Friday, August 10, 2007

Thoughts on Celibacy (Part I)

In this first in a series of reflections on the nature of celibacy,
an excerpt is shared from a commentary by Christopher
, reminding
us that “celibacy is erotic, meaning working with desire.”

Christopher’s Betwixt and Between is one of a select few blogsites that I attempt to visit on a regular basis.

If you’re familiar with it, you’ll know why. Informed, witty, thought-provoking, sensitive, and a voracious writer, Christopher is everything one could wish for in a blogger – especially one dedicated to exploring matters of faith.

Recently, he explored the issue of celibacy. I was both impressed and moved by his writings on this potentially divisive topic. Such wisdom and compassion! I just have to share here, at The Wild Reed, some of what he wrote.

And so following is an excerpt from Christopher’s post, “One Size Does Not Fit All.”


All too often I run into posts across the internet about gay people and our needing to “give up something,” take up our cross, meaning that we’re automatically called to celibacy in toto. That a little more suffering is a good thing in and of itself even when nothing shows for it. But Christianity is not about suffering for suffering sake, or that a little more suffering will get you closer to God. After all, at heart, our faith makes clear that suffering can destroy and we can do nothing of ourselves to get us closer to God, rather God draweth nigh to us amidst the sundry realities of life, especially in our suffering. Fr. Joseph has addressed this tendency as well in quite smart terms.

Good and WISE spiritual discernment and direction knows that we have to be careful in determining another’s call or from what they are called to abstain, and even more careful in making carte blanche generalizations for an entire class of persons in this regard . . . [I]t seems many heterosexuals are quick to glom on to those gay individuals who claim [celibacy] is the call of every gay person simply because it’s working for those gay persons. Good for them, but simply because celibacy is beneficial for a John Heard or Eve Tushnet does not mean that being celibate is or would be a positive in the life of every gay person across the board.

It’s my opinion that such efforts to make such determinations are ego-driven rather than driven by a concern to love the other as ourselves or to bring them the Good News of Christ Jesus and let the response be truly a working out of God in the gay person’s life. And this egoism can be hidden under all sorts of pious declarations and considerations.

In the case of gay people, I think the want to tell all gay people their calling is celibacy by virtue of being gay, is at heart, so that these people don’t have to deal with the uncomfortable reality of another orientation existing and making space for that orientation as ordinary . . . [and] live as such with the possibility of growing in love and virtues. It’s about ego. Even when they see virtues arising from the vast majority of gays who will simply cut down the middle – just like them, in partnership. Give it up! Because the law says . . . It’s stifling to behold.

[. . .] I could understand this argument from the extreme if always and everywhere gay partnership failed to blossom in virtues or positively led to vice. But even many of these folks admit it doesn’t. Virtues arise. Which tends to tell us that the desire itself is not the problem, but rather what we choose to do with it, just like heterosexuality. And that those of either orientation given the GIFT of celibacy are not “giving up” but “responding unto” in the will God has for them rather than tending to put God and humans at odds, in competition.

Just as I wouldn’t answer that homosexuality is 100 percent morally acceptable, neither would I say the same for heterosexuality. It’s all about what we do with our desire. How we live it out according to calling.

So, it reminds me of a 19th century cardinal in England who insisted his congregation that giving up drinking was the way due to the high level of alcoholism among his mostly Irish congregants. A parishioner afterwards informed the good cardinal, that perhaps, that was what he – the cardinal needed to do (give up alcohol) because it led him to vice, but that the parishioner didn’t have a problem with alcohol as such.

Part of the problem is we interpret passio as suffering and only suffering, or what we need to “give up”. Passio is to undergo. Jesus’ entire life from Incarnation to Crucifixion was passio. As the Logos Incarnate he underwent the human condition in all of its fullness. Joy, sorrow, pain, happiness, fear. We are to undergo life. And we are bound to run into suffering in undergoing life. And Jesus calls us to face that anyway and get on with living life in the midst of and in the face of suffering. Take up you cross; follow me.

The other part of the problem is when we frame something like celibacy in terms of “giving up”, we’ve already missed the boat. Celibacy, while a challenge to the one called, just like partnership, isn’t primarily about “giving up” anything. It’s about a particular decision for love, “responding unto” the Lord and the cares of humanity in a particular way, not out of compulsion or law but freely, joyously, with heart. It cannot simply be imposed. Celibacy is erotic, meaning working with desire. And that really is the difference at heart. And every healthy celibate I’ve known knows it.

But the truth is, when folks suggest gays “give up”, become celibate in toto, what they really mean is that our desire cannot in fact lead to God, but is rather broken and should be suppressed because it can lead to nothing good, cannot be built upon toward love of others and love of God in response to God's unconditional self-giving. And mean this even in the face of virtues, the fruits which say otherwise.

One group, those who argue this way, without knowing it sees the need to extinguish eros, “give up”, at least for gay people (though they recognize virtue as previously mentioned), the other recognizes God will seek the appropriate hook for the particular person, because God doesn’t simply deal in generalities but with particular human beings. What is good for J, may not be good for C in this regard even if both are homosexual. J may make a wonderful celibate, C might be a better partner. God wills for the best in each case that which will most foster growth in love and virtues, not simply what is more about “giving up” which again suggests a God in need of appeasement. Certainly, each will face challenges, will have to undergo much, in living into that love, but it will be living into that love rather than the abandonment of that which hooks us in the flesh (eros – desire) that we might love God at all and deepen by God’s unconditional love (agape) into caritas. And so at heart, the “giving up” God comes across from here like the Manichaean deity in new dress, and a nice smile, and a loving “there, there”, and a cross inappropriate for the vast majority who are gay. It’s really no wonder so many gay people flee such a deity.


Image: “Reclined 2” by Dan Raphael.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
The Real Meaning of Courage
The Many Forms of Courage (Part I)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part II)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part III)
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
When “Guidelines” Lack Guidance
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men - A Discussion Guide
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Keeping the Spark Alive
The Dreaded “Same-sex Attracted” View of Catholicism
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
To Whom the Future of the Catholic Church Belongs
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
The Non-negotiables of Human Sex

1 comment:

crystal said...

A thoughtful post. I agree with Christopher.