Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sex and Celibacy

As part of my morning ritual, I've been reading A Year With John Paul II: Daily Meditations from His Writings and Prayers. This week the readings have been from The Jeweler's Shop, a play written by John Paul II during the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Today's reading discussed love, particularly how when we first fall in love we think we've discovered all the mystery love contains. But, really, our journey has only started. It is the belief that there is more to love--more depth, more mystery--that keeps couples married. (I['m paraphrasing now because I don't have the book at hand.)

What struck me most, though, was that the author, Karol Wojtyla, knew what it was like to be in love--sexual love. He would have had to, in order to write about the feeling, the emotion, so clearly, so well. And that he had experienced this love and chose to give it up to serve Christ makes his celibacy all the more meaningful.

I was at a poetry reading shortly after Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope. During the open reading, one of the poets read a story that referred to the College of Cardinals in general and Benedict XIV in particular as dusty old men who had withered genetalia under long black robes. The image upset me because it was a cheap shot--Benedict hadn't been given a chance and he was being condemned. The poem revealed more about the poet's prejudices than about the Cardinals or the Church. Now I realize the poem also revealed the poet's ignorance. The author hadn't read The Jeweler's Shop or the writings of John Paul II about human sexuality. He only knew--and perhaps he only chose to know--what the MSM had decided to tell him what the Pope had written.

Reading the passages of The Jeweler's Shop, I had a sudden flash of insight: if John Paul II had experienced these feelings, had this understanding, then most of the priests I've known have experienced them as well. In fact, the best priests have probably experienced this and have chosen celibacy fully understanding what they were giving up. (A point well made in the film Keeping the Faith, which is probably one of the more honest portrayals of a priest's life I've seen.) Those who only see "no sex" part of celibacy miss the reality of the sacrifice: those who have chosen celibacy don't deny their sexuality or the power of that sexuality. Instead they are focusing their energy on another goal. And because they are on the "outside," they have a better perspective of the importance of sexuality in the human experience.

And that is one reason why abuse by priests--or by anyone who claims to practice celibacy--is so terrible. They know and they have used that knowledge for evil.