August 04, 2006

Honest Sex, Honest Marriage, Honest Celibacy

[Due to a question I have received about my thoughts on these matters, I am republishing the following post that I first published in March.]


— Without Reference to God, the Bible or the Church!

If we understand that sexual intercourse is "body language" that says, "I give you my all," then wholehearted HONESTY in making that statement requires several conditions.


… all of me entirely for you alone, not for another— monogamy;

… all my years— lifelong monogamy;

… all my body— without latex, pills or surgery to shield or impede my body.

— Now … What DOES God Have to Do with It?

Honesty in giving one's all— that is what opens sexual intercourse to the horizonless, infinitely honest Self-Gift— Agàpe— that is God.

Nature and human honestythose are the realities the Church's moral teaching about sexuality simply affirms.

What about celibacy?

If a husband and wife give themselves to each other with the kind of honesty I described, there can be at least three results: joy, communion, life. These are also qualities of God.

Sexual honesty and those three fruits of it do not happen without an exchange of vulnerability.

A professed Christian celibate (a monk, a nun, a priest...) has received an invitation from God to live without a spouse, and to do so "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven", as Jesus teaches. I HATE to hear people say that priests are celibate in order to have time and energy for work in the Church. That motive does not turn me on, and it's not the one Jesus gave. Even an atheist can live the celibate state for a merely practical motive.

One who is a celibate for sake of the kingdom of heaven is celibate for God. (Pious tradition gets it exactly right in speaking of nuns as "Brides of Christ".) Celibacy, then, aims for communion, life and joy, just as honest sexual intercourse does. A "professional celibate" who just crusts over to protect himself from his own human feelings, or numbs himself with any form of addiction, or "plays around" is not receiving or living his celibacy "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."

A Christian celibate must also say— not to a human spouse, but to God— "I honestly give you my all". For the sake of the kingdom of heaven!

Remaining faithful to vowed Christian celibacy requires the constant rehearsal of vulnerability by way of very personal prayer— together with worship and all the virtues. The same is true of honest marital sexuality.

Celibate monks, nuns and priests have the same ultimate goal as married folk. Its just that celibates do without the support and challenge of spouses and children.

Since celibacy and marriage share the same ultimate goal, I, a celibate, have felt the closest personal kinship with married couples who live authentic sexual honesty.

To ALL his followers— celibates and spouses alike— Jesus promises communion, joy and life. However, the Way of Resurrection and the Way of Cross have the same footsteps.

NFP ("Natural Family Planning") classes propose that periodic abstinence from sexual intercourse in marriage can be a beautiful way to express love and respect." So is the Cross.

The NFP "Gospel" must frankly propose to spouses the whole Gospel: its rewards, its beauties, its passion and its share in the Lord's Passion.


Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

I have been participating in another blogger's conversations about NFP. Here's what another participant there said.


Here's my two cents on the matter - my only authority on the matter is the five children my wife and I have had through the rudiments of NFP (my clockwork wife needs nothing more...) and the fact that my in-laws were instrumental (and, I would add, boastingly, pioneers) in getting our Diocese to formally establish an NFP program in its family life office...).

Two points, neither of them strictly theological, although they come with their own set of assumptions - points first, then assumptions:

1) NFP does a good job (though not failsafe, by any means) of preventing a husband from turning his wife into an object - and viceversa, for that matter. There is an intensity to the sexual act which, given man's selfish and fallen state, will inevitably make the act selfish if it has no end beyond the latex tip, so to speak. In other words, if children or even the possiblitiy of children are not part of the equeation, a husband can easily turn sex into self-centered act. The woman, meanwhile, is left embittered, and well - that's where marriages begin to fail. Lack of love, lack of trust, lack of fidelity...

The assumption here of course is that the woman must recognize that pleasuring her husband is not the ultimate end of marriage as much as her "honeymoon glow" would want to take her there. ("I'll do anything for him - even make myself available anytime he wants me. If that means going on the pill, the patch, the shot, whatever, - so be it!") It turns the whole feminist experiment on its head, of course - because the pill was supposed to make the woman "free" - but it does just the opposite, at least in the marriage context.

2) My in-laws would often say that even letting people know that this option is out there could prove to be as important as trying to explain it to people - Perhaps married couples will get to the point where they realize they've taken the wrong path - and want another option. They could very well recall what the priest, the NFP couple, - the geek on that Catholic radio program - was going on about. This NFP nonsense...

This assumes, of course, that the couple has the wherewithal to pursue this option after they've frustrated themselves with contraception. But there are more unhappy people out there than you might expect - I recall my in-laws relating how many non-Catholics and even non-believers would take their classes - not an overwhelming majority, but certainly a suprising number.


I (Fr. Stephanos) then added the following to the conversation.


[You] have implicitly told the "how and why" artificial contraception can wreck sexuality and marriage. That's the other side of the coin that reads something like, "The divorce rate among those who practice NFP is below 5%."

7:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Fr,

I agree with what you say about celibacy but I feel very strongly that mandatory celibacy, or the idea that a call to celibacy must accompany a call to priesthood does not seem logical to me. It's unhistorical for the first millennium of the church's history, the scripture, and the experience of many priests. Besides, there are lots of great anglican priests, some of whom have been called back to our church.

I don't think anyone has an issue with the call to celibacy. OK, maybe some Freudian types do, but I;m not concerned about that small atheist minority at the moment. I think the faithful, by and large, disagree with the mandating celibacy on those called to priesthood, for life.

There must be a better way to prevent nepotism and materialism in the priesthood than mandatory celibacy.

5:58 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Yes, the currently troubled Catholic priesthood deserves to enjoy the same high and growing divorce rate (alimony, child custody battles, child support payments, etc.) that other clergy presently have. Now's the time.

We shouldn't wait until the institution of marriage returns to greater stability and health than it has at the present.

8:06 AM  

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