift, but to be a gift: the gift that love gives is the gift of self. Of course, as John Paul II observes, “the concept of ‘giving’ cannot refer to nothing. It indicates the one who gives, and the one who receives the gift, as well as the relation established between them” (TOB 13:4). The one who gives the gift is God, the one who receives the gift is man (all of us, male and female), and the relationship that is established between them is “spousal.” In this relationship, God is always “masculine” and man (all of us, male and female) is always “feminine.” Why? Read the language of our bodies and we see readily that it is the masculine principle that first gives the gift and it’s the feminine principle that first receives it. We say “first” gives or “first” receives because, as John Paul II also observes, the giving and receiving of the gift interpenetrate in such a way that the very act of giving becomes receiving, and receiving becomes giving (see TOB 17:4). The sexual difference tells this story. It’s not just biology. It’s theology. Lord, give us eyes to see your Mystery revealed through our bodies!
[NOTE: The series “The Joyful Truth of Celibacy” will resume Thursday.]
On this feast of St. Augustine, I bring you this excerpt from my book Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, & the Universal Longing, in which I dub him the “doctor of desire.”
Saint Augustine was a man who knew what it was to pine and ache and burn inside. He felt it so ardently and wrote about it so poignantly that I like to call him “the doctor of desire.” In fact, he maintained that the “whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing … That is our life, to be trained by longing” – to follow the heart’s deepest desire where it ultimately takes us.
[NOTE: The posts that comprise this series are excerpted and adapted from Christopher West’s 2018 revised, updated and expanded edition of Theology of the Body for Beginners: Rediscovering the Meaning of Life, Love, Sex, & Gender (Wellspring 2018). Click here to order bulk copies of this book for your parish at just $3/copy or get your first copy for free using the checkout discount code DESIRE.]
“Celibacy for the kingdom signifies the risen man, in [whom] the absolute and eternal spousal meaning of the glorified body will be revealed in union with God himself.” —Saint John Paul II
It was a gorgeous starlit night. A young couple, madly in love, drove off into the country to find a secluded place where they could express their amorous desires. Spotting a grassy knoll, they parked on the side of the road, grabbed a blanket and headed for the far side of the hill.
Little did they know they were on the property of a country parish and an elderly monsignor, hearing some commotion, looked out his rectory window, gathered what was happening, and decided he would go for a little “prayer walk.” The young lovers, engrossed as they were in one another, had no idea someone had approached and was now standing at the edge of their blanket. Jolted out of their passion by a startling but nonetheless polite, “Excuse me,” they were all the more startled by the sight of his Roman collar. Expecting he would scold them roundly, instead, the mysterious man in black looked toward the heavens and probed inquisitively, “Tell me, what does what you’re doing here have to do with … the stars?” After a pregnant pause, he walked back to his rectory leaving the dumbfounded lovers to ponder his question.
This Sunday’s second reading contains a passage that, according to St. John Paul II, summarizes the entire teaching of the Bible. “It is what God … wishes above all to transmit to mankind in his Word” (TOB 93:2). “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:31–32). Christ is the new Adam who left his Father in heaven. He also left the home of his mother on earth. Why? To give up his body for his bride (the Church) so that we might become “one flesh” with him. Where does this happen? In the Eucharist. Here “Christ is united with his ‘body’ as the bridegroom with the bride,” John Paul II tells us (Mulieris Dignitatem 26). God wants to marry us! That’s the whole Bible in five words. And he wanted that eternal marital plan to be so plain to us that he stamped an image of it right in our bodies by making us male and female and calling the two to become “one flesh.” O Lord, give us eyes to see our bodies as a sign of your eternal plan for us!
[NOTE: This is the first of a four-part series on “The Joyful Truth of Celibacy.” The next three posts will elaborate on the main themes of this post and will be excerpted from Christopher’s book Theology of the Body for Beginners: Rediscovering the Meaning of Life, Love, Sex, & Gender (Wellspring 2018). Click here to order bulk copies of this book for your parish at just $3/copy or get your first copy for free using the checkout discount code DESIRE.]
In light of the recent revelations of yet more heinous sexual misconduct by some clergy in the Catholic Church, we are hearing once again that “ending the ban on marriage” for Catholic priests is the easiest fix to the problem. To think otherwise, it would seem, is to play ostrich and bury one’s head in the sand.
It’s true that the practice in the Latin rite of reserving priestly ordination to celibate men could change. The Catholic Churches of the East have valid married priests, and some married priests of other denominations who convert to Catholicism can be ordained as valid priests even in the Latin rite.
So, if someone asks, “Why can’t priests be married?” the real answer is, they can be. However, with good reason, priests in the West are normally chosen from among men who have discerned celibacy as their vocation.