In the last part of this series I started to talk about what is really required to make the New Evangelization – viz converting or re-evangelizing the West – effective.
One of the most important, in my view, in view of the collapse of a consensus around moral theology, is the distortion of relationships between priests, religious and the laity that have come about because of the secularization of the priesthood and the collapse of religious life.
In particular, we have lost any sense of the importance of consecrated celibacy as a higher state of life that points to our heavenly destination.
I'll say more about this in the context of religious life in another post, but there is an excellent post on the subject of priestly celibacy today by Fr Ray Blake of Saint Mary Magdalen which I urge you to go and read (on which more below).
Why celibacy is important
One of the arguments for priestly celibacy that I think is often forgotten goes to the heart of the challenge to re-evangelize the West (the “New Evangelization”).
One of the biggest problems of our culture is its highly sexualized culture. As a commenter on a BBC piece on priests entitled ‘What is life without sex like?’ put it:
“The idea of sexual self control is entirely foreign to our society, as is the sanctity of sex itself. In age where prostitution, pornography and promiscuity are rife, people have simply lost what is special about sex.”
It is this problem that is at the root not only of the child abuse scandals, but also of the mass disregard of the prohibitions on contraception, pre-marital sex and much more on the part of the laity.
The priest or religious, if we properly understand their commitment, stands as a symbol of the contradiction to the values of this world. And as such, constantly calls us to the (lesser) commitment we are all required to make to chastity and faithfulness to our proper vocation.
So why shouldn't priests marry?
Fr Blake's piece today nicely captures the argumetn about why we need the example of men set aside for service to God to stand in contradiction to the world's values:
"Celibacy is nonsense if you just see priests in terms of function. If he is just there to offer Mass or run a parish there is no reason on earth why he shouldn't marry, indeed if he is just a Church functionary it is most probably much better for him to marry and be surrounded by a large Catholic family.
If on the other hand a priest is a sign of absolute commitment to God, of communion, of prayer, of otherness, then celibacy is of supreme importance.
The ancient discipline of priestly celibacy, is not easy...Those who choose celibacy voluntarily accept loneliness and a sense of being unfulfilled by anything here on earth...real celibacy is about living with an open wound, totally unsatisfied by anything here on earth. It should be prophetic, about the Creator not creatures.
Like a hair shirt celibacy is constant reminder and an expression of the bald fact that God alone can satisfy our deepest longings. Celibacy is about the Kingdom of God, about prayer, about the spiritual life, about communion with God but it only works with faith...."
Do go and read the whole thing.