Living celibacy for the Kingdom

Living celibacy for the Kingdom

Today is the anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s papal installation. This time next year, it will be the feast of St John Paul II.

22 October is also the anniversary of my ordination as a deacon, which is the day I committed myself to celibacy for the Kingdom. Since celibacy was one of the things we studied and prayed about during my annual course, I’ve been thinking a lot about it.

I thought I would share some of the practical resolutions I thought and prayed about. Consecrated celibacy is peculiar to a few, but it’s easily related to the virtue of chastity, which is relevant to every Christian, whatever their state of life.

An affirmation of love

Celibacy for the kingdom is a positive affirmation, not a negative denial. It sounds cliched, but I often pray on this. The notion of self-sacrifice, however noble and heroic, is inadequate.

Speaking personally, my primary motivation is love and affection for a person. I’m doing this for our Lord, not for a collective, or for an abstraction.

Absolute sincerity

The struggle to be chaste demands absolute sincerity in spiritual direction and confession. In the first place, this means being sincere with God. It compels me to recognise when my heart desires something that God does not desire. (This seldom constitutes a sin of course, but I’m talking about virtue here, not the avoidance of sin.)

In the second place this this means being sincere and speak frankly with another person, which is hard for me. I demand this of myself not only for the sake of chastity, but much more for progress in humility. I struggle with this, so I often meditate on these words of St Josemaría when I’m preparing for confession or spiritual direction:

How shall we be able to overcome our meanness? Let me make the point again because it is so important: by being humble and by being sincere in spiritual direction and in the sacrament of Penance. Go to those who direct your souls with your hearts open wide. Do not close your hearts, for if the dumb devil gets in, it is very difficult to get rid of him.

Forgive me for insisting on these points, but I believe it is absolutely necessary for you to have deeply impressed on your minds the fact that humility, together with its immediate consequence, sincerity, are the thread which links the other means together. These two virtues act as a foundation on which a solid victory can be built. If the dumb devil gets inside a soul, he ruins everything. On the other hand, if he is cast out immediately, everything turns out well; we are happy and life goes forward properly. Let us always be brutally sincere, but in a good-mannered way.

I want one thing to be clear: I am not as worried about the heart or the flesh as I am about pride. Be humble. If you ever think that you are completely and utterly right, you are not right at all. Go to spiritual direction with your soul wide open. Don’t close it because, I repeat, the dumb devil will get in, and it is difficult to get him out again.

Temperance (= moderation)

I laughed out loud the first time I read these lines from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, because I felt like I’d swallowed “the grand lie” hook, line and sinker:

[The] chief use [of excess in food] is as a kind of artillery preparation for attacks on chastity. On that, as on every other subject, keep your man in a condition of false spirituality. Never let him notice the medical aspect. Keep him wondering what pride or lack of faith has delivered him into your hands when a simple enquiry into what he has been eating or drinking for the last twenty-four hours would show him whence your ammunition comes and thus enable him by a very little abstinence to imperil your lines of communication.

If he must think of the medical side of chastity, feed him the grand lie which we have made the English humans believe, that physical exercise in excess and consequent fatigue are specially favourable to this virtue. How they can believe this, in face of the notorious lustfulness of sailors and soldiers, may well be asked. But we used the schoolmasters to put the story about — men who were really interested in chastity as an excuse for games and therefore recommended games as an aid to chastity.

Lewis’ point is that we often tend to see virtue as the polar opposite of its corresponding vice, but this approach only encourages excess. Authentic virtue is never excessive, but always temperate. Aristotle called virtue “the golden mean” between opposing excesses. (Chastity is not the opposite of lust for example, it’s the golden mean between lust and frigidity.)

Practically speaking, I attend to the details of moderation in what I eat and drink, in my relaxation and exercise, and especially in my use of time. I seldom over-eat, but I’m easily tempted to spend too much time on a single task, upsetting my schedule and my prayer life, which typically precedes a temptation against chastity.

Devotion to Our Lady

I have a friend whose mother trained him to ask, “Would I continue watching this if the Blessed Virgin Mary was in the room?” “Would I be having this conversation?” “Would I tolerate this occasion?” I laughed when I first heard it, but I gradually find myself adopting this measure more and more.

I ask our Lady and St Joseph to pray the Rosary with me, and I commend to them my struggle to be chaste. When I started in the seminary, the Spiritual Director of the College encouraged us to look to St Joseph as a model of masculine chastity, and a powerful intercessor. It’s a good point I think.

I try to renew every day — when it is possible — the consecration and entrustment I made to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on my first day as a priest.

I’m training myself to pray the Memorare out loud whenever I am tempted against chastity. Not for myself. For someone else, somewhere in the world, who is also at that instant afflicted with temptation. My thinking is, even if I fall, maybe my prayer has helped someone else, and built up the Kingdom.

I don’t really have any explanation for why these Marian means work. No explanation based on psychology or anthropology, anyway. But they do work, that’s for sure! It’s purely supernatural I guess.

  • MuMu

    The best defence of chaste celibacy for the priest, after a true devotion to Our Lady, is to build strong fraternal relationships with other priests, especially on your days off – as you do, Fr John.

    Just keep this thought: sex outside of marriage is toxic, poisonous, dreadful, not worth it in any way, shape or form. It’s like heroin, necessary in one instance only, fatal in all others.

    And it’s a safe bet that most human beings on the planet are celibate most of the time. Think about that!

    The tension of sacrificial chaste celibacy is what gives a priest his power of charity for others. Brilliant!

    • Stephen K

      I know my comments will not be welcome and I’ll probably be verbally caned for this, but really, in the cause of common sense, I just have to say something!]

      MuMu, I read what Father John has to say on anything because I think he’s a decent bloke, an earnest sincere priest and a fair dinkum Christian (all of which I do not and cannot assert of myself). I read this post and thought ‘How honest of him. How revealing of his integrity and sensitivity. How brave.’ I thought I’d leave the post alone because it speaks for itself. It’s personal. It conveys to me the essential human reality of the writer as brother-journeyer.

      But then you opine that the “best defence of chaste celibacy” is “fraternal relationships on your days off”. Then “sex outside of marriage is toxic, poisonous, dreadful, not worth it in any form”. And then, “the tension of sacrificial chaste celibacy is what gives the priest his power of charity for others”.

      I disagree. Not with the implicit proposition that positive fraternal relationships can go a long way to filling the heart’s need for the experience of love; nor with the implicit proposition that, having made a commitment to chaste celibacy, one needs to take steps to support one’s such commitment. Oh no. But “on your days off”? As if this was a part-time issue? I disagree rather with your fantastic and lurid characterisation of sex and the preposterousness of your sweeping proposition that priests derive their charity for others from a “tension of sacrificial chaste celibacy”.

      Contrary to you, I opine that sex is intrinsically physical – carnal if you will – and that in or out of marriage sex can be, alternatively, loving and desirous of the other person as person or selfishly lustful without regard and an exercise of power and violence. Sometimes it may be a mixture. Sex is beautiful or ugly and it is not marriage that empirically makes the difference. If you argued that loving sex within marriage was how it should be, pro causa unitiva et progenitiva, I would not, in my mature years, disagree with you, but please face facts. If you protest that the sacramental grace available within marriage fills all deficiencies, I counter that this is a mystery you cannot possibly assert except in theological theory, and I reject such a simple or universal effect.

      Contrary to you, I opine that if a priest has to derive his charity to others from his embrace or struggles (or both) with chaste celibacy, he relies on a slender thread indeed. I have a much more encompassing view of what charity and love and pastoral care require or involve. Ultimately, if the Christian view is to be accepted, our charity is a product or only made possible by grace and not by anything we can do, let alone a state of decision or tension.
      Don’t mischaracterise my angle. I am not in favour of promiscuity. Chasteness is neither celibacy or marriage, but an approach to both. I stand with billions of others since time began who cannot say they are or have been chaste. But I’m not naive and can see that the ways of life and living are a mystery in multiple layers and slogans don’t cut it.

      Father John, I respect you, as man and priest.

    • Monica O’Brien

      MuMu, really??? With respect I think you are very naive.

  • Joel

    Fr John is a member of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. He doesn’t get days off. Opus Dei are slave drivers man!

    Your comments are always welcome here Stephen. They’d be more welcome if I could make sense of them. What I did pick up in this last effort has a protestant ring to it though.

    • Stephen K

      “They’d be more welcome if I could make sense of them”.

      Gosh, Joel! You really know how to prick a balloon, sending it crashing to earth, don’t you? No wonder I have a sweet tooth, from all the humble pie I eat!

      By way of (partial) clarification, I accept my theology of grace may sound or be protestant (i.e. non-Arminian) . I can’t help that, that’s the way my thinking leads me. But I’m not so doctrinaire as I may sometimes across – I think it’s indefinable.

      And the essential thrust of my comment was a reaction to what I thought was unqualified sentimentality.

      Finally, as a committed unionist, I must implore John to demand non-slavery conditions!

      • Joel

        My comment was just as much about my level of obtuseness as it was of any lack of clarity on your part!

        Independently, your arguments held some real weight. Strung together they clashed a little though, at least to me. Keep ’em coming though.

        Opus Dei with a union. Gold. Their patron could be Gestas, aka “The Bad Thief”. Their motto: “Save yourself and us as well”

        I’d be their number one card holder!

      • Stephen K

        Delicious. (LOL)

  • Kevin

    To quote a very wise man …”Can’t we all just get along? “

  • Simon Hogan

    Now tomorrow it’s biggest days of horse racing in the world! Derby Day at Flemington.
    There is also racing at Mortlake in the western district and plenty of other meetings.
    Flemington Race 1No 1,2,6 and 9.
    Race 2.N0. 3,5,9 and 8.
    Race3 My numbers are 14,9,1 and 8.
    Race 4.
    My numbers are 11,9,4 and 2.
    Race5
    9,7,6 and 2.
    Race 6. It’s the Victoria Derby
    My numbers are 16,7,4 and 6.
    Can madien horse win the derby it could happen !
    Race7
    My numbers are 8,10,1 and 14. Thy is running in this race. I think is due for a win.
    Race8 My numbers are 14,17,7 and 12.
    Race 9 the last race of the day. My numbers are 7,11,6 and 12.
    Four Group ones at Flemington tomorrow. But at 6.30pm the melbourne cup barrier draw will be on you can listen to it on Sport 927 spring racing station on your ditial radio or bigpond racing on your computer or tvn or through the t box 984. Then on Sunday the racing mass at St. Franics is anyone going to that. I am not but I hoping to be the cup pardre on Monday.
    Channel Seven will telvising that and also a cup preview on Sunday at noon. Another sports show will talking about the cup is Offsiders on ABC One at 10.30 am on Sunday. So there is plenty going on off track and on the track! John Patterson who is clerk of course was born in Hamilton there is feature story in today hearld Sun. Enjoy cup week and I know alot of people have cup eve off! I wonder if your one of them. Happy Punting and Good luck in fashions of the field too!

  • Monica O’Brien

    Would someone please tell me! Did someone, at Kevin Lee’s Memorial Mass at Springwood, really state that only 6 priests sexually abused 75% of the abused children – and, if so, was it Bishop Fisher?
    I am devastatated by Kevin’s death. I am 75 years of age and Kevin and I had become very close emailing friends.

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