The Unwelcome Call to Celibacy
Over at The Deacon’s Bench there is some discussion in the comments about reception of communion for the divorced and remarried. And in the process a whole lot of talk (much of which gets my orthodox eyebrow all scowly) around annulment and the indissolubility of marriage. While on paper the Church’s teaching on marriage is beautiful, the perhaps uncomfortable reality is that it isn’t easy. Far from it. A compassionate concern with the emotional suffering of the remarried Catholic is offered by some as evidence of a need to reexamine these issues. Instead of harping on the indissolubility of marriage–y’all know my position– I would like to look at this problem of suffering within somewhat of a wider context, what I will term the unwelcome call to celibacy.
While a lot of scripture is accepted grudgingly there is something within our bones that knows the wisdom of “it is not good for man to be alone.” Because of this, to tell a woman with 3 kids and an abusive ex-husband she can never remarry or the happily married couple of 15 years that they should live as brother and sister seems cruel. We see in these second marriages peace and healing and we see denying remarriage as sentencing the divorcee to suffering–stuck within the suffering of marital breakdown and cut off from the healing found within a healthy marriage. We recognize the great good in marriage but the problem is that like all heretics we take the truth we like too far, so that it tramples on other truths and ceases to be truth. “It is not good for man to be alone” cannot trample the truth that some are called to be eunuchs for the kingdom of God. The married state is not the only state– one is not incomplete when called to celibacy. Now there are monks, nuns, and priests who make a vow of celibacy– they willingly and cheerfully answer God’s call. But then there are those for whom the call to celibacy can come to seem more like an unwelcome duty. These are all those called to the single life (like your dear author at this stage in her life), the divorced and homosexuals.
For the last two groups (and those called to life-long singledom) the call to celibacy seems especially difficult. Now I don’t need to say much about the great struggle and emotional suffering that can become part of both the divorcee and the homosexual’s struggle to accept and live out their call to celibacy. We need no more examples and nor will I lie or offer platitudes negating the suffering connecting with their struggles. But I will ask those Catholics who do not believe in homosexual marriage yet think the Church’s position on remarriage too harsh a question or two: is the divorcee’s struggle so much greater then the homosexual’s? Does the homosexual not suffer with the call to celibacy or for what reason are we not equally moved by his emotional suffering? Why soften our hearts towards the divorcee but not the homosexual?
When others struggle with sin and the formation of virtue we can feel for their sufferings, it is natural to want to alleviate it. But the compassionate act is not to redefine their struggle away but is instead to help them struggle towards virtue. We know there is suffering but we also know that Jesus wasn’t just talking to hear his own voice when he said that a man who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery. An unwelcome call to celibacy is a call nonetheless. Sometimes we need to embrace celibacy because God’s call trumps our choice. Suffering is not always proof of bad doctrine–sadly it is one of those other truths we would like to push aside with a nice peace quote.