Celibacy is, of course, a topic of great concern for the Church today. Everywhere in the media, the Church’s traditional charism of celibacy for priests has come under harsh scrutiny. The value of celibacy has been seriously questioned by those inside and outside the Church. Celibacy has been indicted as the cause of a range of ills, from sexual abuse to the lack of respect for the role of women. Even within the Church, the value of celibacy has been questioned.
What is the cause of this speculation? Undoubtedly, a partial cause must be seen as a change in attitudes in the greater sphere of society and the social order. Radical new perspectives on human sexuality, the rise of the individual, new and more personalized notions of “happiness,” revised ideas about marriage, and the relativization of truth and values must be seen as part of the matrix of realities that have lent themselves to a more negative, critical approach to the Church’s ancient tradition.
These new perspectives and new ideas present particular challenges in forming men for celibate commitment today, even as we witness a greater urgency to assure that this formation is solid and secure. Regardless of the nature of their spiritual vocation to the priesthood, candidates for Holy Orders today are very much products of their time and their social situation. Sometimes overtly and often covertly, the values of the social order are ingrained in the human person from childhood.
Attitudes about sexuality, the ready availability of pornography, attitudes toward women, ideas about personal fulfillment and the supposed assurance of individual happiness play a role in the formation of values brought by young men to the work of priestly formation today. Long-held ideas and ideals have to be challenged and redirected for a greater evangelical purpose. Practicing a celibate life today and preparing for that life can often seem like an uphill struggle, a Sisyphean task, and yet it can be accomplished.
In recent years, Saint Meinrad has spent a great deal of time and creative energy on rethinking our approach to the formation of a celibate way of life for our priesthood candidates. Taking into account their previous ways of life and dispositions, we have striven to create a more comprehensive approach to human and celibate formation through a new program, “Together in One Place.”
This program seeks to reconsider the formation of celibacy in a larger context than the focus on individual expressions of sexuality, which was often a feature of earlier formation programs. “Together in One Place” puts the practice of celibacy squarely where it belongs: in the public sphere of the Church’s life. The successful practice of celibacy in the world today means that celibacy must be considered within a larger context, a human context, a new cultural context, a spiritual context and a pastoral context.
For example, celibacy as a viable way of life is not possible without challenging the cultural context in which modern man finds himself. Unless the candidate for Holy Orders redirects his cultural interests away from the highly sexualized and individualized expressions of so-called popular culture, he is unlikely to find an amicable ground for the cultivation of a celibate way of life.
Celibate formation today must consider the larger context of human relationships in a world where those relationships are often hampered by an overweening individualism and isolationism. Celibate formation today must consider the greater spiritual goals of the individual in a world of highly materialistic values. In short, celibacy formation is complex and critical to the life of the Church.
The articles in this volume are not intended as a systematic treatment or an apologetic for celibacy in the Church today. They are merely presented as stimuli for reflection on an important topic for the life of the Church. The articles present a variety of perspectives on the question of celibacy, all of which are intent upon shoring up the Church’s traditional practice and showing new and creative ways of realizing the value of celibacy in a world in which this critical charism is frequently under intense scrutiny.
At Saint Meinrad, our goal is to provide priests who are able to live happy, holy and holistic celibate lives. This can only be accomplished if we continually rethink our approaches to celibacy and the many threats to the celibate vocation today. Hopefully, this book will assist in raising further issues for discussion and growth in celibate commitment.
Very Reverend Denis Robinson, OSB
Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology