The Theme of Priesthood
In this second half of an article published in FAITH in November 1992, Fr Holloway is addressing seminarians and young priests.
Some thoughts now on chastity for the Kingdom of God’s sake which is the vow of celibacy in the Roman tradition - much more than a votum non nubendi, a vow to abstain from marriage. This is the perfect consecration of our lives and energies to Christ and his Church. It is more than celibacy as utility, because it is the love which follows Christ with undivided mind and heart. In the old Anglican rite of marriage the couple were mutually admonished “Wilt thou be faithful unto him, and forsaking all other cleave only unto him, wilt thou comfort him and obey him?” etc. In the vow of chastity we make a similar total pledge of love to Christ alone. It is impossible to be at all times and seasons at the beck and call of Christ in his People, unless you make Him and them the total object of your worrying, work, and loving. Christ invites you, just as He did the Twelve around Him (Matt. 19:12) to this total consecration of personal love to himself. The prophets declared ‘the Lord our God is a jealous God’ (Ex. 20:5), and jealousy is the characteristic of an all-demanding love. You cannot have the people of God, and especially the young people, coming to you at all times and seasons, with the perfect freedom of Christ, if you are bound by a different sacramental bond to others. In everything that we do the title of ‘Father’ should be no idle courtesy. We belong only to God and his People.
Redeeming the Flesh
Another aspect of chastity for the Kingdom of God’s sake is less mentioned, although the Fathers of the Church were well aware of it. Personally, I dislike Mediterranean superlatives: sign of the eschatological kingdom, crown, jewel, glory of the Church etc. All very true, I’m sure, but no use at all when tempted by a human love or by all too human desire. What is the real (i.e. the ontological) about chastity under vow? Chastity is indeed a sign - a sign that sex is not love, nor an essential within love; love of its very nature as human transcends sexuality and the pleasure of erotic function. It is not as a sign that Christ recommends it to you, but as a fact of life: a fact of the highest ‘natural’ perfection of human loving. Jesus Christ never knew the use of sex, but Christ is the perfection of all human love, as of human nature, and no love was ever more human or natural than the love of Christ. Christ indeed is the norm, as Son of Man, of all human love, according to its vocation. In the language of older scholastic theology, sex as erotic function is ‘accidental’ to human loving. I would call it a ‘modality’ in human love; it defines one vocation of love prompted first in the soul as spirit, and then conveyed to the sense of the flesh not as the erotic, but as the tender and the belonging. Such love admits, but with painful prudence in youth, manifestation in the embrace and the caress. Personally, one never indulged it in any close degree with girls or young women. Even if they understand it within the limits of its meaning and expression, which is rare, they are apt to boast of it to a world which certainly and cynically does not so understand. The love of chastity does not allow of an erotic bond to man or woman. Apart from sex in a genital sense, if our love cannot be tied by the possessive bond of holy matrimony, neither can our loving be tied selfishly even within chastity, to the demands of any one person, even a priest friend. It is true that ‘a brother who is helped by a brother is like a strong tower’, but our loving is always tied to the demands and promptings of Christ, even when vocation calls for separation.
For Reverence of the Flesh of Christ
Another aspect of our celibacy as the spiritual perfection of human love, comes from a phrase I once noted in reading the Fathers and, lazy as always, I neglected to file. I think it comes from St. John Chrysostom. Anyway, the writer stressed two things: chastity as the priestly and kingly love of Christ for all flesh, and especially for the men He had chosen. This is chastity as consecration to Mission, to the Church as ‘Bride’, and redounds into our earlier and basic concept of total consecration – ‘he who can take it, let him take it’ (Matt. 19:12). There is a second sense of reverencing in our bodies the flesh of Christ by the vow of chastity for the Kingdom. This is chastity as the remedying in our mortal flesh of the wound of concupiscence, of that disordered desire, left even after Baptism as the wound of Original Sin in our flesh. From this recognition of concupiscence as greed, a sign of the disobedience of sin within our flesh, comes the quaint suggestion of Aquinas (but through St. Augustine I think) (S.T. 1.2.73.a4) that the vehicle of the inheritance of original sin might be the ungoverned vehemence of ‘libido’ in the sexual act. Frankly, it is an unacceptable suggestion. Yet while unacceptable it throws light upon the meaning of chastity for the Kingdom of God’s sake, as a way of loving in which nature sweetened by grace works to restore human relationships in loving to the original intention of God, and in this is a human reverence and aspiration towards the flesh of Christ. In the original intention of God, in the vocation of marriage or out of it, every human pleasure principle should be subject to the governance of the godly wisdom of the soul in man; governed with peace in God, in the experienced love of God. This would be true not only even in sexual congress, but especially in sexual congress, because the relationship of sexual intercourse possesses an intrinsic holiness from its central and primary finality to human life and personality.
Love is of the soul in man, in the likeness of the reality and experience of love in the psyche of Christ.
Christ is the normative of all human perfection. Love was always meant to be ruled, held, and led in man by the peace of the felt presence of God. Grace perfects nature to the likeness of Christ as man. Intrinsically therefore love must govern sex, sex should never rule love in any vocation of human loving. In chastity for Christ’s sake this rule is made fact, and thus we reverence the flesh of Christ, as our Friend and Head of the apostolic order. By our conformation to, the chastity of Christ, we work in the fullest possible degree to heal within the flesh the wound of concupiscence in the most vehement of the urges of the flesh.
A final exhortation to perfect purity
Do try to live this perfection of human loving honestly, without humbug. You may not always live it without confusions, unconscious imperfection, or even some slippage, but live it as humbly and totally as you can. It gives in the character of a priest an especial radiance and beauty of personality. It mightily reinforces your power with the young. They do not know precisely what it is, but they sense it within the man. I have never myself known an impure priest who received the gift of a personal, a delighted love from the young, the love which of itself prompts vocations to the priesthood. Cleanness of heart is a virtue with a promise: ‘Blessed the pure of heart, they shall look upon the face of God.’ God is very purity, because He is perfect beauty and perfect “wholeness’, from which word ‘holiness’ is derived. The pure may look upon that beauty without wincing because chastity in loving is the integrity and beauty of love. If Jesus said the ‘little ones’ were nearest the kingdom of God, it would be because of the simplicity and beauty of their loving at an age in life when ugliness and lust in loving does not yet arise. One can promise you that the beauty in loving which keeps men young when old is the fruit and gift of this whole chastity, this ‘reverencing in one’s own body the flesh of the Lord’. Do not lose this charism. If you lose it, you lose moral and inner power, radiance of spirit, and of course the wide, rich span of so many, many loves that chaste consecration to the People of God and their children, bring to every decade of your life, according to the promise of Christ recorded in the Gospels (Luke 18:29). To sum up: The character or ‘seal’ of the degree of Holy Order which is yours in the priesthood, configures your ministry to the sanctifying relationship of Christ to mankind as Priest and King, - Son of God and Son of Man. The role of the ‘priest’ in history as sanctifier is basically a role of establishing union and communion with Godhead through sacrifice. That is through sacred gifts of faith and love which of their nature express worship, love, recognition of dominion, intercession for blessings ... and given the incursion of sin, also the inevitable and most necessary element of atonement and reparation of friendship. All of these, the entire connotation of Salvation and Redemption, are fulfilled in Christ our Eucharist. Quite apart from sin, the inner meaning of sacrifice is loving, worshipful communion with God. Hence St. Paul: ‘Therefore my brothers, I implore you by God’s mercy to offer your very selves to Him; a living sacrifice, dedicated and fit for his acceptance, the worship proper to spiritual beings. Conform yourselves no longer to the pattern of this present world but let your minds be made anew, and your whole nature thus transformed. Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is the good, the acceptable and the perfect’ (Rom. 12:1-2). Sin brings to Christ’s oblation (and to our own, in the exhortation quoted above) the element of reparation, of ‘redemption’ which is essential to reconciliation. From reconciliation follows a New Covenant of love. It is beautifully expressed of Christ, for the Church, and our own priestly lives and work, in the Roman Canon where the priest prays that “your angel may take this Sacrifice to your altar in Heaven. Then as we receive from this altar the sacred Body and Blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing ...”
Order fulfils the ‘Priesthood of Baptism’
In this earthly stage of the Kingdom of God the priestly character of the People of God, as lived out in that Liturgy which is itself a pledge and foreshadowing of the Liturgy which is heaven, takes them only as far as the beginning of the Offertory of the Eucharist. There they present to God by your hands what belongs only to men, even Christian people. They bring up ‘what earth has given, and human hands have made’. Through your hands and voice, your mind, heart and character of Order, the Lord takes up the gifts of all, including us his priests, and gives them back in Himself, as God’s gift of Redemption, peace, and the Bread by which spiritually men live. This is the sacrifice of our inter-communion with God, God the Sacrament of the World. You extend across times the persona of Jesus Christ as enfleshed. You do not participate in his Divinity, nor formally in that unique Personal Manhood through which He alone is Mediator between God and men. We are not co-redeemers, nor co-sanctifiers in our own right, who are in need of redemption and of sanctification. Yet we do sanctify for Him because we participate by his choice and aggregation into his ‘character’ as Minister to men; we minister His Ministry. Through Him we too are ‘consecrated’ to his people. The Mass would end with the Offertory procession but for us and our being sealed with the Seal of his High-Priesthood. By Baptism we were membered into His Flesh and into His Divinity, co-sharers of His Divine nature. As commissioned into Order we are membered into his personal Ministry to men as well. What greater privilege can be spoken of mortal, sinful men? Rightly the now shunned title of alter Christus is predicated of the priest. You confect (make possible) his work as Sacrament of the World not in your own baptised character, but in his as Son of Man. Here then is the heart of your Holy Order. God may confer grace and status ex opere operato irrespective of your goodness or badness. He cannot work fully and fruitfully in His communion with men through you, unless your lives, works, and personalities reflect Him.
A priest, and even more a bishop, is called by Christ if he will be perfect to live out Christ’s perfect human love, in Christ’s perfect modality of love. It is the perfection of human consecration in love.
modern world is soaked in sexual addiction and child corruption; its morals those of caged monkeys, to use the cruel idiom of Evelyn Waugh. All around us are the devastated lives and loves of men and women, youths and children who have never known how to love. They do not know how to place and conform genital sex within the human experience of love. By your vow you are not called to emasculation, but to emancipation. This is not said to dishonour sex, its pleasure, or its sacramental hallowing. Christ carried our sexuality in his human organism. It is said to point with clarity of definition the call to the most perfect and fully human form of human love: the love which is Himself. Him it is you reflect: ‘I live now not I, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20) - a statement supremely true of the priestly character of Order. The people yearn to see it so, take comfort that it is so; their yearning and their reverence illuminates another aspect of the meaning of ‘alter Christus’, another Christ. When robed for Mass as priests and kings in his persona, not our own, for His Eucharist, the People of God see in us and revere in us the Ikon of Christ. That is why they will kiss your hands at your ordination. May they see and love in us his ministers, some poor reflection of what they see and love in Him.