29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 18, 2015
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 18, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
The last few years have been a tough time in the Church
when it comes to our teaching on sexuality.
We think of the sexual scandals in the priesthood of the last decade,
that continue to plague us in various forms today:
just last week we read how a priest working in the Vatican
came out of the closet with his boyfriend
—he was promptly fired, by the way.
And now we suddenly have many in the Church,
even many bishops and cardinals,
demanding a redefining of our teaching on sexuality,
especially regarding marriage, divorce, adultery and homosexuality.
As we struggle with all this confusion and evil, we are confident that
God can bring some great good out of even the worst of situations.
So it is my fervent hope that we will rise out of this with a renewed appreciation
of Christ’s ancient unchangeable teaching on sexuality.
Of course, with the Synod of Bishops going on in Rome this week,
I hope this will deepen our appreciation of sexuality in marriage.
But I also hope it will bring about a new awareness of the real need
for reform and renewal in the priesthood:
a return to true holiness and chastity.
many would like to use the scandals and confusion
as an opportunity to tear down, rather than build up,
one of the most important sources of holiness in the priesthood
—that is, they wish to eliminate the discipline of priestly celibacy.
This is a huge mistake—although not a new one.
Priestly Celibacy has been under attack for centuries,
especially in the last 50 years.
But celibacy is not a burden or a perversion
that must be discarded or made optional,
as some would make it seem.
As Popes John Paul, Benedict and Francis have so often explained,
celibacy is a gift that should be cherished and supported by all the faithful.
Remember 3 weeks ago, the Gospel reading told us how Jesus opposed divorce.
He reminded the Pharisees that God made man in the beginning
as male and female,
so that marriage was something God created and man can’t change.
We also read from Genesis that when he had created Adam before Eve
God said “It is not good for man to be alone.”
All this seems to beg the questions:
doesn’t this mean that celibacy, or not being married, is unnatural?
or at least “not good for” a priest?
But this ignores some other things that Scripture tells us.
For example, and to be brief, it ignores the essential fact
that Jesus Himself was never married—Jesus was a celibate.
What we have to remember is that the story of creation tells us that
God created us first and foremost to receive his love
and to return that love to him.
We are creatures created to receive and to give love and life.
And this is concretely expressed in the fact that
he makes human beings not simply as 1,
but as 2—male and female—
with differences that express the fundamental need
to give love to and receive love from another person
in such a way that the 2 can become 1.
So, it is not good for man to be alone.
But the thing is, the celibate Jesus was never alone.
Jesus makes it very clear that he has come to give himself
—his love and his life—to another:
first to God his Father, and also to his Bride, the Church.
And he came to us with a body, a male body,
to give himself in a fundamentally and completely human way
by a bodily gift to the Father and the Church.
This bodily physical gift was begun in the Incarnation and perfected on the Cross,
where he offered his body as a sacrifice
to the Father and for the salvation of his Bride the Church.
But in between the Incarnation and Cross
he tied the 2 together by offering his body
by the sacrifice of celibacy
–dedicating his whole being—body and soul—
at all times to the Father and the service of His Bride, the Church.
Some say that celibacy is merely a practical thing
—it frees the priest to do his spiritual work.
But they have it backwards:
its practicality springs only from it’s spiritual meaning.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us:
“the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus came to serve not as a slave serves his Master,
but as a Son serves his Father and as a husband serves his wife.
For a priest, celibacy allows him to unite himself to Christ
in a most profound way: to live and love as he did,
to serve as a Son and a husband.
Not to be alone, but to live as he was created to live:
to give himself totally, in soul and in his body.
Just as with Christ, to whom he is uniquely configured by the sacrament of Holy Orders,
he offers his body every day by living and loving as a celibate,
so that this offering points toward and is perfected in one sublime moment
–the offering of the Body of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice.
But is it really Christ’s desire and intention that priests follow him in celibacy?
In today’s Gospel,
when the brothers James and John asked to share in Jesus’ glory,
“Can you drink the cup that I drink?” And when they said to him, “We can,” he promised them: “The cup that I drink, you will drink.”
What was “the cup” that Jesus would drink?
The same cup he spoke of in the agony of the garden,
when He asked the Father,
“may this cup pass from me.” The same cup he would take in his hands at the Last Supper and say:
“This is the cup of my blood.”
The cup the Jesus offers them is the cup of sacrifice.
Like Jesus, they did drink from the cup by enduring physical sacrifice
—James by dying as a martyr,
and John by his many imprisonments and exiles.
But they also drank form this cup even when they were still with Christ,
as the unanimous tradition of the ancient writers confirms
that neither of these two brothers ever married:
they were celibate.
But what about the other apostles?
Some would point to the fact
that the Gospels tell us that St. Peter had a mother-in-law.
But as several of the ancient Fathers
–the most knowledgeable writers of the 1st centuries of the Church—
point out: a widower has a mother in law but no wife.
Still, it’s true that several of the ancient Fathers
tell us that some of the apostles were married.
But it’s also true that the unanimous teaching of the Fathers
was that all of the married apostles were either widowed
or lived in perfect continence with their wives
—in other words, they were married,
but lived like celibates, treating their wives like sisters.
As we read in last week’s Gospel:
“Peter said to Jesus: “We have given up everything and followed you.”
But what about the successors to the apostles.
For instance, don’t St. Peter and St. Paul say
that a man who wants to be a bishop should be married only once?
The thing is, like Peter,
if a bishop has been married “only once,”
it doesn’t mean he’s married when he becomes a bishop
–again, a widower isn’t married but has been married “once.”
The Fathers tells us that this was actually a test for fidelity and chastity:
–a man who had had several wives might have a problem
being faithful to his responsibilities to the Church;
–and a widower who felt the need to remarry
might have a difficult time being continent.
Some of you might have read that celibacy wasn’t “imposed” on priests
until the year 305.
The thing is, for its first 300 years the Church was heavily persecuted,
and it wasn’t until around the year 300 that the bishops
could actually get together
and formalize laws that had been around for years.
At the same time, the decrees from that period don’t say anything
about celibacy being an innovation
—they just seem to be recording what’s already the practice.
Some might even have heard that mandatory celibacy
originates in the 11th century.
Again, bad history.
What actually happened is that Pope Gregory VII,
in an effort to reform wide spread moral corruption among the clergy,
imposed and enforced on a Church-wide basis
new strict penalties against priests who had broken centuries old laws
prohibiting them to marry.
The truth is that papal legislation formalizing
the ancient, constant and virtually universal practice
requiring celibacy or continence of all priests
dates back at least to the late 300’s (4th century)
to 2 decrees of Pope Siricius in 385 and 2 papal sanctioned councils
representing bishops from various parts of the world.
And each of these decrees state, clearly and without hesitation,
that mandatory priestly celibacy is “what the apostles taught.”
It is true that in several, but not all,
of the Eastern Churches married men are allowed to become priests.
And it’s also true that even in the Latin Rite, in certain special circumstances,
some married men have been allowed to become priests
But an exception to the rule made in compassion
or to maintain unity in the Church
does not make the rule—rooted not in practicality but spirituality—
invalid or outdated.
In a time of sexual scandals, and priestly shortages,
not to mention a general decline in the holiness in the Church in general,
why would a faithful Catholic want to reject
the practice and teaching of John and James and Peter and Paul,
that they learned from Jesus Christ himself?
In a few moments standing in persona Christi and with his power,
I will do what every priest does at every Mass:
consecrate the bread into the Body
and the wine into the Blood of Jesus.
When you look upon the Body of Christ and the Chalice of His Blood,
remember, that he has offered his whole life, body and soul
as a gift of love:
a sacrifice to his Father,
for the salvation of his Bride.
Thank the Good Lord Jesus for this great gift and sacrifice.
And thank him for the gift of the celibacy
which seeks to incarnate this sacrifice of love
in the daily life of every priest.