Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Celibacy


I recently had a very interesting conversation with Dr. Baker after Mass about the closing hymn for that day, How Great Thou Art. It is a Baptist oldie but goody and usually has a number of connotations for Old Baptists, being as it is a conversion song and a funeral song. The conversation with Dr. Baker led me to think about the important role that music plays in our life of faith. It is interesting, particularly in hymnody how the combination of words and music create a kind of artistic alchemy, allowing for the exchange of emotions and thought, often unspoken, at times unspeakable.

In many ways this is true overall of our lives of faith. We have experiences, we pursue a life of prayer day after day. We come to understand things we cannot speak and to speak things that often we do not fully understand. That is the life of faith. It makes for difficult work for theologians, who really need to be more mystical and for mystics who should at times be more theological.

It also makes interesting work for rectors and their conferences. We are called upon to discuss things, to explain things, to encourage things. This takes place because, hopefully, the rector is a man of faith, a man thoroughly inundated in the life of prayer, the causes of the Spirit. And yet, the more I pray, the more deeply that movement of the Spirit of God takes root in me, the more often I find that words cannot express what I believe.

We hear in the Scriptures: Be prepared to give an account of the hope that is within you. Yet, if we are honest in prayer and honest in the pursuit of our life of faith we must realize that the hope that is within us cannot be compromised by the cold external light of examination. Perhaps it is also that way with celibacy.

In my rector’s conferences for the rest of this semester, I wish to focus on the life of celibacy, its spiritual charisms and the meaning of celibacy in the life of the priest. In conjunction with these talks, I have asked Fr. Peter and Fr. Bede to provide us with a book of essays on celibacy that were part of a workshop given at Notre Dame a few years ago hosted by Dr. John Cavadini. I know you will find the book interesting because in it the tale of celibacy is told by some very reliable raconteurs. As we approach the discipline of Lent, I hope the words I have to offer today may set the stage for that encounter. I hope that the reflection on celibacy we undertake as a community may also deepen the love of Christ in our community.

I must tell you that I have used this book before in a very different context. In January I sent it to the members of our Board of Overseers.  The object of this gift was to have a discussion on celibacy at our meeting in February, a couple of weeks ago. We did this, and I will say two things happened:

First, some of the predictable happened. We heard that celibacy can seem old fashioned. We heard that celibacy may be out of date. We heard that celibates might be stilted in some way. I can tell you this perspective offered nothing new. This is what we hear almost daily on the streets of news and social media.

Second, I heard something else. I hear from many members of our board a deep, renewed appreciation for the charism of celibacy. Many in the Church today have not given a great deal of thought to this charism that is at the core of our imagination. Our board, a board of highly engaged men and women who are very spiritually sensitive had the opportunity to gain some new insights. I think it was most productive.  Perhaps that is something the whole of the Church needs to undertake, not to mention the whole of the world. I hope that these conferences offer us that opportunity.

I want to begin by offering a few of what I consider to be myths regarding the charism of celibacy. The first is that celibacy is un-natural. This supposed insight depends upon another myth and that is that in order to be a truly happy human person, one must be sexually active in the physical sense. Not to be sexually active is abnormal in this view. Of course it is a myth and when we stand back from it and examine it more closely we understand that. Celibacy is the mode of living among many, perhaps most of the people of the world. Even married people very often find themselves living celibate lives and living those lives productively. The myth is perpetuated however in our media saturated culture that physical sexuality is the norm and all other life choices or life situations are abnormal. If we are pastorally sensitive at all, we will acknowledge that many in our parish share our celibate vocation, even if, unlike us, they did not actively choose it.

Another myth we frequently encounter is the idea that celibacy is a depravation. It is giving something up so as to create in the priest a kind of rarified man, a man unaccustomed to the vicissitudes of the world and its temptations. Well, I say, ironically, let’s create that rarified man. Let’s create here that man that cannot be bothered with what is passing him by on the streets below his perch high up in the rectory. Let’s create that sterile, bloodless, lifeless effete priest and let’s watch him destroy himself and the Church around him in the process. Celibacy is not a depravation, it is a fullness. It does not proceed from giving away. It proceeds from filling myself with human and divine compassion of using that freedom of spirit to become one spirit in Christ.

Celibacy is insanity. I spend a bit of time on the internet last week, doing some research on approaches to celibacy in the popular imagination. Brothers, there is very little respect for this vocation in the world. In past years the vocation of the priesthood was highly respected. It is not the case today. Let’s be honest. If you are here to win human favor you are in the wrong place. You should have spent more time cultivating your athletic prowess. This is not the place for those whose egos need a boost. This is the place for healthy martyrs. That is OK as long as we know it. In the popular imagination, we are insane, and celibacy is a sign of that insanity, but the real message sent by these antidisestablishmentarianists is that celibacy is insane in the claiming of it, but a lie in the living of it. In other words, the world believes very strongly that we are hypocrites, that we claim one thing and do another. We claim chastity and spend our lives lusting after inappropriate objects. You know the tropes as well as I do. How can these tropes be silenced? By our own authentic living, and by our openness, by our willingness to share our struggles. Clear heads and holy hearts are needed by today’s priest, but never expect to be respected by a sin-hardened world.

We also hear that celibacy is a cynical choice. Some will claim that celibacy is a selfish choice, that by choosing a celibate life we are thinking only of ourselves and not of the others who may be the product of our fecundity. I am thinking now of the words of Archbishop Buechlien, words spoken at my ordination and all the ordinations he celebrated as bishop and archbishop:

We choose to be alone so that others will not have to be alone.

Far from being a depravation, far from insanity, far from cynicism, a true commitment to the charism of celibacy may be the agency that saves a world teetering on the brink of death and annihilation.

The first essay in our Lenten book is by the papal spiritual guru, Fr. Cantalamesa. It might be a bit controversial because it claims, in fairly clear terms a pride of place for a specific celibate life. He holds us the celibate way as one not only not to be ashamed of or apologetic for but one which, in its authentic living may lead us to beatification. Note here I am not claiming de facto spiritual benefits, although I might make that claim in a later conference, I am claiming that living the celibate life, in its fullness, opens us to the wonder of this world’s blessings and offers those blessings as something we are uniquely poised to take advantage of.

Our charism of celibacy establishes a vision of life within us.

Life that transcends the mania for choice that inundates the culture of the most advanced civilization on earth with daily death knells for those unborn seen as burdens to their so-called parents

Life that goes beyond the grueling grind of poverty that robs our sisters and brothers of attending to higher calls

Life that touches the spirits of those undone by abuse and shows them a spark of hope.

Life that plays with us, invites us into a spirit of happiness and joy even as we face real issues in the world and in ourselves.

Life that is the hope of our world, a world so attuned to the death rattle that it mistakes that rattle for the music of the age.

Let me go back for a moment now to Dr. Baker and our conversation about the role of music. I was thinking as we were singing the other day how much a particular song touches so readily on the themes I want to bring out in this talk, this talk situated at the beginning the Lenten season.

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone. This brothers and sisters is true for us. It is also true for every man, women and child that inhabits this earth. There is only one name in heaven and earth given by which we are to be saved.

In Christ alone, rejecting all false and empty gods, those prepared so delicately for us and tantalizingly for us in the cuisine of our daily life

In Christ alone, putting aside every temptation that could lead me to forget him, to neglect him, to bracket him

He is my light for how shall he see except in the stunning glow of his radiance?

He is my strength, for how shall I have any strength whatsoever, except that he give it me?

He is the cornerstone, the very principle upon which each breath, each action, each word tends.

He is the sold ground, that planting place where alone growth and productivity can be expected, but how often do we plant our hopes in unworthy fields?

We sin

We neglect

We fail

And yet, in spite of our weakness, in our turning back endlessly to him we see those heights of love

The heights of love from which promontory we can survey the wreckage of this world but see beyond its smoking remnants a bright horizon rising in the future.

What depths of peace that gives us. But it is not a futile peace

What do we see around us? What do we read in the news?

The world is shaking itself apart. The lion of Islam rises in the east and we go out to meet it not with the lamb’s gentleness but with weapons of war. Brothers and sisters we cannot find peace for ourselves by merely annihilating our enemies. We will find that ultimately that armament turns upon our worst enemy, myself.

Only in the realization of who we really are, sinners in the hands of a loving God. Only then can we find that place where fears are stilled, when striving will cease.

Celibacy is that single-mindedness that understands, fully understands that he is the comforter, the all in all

Celibacy is that single-heartedness that reveals to my inner spirit that if I cannot love Christ to the full, in devotion of heart, I have no love to give to the other.

Celibacy is that firm conviction that here in the love of Christ and Christ alone I stand. In Christ alone.

That charism of celibacy applies to the human heart, whether we are priests, or married, or religious or single, or whatever.

In these Lenten conferences I want to explore deeply the meaning of celibacy, the real meaning of celibacy, not the public act of isolation and rejection but the open-armed, open-handed celibacy that finds in its embrace a world undergoing a deep conversion, a world in which the vestiges of sin’s bestiality will fade away, a world in which lies cannot endure, a world of peace and understanding.

Now let me go back for a moment to the song. I find the last verse very beautiful and moving.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Homily for February 8th


Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?

The first reading for today’s Mass sounds an ominous note in the otherwise pleasant symphonic balance of the liturgy.

Do we not resonate with Job’s feelings?

Do we not find, in our own experience that of the hireling?

Do we know what it means to be a hireling?

No, I don’t think this is working very well, let’s try Paul…


 

I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.

Here at least we have a pastoral plan that does not include moaning because I lost my cattle.

We, like Paul, are called to become all things for all people.

That seems to be the message of today’s celebration.

Wait …

No, I don’t think that’s going to be successful either.


 

Okay, the Gospel.

Peter’s mother-in-law. I have a great joke, maybe you’ve heard it?

And that’s the problem isn’t it?

You have heard it all, the crankiness of Job, the aggrandizing optimism of Paul, the joke about the mother-in-law.

My homiletic sap was used up. Overseers did me in. I’m still in recovery from the chili cook-off.

Even the Chicken Place could not restore my zeal.

But, I read on and there it was. Just what I needed to say:

Everyone is looking for you.

That’s certainly how I felt. Overseers, students, employees at the Chicken Place

Jesus tried to get away, but everyone was looking for him.

He tried to get a bit of time alone,

But everyone was looking for him.

He tried to go on a silent retreat

But everyone was looking for him.

He wanted to ditch those disciples

But everyone was looking for him.

Peter’s mother in law made great chili

But everyone was looking for him

Brothers and sisters, How true that was for Jesus, we know that and how true that is for us.

Whether we are introverts or just shy

Whether we are afraid of our own shadow

Whether we have energy to spare or not

Everyone is looking for you. That is why we are here.

Everyone is looking for you because everyone needs you.

The questioner needs you

The agnostic needs you

The sick man needs you

The homebound need you

The children in the school need you

The pastor needs you

The parish staff needs you

The beggar at the backdoor needs you

The homeless need you

Everyone it seems is looking for you.

Why? Because in this vocation you are pursuing, in the work for which we are preparing you here at Saint Meinrad, you must like Paul become all things for all people

Not in the sense of having all the answers, you will not. I do not.

But in the sense of an opening of each one, to be a shepherd, to be a listener, to be a friend, to be a companion, to be present, to be a pastor, to be a caregiver for all.

Jesus tried to get away. There was no retreat.

Jesus, in St. Mark’s Gospel tried to keep his actions a secret.

The truth got out.

What am I saying? Be ready to be a public person.

Be ready to wear yourself out for the Gospel.

Be ready to drop over at the end of the day and get up the next day raring to go.

Because, brothers and sisters, it is worth it. You have no idea how worth it it is, but it will cost

You will have no privacy

You will have no recharging time

You will have little time for recreation

You will have the sore feet, the headache, the cramps from the chili cookoff, the waistline from the donuts after mass, the earache from hearing confessions, the bleary eyes from sitting at the bedside of an old lady drifting away, the sore sides from laughing, the sore legs from running around on the playground.

But O, brothers and sisters, it is worth it.

Jesus calls so,

Let us go

Let us go into the cities, for there are those in need

Let us go on to the nearby villages
that we may preach there also

Let us go to one another realizing the best ministry I may ever do is right here.

Let us search out those who find life a drudgery and their days are like those of hirelings.

Let us engage the work of the Gospel from waking moment to falling asleep

Let us lose a little sleep in service

Let us get tired feet in service

Let us seek to outdo one another in service

Let us plan to drop dead in the service of Christ, just lying there in the confessional, in the dust, by the car, in front of the tabernacle, at the nursing home.

Let us plan to die on our feet, because everyone is looking for you.

That seems a good place to stop for the day. Besides in this exhausting endeavor we may need a bit of sustenance, and we know where we have to go for that.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


The past couple of months have been filled with reading because I have been on the road and in the air a lot. Let me begin by saying I have tried Kindle, but I am so old-fashioned that books are almost a necessity for any real experience. In January I began my half year reading study topic, this six months is Michelangelo. I started by reading a very interesting “biography” of David titled: From Marble to Flesh, by Victor Coonin. It was very easygoing and a fascinating look at Michelangelo’s youthful work from block to cultural icon. Did you know that David was originally intended to stand on a pinnacle of the then new cathedral in Florence? After this I began a book called: Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces by Miles Unger. I’m still there. Aside from the “official” reading there has been a great deal of additional material crossing the desk (or the airplane seat). I reread The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. If you have to read vampire lit, this is the place to go. From there I went to a number of Roosevelt biographies inspired by watching the Ken Burns series on DVD. The best was: The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Godwin. It is the story of the political row between TDR and his old comrade, William Howard Taft. And we think politics are cutthroat today. I have a great deal of admiration for Theodore Roosevelt. I am reminded again of what was said of him in the sickliness of his childhood. He seldom won but he always tried. From there I read a wonderful book by Rebecca Meade, a journalist called My Life in Middlemarch. Since I am a bit of an Eliot addict it was good to read an account of another one. The analysis of Middlemarch was superb and I liked the fact she recounts her visits to the places where George Eliot lived. Then I had The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton, not for the faint of heart but an amazing recreation of Protestant Holland and its various ills. Then I read, The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. Again, not for the faint of heart but the story of a missionary who takes the message of the Gospel to another planet, leaving his wife to keep the home fires burning, and burning is right. Then I read: Theresa My Love: an Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila. Again, not for the squeamish because Julia Kristeva takes a psychoanalytic look at the great Carmelite reformer. Next came The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell, the fellow who did Cloud Atlas, and it is a similar setup, across time and characters. At the center is a teenage girl named Holly Sykes. Read it. As you see, it has been an eventful reading season, as well as watching the new season of Downton and Poirot (old seasons). I started reading Agatha Christie novels when I was about nine. I still love them. In London, we saw The Mousetrap, and for an old song, it still sings pretty well. Happy Reading!

 

February


February is the oddest month. It is a month of freezing temperatures and of Valentine’s Day passions. It is a short month drawn out by the beginnings of the penitential season of Lent. It is a month of seeming contradictions. We have the feast of St. Agatha and its various traditions, a feast of the Old World. We also have Paul Miki and his companions, an exploratory feast. We have SS Cyril and Methdodius, pioneers of Eastern Europe. Of course everything begins with the end of the season of the Nativity and the Feast of the Presentation, itself a beginning and ending feast (think Simeon and Anna). I think about the famed quote of Anna Quindlen: "February is a suitable month for dying.  Everything around is dead, the trees black and frozen so that the appearance of green shoots two months hence seems preposterous, the ground hard and cold, the snow dirty, the winter hateful, hanging on too long." February is also the beginning of Lent. It is a time for making resolutions (be careful) and a time for breaking resolutions. This year our reading for Lent in the seminary will be a very interesting collection of articles on celibacy titled: The Charism of Priestly Celibacy, edited by John Cavadini. I will focus on this book and particular articles during my conferences in Lent. As we approach the confusing month, the oddest month, let us do so with a spirit of conversion, because into this oddity, God drops opportunity. For what else can we ask?

St. Thomas Aquinas



St. Thomas, the great theologian. The doctor of the Church, the great systematizer, the founder of movements both old and neo.

Or

St. Thomas, the mystic, the spiritual guru, the great man of prayer

Or

St. Thomas, the teacher, the preacher, the exegete, the great man of the classroom, the haystack orator.

All of these images are quite valid, indeed almost valedictory, for they have the potential to shut St. Thomas down.

Outside of this chapel dedicated to his memory and his legacy, is the statue of St. Thomas made of porous sandstone. Sandstone takes on the properties of its surroundings. St. Thomas is absorbing our daily cares, our prayers, our study, our pastoral work, our initiatives on behalf of the Church, our religious communities, our dioceses, one another.

It seems to me that whether we think of him as theologian or sandstone sponge, all of that is fine, but I like to think of St. Thomas in another way.

When I think of St. Thomas I like to think of him roaming the hills around Roccasecca, his hometown.

I like to think of St. Thomas the child, the boy playing in the fields, looking deeply into a running stream, catching things and storing them away.

In particular, I like to think of St. Thomas as a tubby little boy. A fat little curious boy.

Maybe he loved pasta, or pastries or pasta and pastries. Maybe he loved toys. Maybe his curiosity gave way to mischief. Maybe he was a teenager with pimples.

Maybe he liked to sit on the dry rocks around Roccasecca and think, and dream and, well be a little boy and do what we do best.

Not all of us will be great theologians

Not all of us will be spiritual gurus

Not all of us will be haystack orators

But we can all have free spirits. We can all be more than cardboard saints. Perhaps that is what our dear patron gives us today.