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The Epiphany of Celibacy

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"In Scripture we find the admonition to those who approach the living God – that they ought to detach from both creation and procreation (another indication of the link between poverty and chastity). Approaching supernatural life calls for detachment from natural life. At Mount Sinai, in preparation for the epiphany of the Lord, the Israelites were commanded, “Be ready on the third day; do not go near a woman” (Ex 19:15). The priests on service in the Temple were to refrain from marital relations. And Saint Paul exhorts married couples to periodic continence – in effect, a temporary celibacy – that they may devote themselves to prayer (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:5).

The ancient Church reasoned that since those in lesser offices were obligated to continence for a time (the Israelites, the Levites, married couples), those who minister daily at the altar should observe perpetual continence — which ultimately became celibacy. The conviction was that such detachment enabled ministers (not just priests, but deacons and subdeacons) to pray with an undivided heart that, as the Council of Carthage put it, “they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God.” It is therefore fitting that the priest, who approaches the altar and offers the life-giving sacrifice, observe perpetual continence. The man who exercises a spiritual fatherhood in a unique manner at the altar should draw back from natural fatherhood. The man who speaks the words of the Bridegroom — This is my body — should not speak those same nuptial words to a woman.

Incense also indicates mystery. That is part of the reason we use it at Mass: to make mysterious what we might be tempted to treat as mundane and ordinary. It serves as a veil reminding us (because we are always in danger of forgetting) of the holiness – the otherness – of the One who comes so humbly in the Eucharist. Celibacy serves a similar purpose in the world. It is a kind of veil that calls attention (the priest’s own, first of all) to the otherness of the priest, to the holiness of what he is and does.

Not infrequently after Sunday Mass, a child approaches the priest and asks him about some aspect of the liturgy: Why? The child’s question means that the liturgy has done its work. It has provoked a wonder and awe that can then be turned to greater understanding and devotion. The priest then has a welcome opportunity for mystagogia, to explain the sacred mysteries. A similar thing happens with celibacy. Few things in the Church provoke more questions, wonder and interest. Even those who know little else about the Church have at least heard of this mysterious kind of man that foregoes not only what is evil but even what is profoundly good. They wonder, Why?

As a witness to something more, celibacy is meant to be mysterious and cause wonder. The world’s children’s questions about it means that celibacy has done part of its work. Their wonder provides us with the opportunity to speak of Christ’s own celibate chastity, of sacrifice, and of the world to come. The question provides an opportunity to speak of the One who transcends all other loves and of the Kingdom that lays claim to our hearts."

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Are you sure that is the action that is still wanted by Catholic Priests? Attracting children should be very low on their priority list right now given all the problems the Church has. Just sayin'

 

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