The Celibate's Temptation Print
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 26 June 2007 07:57
Last night at the men's group I attend when I'm in Tucson we discussed a few chapters of Fr. Timothy Radcliffe's book, "What is the Point of Being a Christian?" In a chapter on human sexuality and chastity, Fr. Timothy makes the point that, "The Last Supper is the story of the risk of giving yourself to others. That is why Jesus died, because he loved. But not to take the risk is even more dangerous. It is deadly. Listen to C.S. Lewis:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."

This quote from C.S. Lewis's "The Four Loves" caught my attention as I considered my life situation compared to the other men in the group. They are all married and have at least one child, with the exception of another single man who was absent last night. We spoke last night of the importance of commitment, and how at times it is simply remaining committed to the commitment that keeps you in relationship when things get difficult. Be selfish in a marriage, and your spouse will respond in such a way as to let you know, no doubt.

But celibates can fall into selfishness more easily, it seems to me.

Or at least I can.

It is a fairly simple thing to immerse oneself in ministry, especially when you are looked upon as the "expert" in religious matters, and if people defer to your judgments (either because you're the priest, or because you sign their paycheck and they serve at your whim). Many people will allow or even expect a certain distance or aloofness from you, and if not, it doesn't take long to communicate that you want distance. A few encounters with you when you're cranky or depressed or stressed or anxious, and the invitations to dinner, or a conversation over coffee, or spiritual direction or pastoral counseling will evaporate like a Sonoran playa.

You'll be left to your own projects, you'll be able to lower your golf handicap, you'll have plenty of time for reading, and you won't have those messy emotional ups and downs that are part of every human relationship to worry about.

Of course, parishioners will begin counting the days or years to your departure, but your Order or diocese are so strapped for vocations that you won't likely be confronted by them, so long as you keep your sexual and financial houses in order.

I remember when I was in Europe two summers ago with my sister being pleasantly surprised at some of the depictions I saw of the last Judgment in various churches we visited. It was not uncommon for them to show priests, cardinals, even popes leading the parade of the damned into Hell. It was a pleasant surprise to realize that centuries ago Catholics were well aware that ordination was no guarantee of personal sanctity. Perhaps the artist or his patron or both recognized the potential for celibates to be tempted - through fear of being hurt or fear of sinning, or both - to run from love into the arms of selfishness and self-absorption.

Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, wrote in "The Holy Longing" that marriage is an exploration of the depth of human relationship, while celibacy is an exploration of the breadth of human relationship. I like that image, but I wouldn't want so much breadth that I never have an emotional or spiritual connection with anyone - and that, as Lewis well knew - is a temptation, especially, I believe, for male celibates.