Celibacy Needs More Explaining
Guest Editorial by Michael Shackleton – “The harvest is rich, but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into the harvest” (Mt 9:37).
This exhortation from the Lord himself so often seems to be like the seed in the parable, which was scattered to fall on ground where it took no root, and so withered and died (Mt 13:7).
Sure enough, the labourers are always few, as testified by history. It is encouraging that they are not drying up entirely. We have to ask the question, nevertheless, what is it at this time in history that leaves young and eligible men and women cold to the call of becoming an ordained or consecrated servant of Christ’s kingdom on earth? An obvious consideration could be the problem of celibacy.
We must frankly face the lamentable fact that we have been flooded with news reports of priests and religious who have not only failed to maintain their duty of chastity but have also even demonstrated criminal behaviour in their offences.
This is not an attraction for any person who feels a serious sense of vocation. No one doubts that to become a priest means to accept permanent celibacy. But when there is a call for young people to come forward and join the ranks of the priesthood and religious life, there is simultaneously little effort to present unmarried, totally committed life as something positive and not so negative as to be a loss.
Celibacy consecrated solemnly in the service of the Church is something that has to be lived simply in a spontaneous manner and without fanfare. Our clergy and religious Brothers and Sisters have already given good example for the Church in Southern Africa. Remaining unmarried in this way brings the person into the realisation that continence has proved itself in past days and even now as contributing to the deeper understanding of total giving of oneself for others.
The response to a life without marital intimacy and complete chastity has to be centred in the faith of the individual and the yearning to become like Christ, a servant of others to the greater glory of God. This response requires the support of family, parishioners, friends and even associates in the workplace.
Perhaps the average Catholic family resists the thought of having a member enter a seminary or religious congregation. Too many present-day distractions and networks might hinder the possibility, and the thought, of daring to attempt a celibate life in 2019’s turbulent present.
But if we are to get vocations that are necessarily linked to a chaste commitment to the service of others in the Church, we must present chastity as a positive way of releasing oneself into the company of so many others who get on with their calling with joy and perseverance.
A Carmelite or a diocesan priest, a Precious Blood Sister or a Marist Brother will all have their own charisms, rules and ways of living out their vows and promises. Chastity is part of that and it needs to be explained clearly and enticingly if the scattered seed is to take solid root.
Vocations directors are not unaware of this need. The broader Church requires greater awareness that there are Christian ways of being unmarried priests and religious without family responsibilities that are as old as our faith in Christ. The positive benefits to the individual and the Christian community must now be strongly emphasised against the ugly face of the scandals disturbing the Church.
Chastity is the duty of every Christian according to their state in life.
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