Sermon Review: Celibacy

March 28, 2010.  “Jesus as Sabbath Lord.”

Some things people say about the Catholic Church annoy me a lot.  When people falsely accuse me of worshiping Mary, I get annoyed.  When people say I believe that my works will get me into heaven, I get annoyed.  When people tell me I follow the traditions of men, I get annoyed.  I don’t like being annoyed, but it’s better to be annoyed than to feel personally attacked.

When people comment on celibacy I will admit that I sometimes feel personally attacked.  As I mentioned in my testimony, I feel called, by God, to serve His Church as a priest and, yes, that means that I will never take a wife and will never have children.  I certainly don’t think marriage is bad.  I also don’t think it is less of a dignified way of living the Christian life.  It is just that God has chosen this way of life for me and I am responding to it out of obedience.

Take a look at what Mr. Driscoll said during his sermon titled, “Jesus, the Sabbath Lord,” shortly after the 43 minute mark.  He says:

Also in Catholicism there are weird rules like priests cannot get married, which has not worked out so well. Sometimes you don’t get the healthiest guys to sign up for the job when you forbid marriage and children. It’s not worked out so well. Paul said that’s among the “doctrines of demons.” And they will say—and I love Catholics, I just don’t agree with a lot of their goofy rules. They will say, “Well, you know, Peter’s our Pope. He’s our founder.” Okay, then let’s do reductio ad absurdum. He was married. He was. We already saw it in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus came and healed his mother-in-law. They are a package deal with a wife, I don’t know if you knew that. All right, there’s no guy out there right now going, “I could give or take the wife, mother-in-law, that’s what I’m looking for.” It’s a package deal. Peter had a mother-in-law, that means he had a wife. He was married, so the whole thing is built on a faulty, flawed system.

Well, where to begin with this one… um, first of all, priests can be married in Catholicism and there are many married priests.  Eastern Rite Catholic priests are married.  Many people don’t know about Eastern Rite Catholics.  They are not the same as Eastern Orthodox Christians.  Eastern Orthodox Christians do not follow the authority of the Pope, but Eastern Rite Catholics do.  Their Mass, which they call the Divine Liturgy is slightly different, and they don’t always have the same customs that we Latin Rite Catholics have, but they are united to us in doctrine and they recognize the Pope as the head of the Christian church.  Eastern rite Catholics have always had married priests.  They also have a very healthy monastic tradition from where they pull their bishops, who are always celibate.

There is another way that a Catholic priest can be married.  If a married man was ordained in a Lutheran Church, Anglican Church, or Orthodox Church and converts to Catholicism, with approval from legitimate authorities, he can get ordained in the Roman Catholic Church.  Many men have made this journey including author and priest, Fr. Dwight Longenecker. I love the witness that these men provide and I am happy to have them among our clergy ranks.

So, yes, priests can be married and many Catholic priests are married.  But it’s the next sentence where I feel attacked personally.  In case you missed it, he said, “Sometimes you don’t get the healthiest guys to sign up for the job when you forbid marriage and children.”

First of all, the priesthood is not a job.  I’m not sure if Mr. Driscoll considers his work as a pastor a job, but we do not consider the priesthood a career.  It is an entire way of life.  It is a life dedicated to service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church.  A priest does not go into the office at 9 and leave at 5.  He is a priest 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, for the rest of his life.  Even when a priest goes on vacation, he is still a priest.  He always has to be willing to go to the Hospital in the middle of the night when somebody is dying or something terrible has happened, and he has to provide the sacraments to the people of God whenever they need them.  Priesthood is much more like marriage.  It is not full time, it is all time.  It isn’t a job, it is a vocation.

Furthermore, I’m not sure why people always try to tell me that the Catholic Church has “forbidden” me to have a wife and kids.  It’s like they think that I was chosen at birth and forced into this role without my own freedom being taken into account.  It isn’t like that at all.  Again, this is something that God Himself has invited me into and I am merely responding to it.  I am not unable to be married and have kids.  I am sacrificing marriage and children so I can give more of myself to the people of God.  As scripture said, I make myself into a Eunuch (renounced marriage) “for the sake of the Kingdom (Matthew 19:12).”

As for my health, all I can say is that being likened to pedophiles has done more damage to my health than giving my entire life to God… assuming of course that this is what Mark Driscoll meant when he said that this “has not worked out so well.”  If he didn’t mean that then I’ll be the first to apologize for the angry sounding tone, but as I said, this personally wounds me very deeply and I take this sort of language very seriously and I don’t often stand for it.  True, there have been some horrible men ordained to the priesthood who did terrible things to vulnerable people, children and adults, but to joke around about this when you’re supposed to be preaching the Gospel is pretty low too.  It is especially deceptive to insinuate that celibacy is a cause of priest sexual abuse, when Mr. Driscoll knows full well that sexual abuse happens in many contexts and more often than not involves married men.  Perhaps if Mr. Driscoll spent more time reading what the experts have to say and less time reading what the mainstream has to say, he wouldn’t spout such drivel.

True the Catholic Church needs priests, but we don’t just take anyone off the street who wants to be ordained.  The application process for me was very rigorous.  It included psychological exams, physical exams, multiple interviews with different people.  I had background checks, and finger printing, and that is all before I entered seminary.  There has been a lot more of this at the seminary.  I don’t say that to complain.  I’m happy the process is so rigorous.  It keeps vulnerable people safe.  I only point it out because I want the people reading to know the steps that the Church takes to prevent abuse.

Moving on… Mr. Driscoll says attempts to use the fact that Peter was married to show that celibacy, “is built on a faulty, flawed system.”  Let us clarify some things on celibacy, because that is why we are here.  First, celibacy is not doctrine.  Doctrine cannot be changed.  Church customs, on the other hand, can and do change over time.  Celibacy fits in the latter category.  It is a custom.  It is changeable and it has changed.  So the fact that Peter was married is really quite irrelevant to the Catholic custom of celibacy in the clergy.  The fact that he was married does not imply, in any way shape or form, that the custom of celibacy for clergy or religious sisters and brothers is built on a faulty foundation.

In fact, St. Paul himself was celibate.  He does not call it a “Doctrine of Demons,” as Driscoll erroneously asserts.  It is far from it, actually.  In 1Corinthians, Paul says, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do (1Cor7:8).”  Paul was celibate! And guess what?  Jesus was celibate as well!  If I was going to use Driscoll’s reasoning of reductio ad absurdum using St. Paul’s writings and Jesus’ example instead, marriage of pastors and Church leaders is built on a “faulty, flawed system.” Of course, doing so would be just as irrelevant as claiming that because Peter was married, celibacy is built on a flawed system.  But Paul’s words ring loud and clear.  And the fact is that celibacy in some form or another has always been a part of Christianity.  It isn’t some “goofy rule.”  It is a discipline that breathes life into the Church.

Practically and personally speaking, I must credit celibacy as having a particularly profound witness to this culture – a witness that I think Mark Driscoll should at least appreciate.  Pastor Mark is constantly talking about sexual sins in his sermons, and that is good on him.  This culture needs more preaching like that.  What celibacy does, however, is it shows men and women that they do not need to have sex in order to live happy and joyful lives.  It places me in solidarity with other people struggling to live chaste lives in situations that are sometimes very challenging.  A gay man can’t tell me that he has to have sex and that lifelong celibacy is impossible.  A high school Jock can’t tell me that waiting until he is married is impossible.  A couple using Natural Family planning can’t tell me that 10 days of abstinence is impossible.  It is possible, and the gift of celibacy makes this possibility visible.  It frees me up to love the people of God and model a deep freedom of sexual issues.  Celibacy is the best witness that I have of living for Jesus Christ.  It is the best witness of the gift of faith that God himself has given me.  Because I like bringing people to Jesus Christ, celibacy is far from an oppressive burden; it is deeply liberating because it frees me up to serve and provide witness to the Gospel.

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7 comments on “Sermon Review: Celibacy

  1. Carrie says:

    What a fantastic review. Keep up the good work, and thank you for the undivided heart that you are offering to Christ for the good of His people.

  2. Anselm says:

    I really like how you stick it to this Driscoll geezer. Good work.

  3. Christian says:

    The shortest explanation I know of for celibacy: imitation of Christ.

    BTW, Fr. Longenecker is a friend, and now has his own parish about 2 miles from my house.

  4. […] Church has not gained any ground, because females cannot be ordained to the priesthood.  Unlike priestly celibacy, which is not a doctrinal issue but a custom, the all male priesthood is an issue of doctrine which […]

  5. […] the folks at Mars Hill what Catholicism is about all the time.  He says that Catholicism is about following goofy rules, making stuff up about Mary, having sex only to make babies, and following non biblical […]

  6. Monica says:

    Love this article and reposting. Thanks for adding!

  7. […] The last two days have been by far the busiest days of DriscollWatch as far as traffic goes. The reason is that our site was linked in this story from alternet, which has since been reprinted at Salon and a few other blogs that provide commentary on abusive pastors. If you’ve found this site through any of these other sources I’d like to offer you the warmest of welcomes. My guess is that you’re unlikely to find any of our content that interesting, but if you’d like a good overview of the type of thing we do I’d suggest reading this article we wrote about celibacy and the Catholic Church. […]

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