Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom

Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom

This is not the first of the points I wanted to make regarding why I believe men with SSA should not be admitted to the seminary. It isn’t even one of the essential points either because celibacy is a discipline that can be changed. It is a current requirement for men in the Western rite and that is why I brought it up. Some have argued I have created some novel theological argument. I have not. I am taking what the church has said preistly celibacy is and showing that I think it is incompatible with SSA. Since it has brought up a lot of discussion I am going to elaborate on it here.

In my response to a commenter below I argued that a man with SSA couldn’t truly be a celibate. I think I need to make a clarification here that I should have done earlier. I was arguing specifically for priestly celibacy which is differentiated from other forms. John Paul II describes it in Love and Responsibility on pg 252. “Nor is celibacy the same thing as spiritual virginity. Celibacy is merely abstention from marriage, which may be dictated by a variety of considerations and motives. Thus, people who dedicate themselves to learning or to some form of creative or public activity may decide to abstain from marriage. Sick people unable to live a normal married life may also abstain from it. There are also a large number of persons, especially women, who, although they have to wish at all to renounce marriage, nonetheless remain unmarried. The celibacy of priests in the Catholic Church is a special phenomenon. It is, so to speak, on the border line between celibacy made necessary by the exigencies of social work (the priest has a care of souls, and must live and work for a number of people, a whole community, a parish , for instance), and the spiritual virginity which results from betrothal to God. Priestly celibacy, which goes so closely with dedication to the business of the kingdom of God on earth, asks to be reinforced by spiritual virginity, although the sacrament of Holy Orders can be taken by people who have previously been married.”

None of this changes my original argument, but I should have been tighter on my terms in the beginning so there was less confusion. I am sorry if it caused any confusion.

Now what the Church understands as priestly celibacy is not simply refraining from marriage. As John Paul II pointed out above there are a number of reasons to refrain from marriage and these wouldn’t constitute priestly celibacy. The Church has always understood celibacy as a gift given by God for the service of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is giving up a good (The Sacrament of Marriage) for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Christ talks about this gift in Matthew 19. It has always been understood as complementary and affirming the vocation of marriage. That is why you will find it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church under the topic of Marriage and not of Holy Orders. I am going to quote here three paragraphs under the section entitled Virginity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Virginity for the sake of the Kingdom

1618 Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social. From the very beginning of the Church there have been men and women who have renounced the great good of marriage to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, to be intent on the things of the Lord, to seek to please him, and to go out to meet the Bridegroom who is coming. Christ himself has invited certain persons to follow him in this way of life, of which he remains the model:
“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”

1619 Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.

1620 Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the Kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with his will. Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce each other:
Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good.

The question is can the man suffering from SSA truly renounce the goods of marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven? Does it need to be an intellectual renunciation or should there be a sincere desire for the gift of Marriage. I would argue that an intellectual acknowledgment of the goods of marriage is not enough. The renunciation involved in priestly celibacy is one of sacrifice and generosity which both lead to give of ourselves rather than to merely acknowledge something with our intellects.

This also is not a commandment but rather a counsel and thus it must be accepted in freedom. Fr. Andrew Apostoli CFR does a magnificent job of describing this in Chapter 5 of his book When God asks for an undivided Heart. In doing so he deals directly with the passage in Matthew quoted by the Catechism above. I will quote from the relevant passages.

“The Catholic Church teaches that celibacy is a free gift. It is free on the part of God who bestows it on those whom He chooses, calling them inviting them, but never forcing them. It is also free on the part of those who are called, because they can only respond to this call and choose this gift in freedom.”

The individual is always free to choose to accept the invitation to live according to the evangelical counsels or not. Freedom means there is a real choice, a real possibility of accepting options between two goods. If something obstructs or eliminates any possible option there is no real choice. For example, to say, “I have no choice but to be celibate….” would indicate a lack of freedom precisely because there is a lack of choice in the matter. The possibility of choice, on the other hand, safeguards freedom, and therefore love. The individual must be able to say, “I freely choose to accept celibacy.” The only true motive for the choice of celibacy is love, given in freedom. This means it cannot be forced or demanded. There is nor more validity to a “shot-gun celibacy” than there is to a shot-gun wedding. Furthermore, it is only when love is freely given that it has the best chance of survival.

Freedom is important and I would argue that this freedom is not present in the man suffering from SSA. As Fr. Apostoli said it is a freedom to choose between two goods: the good of marriage, and the good of celibacy. These are the two goods he must choose between. His freedom is limited or blocked by the psychological disorder of SSA because SSA would prevent him from choosing marriage in an authentic way from his heart. When he is free from SSA, and I sincerely believe this freedom is possible for many, then he can choose in freedom between the two. This block I believe is discussed by Fr. Andrew in the section dealing with Those who are born eunuch’s.

“The first category of eunuchs are those who are incapable of sexual activity from birth. This seems to refer to those born incapable of engaging in normal heterosexual relations. Such impotence can result from either physical problems (for example, the lack of or malformation of sexual organs) or from psychological disorders (for example, fear, anxiety, anger). True impotence means there is no physical or psychological possibility of normal sexual relationships. This impossibility, in turn, destroys or at least blocks the attraction and desire for a sexual relationship in marriage. Now, if there is no attraction or desire, there can hardly be any real inner freedom of choice and consequently little or no generous love as a motive. This is obviously not what Our Lord means by celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.

Now I don’t believe SSA is genetic. But neither are the psychological disorders Fr. Apostoli speaks of. The key point is that these psychological disorders which develop over time limit or destroy the freedom to make that choice. As Fr. Apostoli puts it “This impossibility, in turn, destroys or at least blocks the attraction and desire for a sexual relationship in marriage. Now, if there is no attraction or desire, there can hardly be any real freedom of choice and consequently little or not generous love as a motive.”

My argument is that the man suffering from SSA is not truly free to choose celibacy until the SSA has been resolved. Fr. Apostoli goes on to talk about the man who Christ speaks of in Matt 19 as choosing in freedom. Only the third category of eunuchs, those who “have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” freely choose celibacy out of the motive of love. In the first two categories, celibacy was the result of physical, psychological, or social conditions that were not freely chosen. In this third category, the cause of celibacy is spiritual; it involved the voluntary choice of one’s free will aide by God’s grace. For Christ, the freedom to choose celibacy rests on the fact that it is done “for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. This means that the choice is made out of love for God and for His Church.”

Marriage and the desire for a bride are essential. I would argue that regardless of a man’s orientation, if he has no desire for a bride and the sacrament of marriage he psychologically cannot give himself in priestly celibacy for the priestly vocation is a spousal one as well.

Fr. Apostoli puts it this way. The person who embraces celibacy for the sake of the kingdom freely renounces something of great personal importance. This is important because only if one is free to choose marriage as an alternative “option” in life, is he or she free to renounce it or surrender it in order to choose celibacy in love as another option.

Priestly Celibacy always affirms the vocation of marriage because it’s renunciation for the sake of the kingdom loudly proclaims to the world the beauty of marriage. But the renunciation rings hollow if there is no desire for the good of marriage and only an intellectual assertion. John Paul II speaks about this beautifully in his general audience of May 5, 1982.

My argument against admitting men suffering from SSA to the seminary has man facets and the priestly celibacy component is only one. It hinges on whether or not one must have a real heartfelt desire for the good of marriage in order to be able to renounce it for the sake of the kingdom. I believe that it does require that. Consequently that means it applies to any man, no matter what his orientation. We were told over and over in seminary that celibacy isn’t something we should put up with but something we should freely choose. If we were simply accepting celibacy to be a priest then there was something wrong and we should leave the seminary if we couldn’t resolve it. I agree. I believe that to make a true gift of oneself to the Church you have to freely choose it with God’s grace. If you have no desire for a bride, or the vocation of marriage, then you need to work those things out before you consider being ordained. I think this applies to men with SSA. I do not believe they have the freedom to choose authentically between the two goods. But I do believe that they can, with help, get to that point. There are many impediments to ordination that are not permanent.

If the Chruch says I am wrong then I will joyfully recant. I think from what I have been taught, and what I have read about what priestly celibacy is, we need to apply the same standards across the board. If celibacy is simply a negative then I have no case. If it is something one embraces rather than the good of marriage then I think we need to be honest about who is and who isn’t capable of that regardless of their orientation.


4 Responses to “Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom”

  1. Big Tex Says:

    Fr. Todd,

    I’m no philospher, however many of those advocating for admitting men with SSA to the seminaries and ordaining them seem to have a utilitarian slant. The train of thought goes, “Well, the can’t be married, so why not ordain them? It’s a perfect fit.” I believe there to be a great deal of merit to the arguments you have put forth so far. Your points about celibacy being a renunciation of the good of marriage for the sake of the kingdom is something I had not thought of. This also follows what I have heard from a priest friend of mine: The same qualities that would make a man a wonderful husband and father are the same ones that would make him a wonderful priest.

    I look forward to more posts regarding SSA and seminarians. One line of thought I had heard involves our late Holy Father’s Theology of the Body. What do you think?

    God bless.

  2. Michael Roesch Says:

    I think you put forth the best arguments I have seen so far for your position. My concern is that you seem to assume that no man with SSA/”recovering” from SSA has any desire to seek marriage and family life. I think that the opposite is quite true; any man taking on his Catholic faith so far as to inquire (in good will) into the priesthood will have at least come to terms with such a demon as SSA that his own will would be rightly ordered towards the good of marriage. That does not mean, however, that he will no longer be tempted. Certainly I do not think that men with SSA who have doubts about it and who cannot get over those temptations should be allowed to enter the seminary, but must all those who experience such temptation to sin be turned away?

    After all, it is something of a feat in today’s society for a young man without SSA to be purely ordered towards marriage without having some temptation towards some sexual perversity that would lessen his commitment to true marital love. It is right that he should deal with those feelings with a spiritual director and ensure that his heart is rightly ordered before entering a seminary, but we cannot hold him accountable for an occasional tinge of temptation. I’m not sure that those with temptations towards those of their same sex should be treated differently.

  3. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    Thanks for both your comments. Michael I can’t cover every contingency here. I don’t assume that men with SSA would not desire to seek marriage and family life. In fact I think that desire should be there. If a man is able to overcome SSA then I think he is able to discern his vocation more clearly whatever that may be. And whatever that vocation is, the Church will be better for it.

  4. Fr. Christensen Says:

    Fr. Reitmeyer,

    I am glad to are tackling this issue and anwering some questions. Speaking of questions I have some comments and maybe a question too.

    First, I have worked with a number of men and women struggling with SSA and one of the things I have learned is that there are very few people who are totally same sex attracted. Most people who suffer from SSA are attracted to people of the same sex some of the time, but not all of the time, so really they are somewhere in the middle. Where do you draw the line as to who can and cannot be ordained? Would a man who is primarily attracted to women, but sometimes fantasizes about men be prohibited? Or how about the man who is mostly attracted to men, but sometimes is attracted to women and could honestly say they could marry? Also, in this same vein, when one works on overcoming his SSA disorder when would you say he is he healed enought to enter the seminary? I think sometimes we want this issue to be black and white when most of the time is grey.

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