In this month’s print edition of First Things, there’s an insightful essay on celibacy by Patricia Snow, called “Dismantling the Cross: A call for renewed emphasis on the celibate vocation.”
[I]n our culture, and increasingly in the Church itself, marriage is not regarded as a means but an end. It is not considered a relative but an absolute good, and therefore a right. The usual solution or sequel to widowhood or divorce in our day isn’t a late religious vocation or a salubrious solitude, but more marriage, or more venery in Roger Angell’s phrase in a recent essay in the New Yorker: “More venery. More love; more closeness; more sex and romance. Bring it back, no matter what, no matter how old we are.” In a climate like this—a climate for which the Church bears a certain responsibility, given her abuse of the grace of celibacy and her disproportionate enthusiasm for marriage—what does the Church say to homosexual persons who wish to marry? What does she say, for that matter, to the invalidly remarried who want to receive the Eucharist and are dumbfounded by the suggestion that they forgo sexual relations in order to do so? Should we be surprised that in a culture that so privileges marriage over celibacy, many Catholics now assume that the Eucharist is ordered to marriage rather than the other way around—that the choice for marriage is primary, in other words, and the Eucharist simply a secondary enhancement?
Once marriage is understood to be an absolute good and a right, it becomes very difficult to explain why, in certain circumstances, the goods of marriage have to be set aside. When the Church herself doesn’t value celibacy at its true value, it is all but impossible to recommend celibacy to others. The less robust and exemplary the celibate example in the Church, the more the idea spreads that the choice for God costs nothing. The less celibacy is apprehended and lived as a grace, the more it begins to be thought of as a punishment.
Read the whole essay at First Things.
An interesting essay to read in conjunction with Kyle Keating’s comments on the disappearing(?) “consensus in evangelicalism.” Both provide examples of the church struggling to choose between adapting to or standing against modern sexual norms. I’m not always sure what the right path to take is.
I wonder if Ms. Snow could benefit from making a slightly less strident, history-exalting argument. It’s important to recognize that the solution to our sexual idolatry of today is found in Jesus, not total return to a prior “dispensation”. Historical ways of understanding sex and celibacy also had their problems, even if they did get some things right.
I agree with Shelly. I read about half of the essay. It seems to me that it exalts celibacy at the expense of marriage. It basically states that marriage depends on celibacy for spiritual fruits and that marriage has nothing or very little to offer to celibacy. It also thinks of celibacy as a necessity for priesthood, which it is not.
I think articles like this perhaps “exalt” celibacy at the expense of marriage either in truth or only in the eyes of some, simply because we (the Church and the world) are *so* used to venerating marriage that any criticism of the institution and the way it is handled is going to be seen as lopsided. Perhaps we need the lopsidedness to help us understand the skewed perspective we currently have regarding marriage. For a time anyway.
The thing is I don’t agree with the notion that past times are always better. And it seems to me that the writer is actually portraying a very romantic notion of what celibacy is.
When I was a child I always though it was odd that so many saints were actually religious and not married couples.
There has to be a balance between the two vocations. Celibacy does channel extraordinary graces to all in the church but so does marriage. Celibate people should give to the community but so should married people. We are all called to sainthood.
I find that this article doesn’t help when it comes down to answering the question on how the church should support celibacy.
I agree with you rosamin, however currently the Church – and the world – venerate marriage and couplehood at the expense of celibacy. I see articles like this one as a real attempt to bring that balance of the two back. I also agree that we need to have a discussion about specific ways the Church can begin supporting celibacy in earnest
Yes, the church and society does put marriage way to up but I don’t think that looking to the past is the solution. And I think this is what the article brings: a flashback to the past. We can’t go back. We must look forward, learn from the past sure but not think that the past was better than today.