Books

Reissues and new releases: An overwhelming case for celibacy

Eucharistic adoration at the SLS18 conference in Chicago. (FOCUS)

Fr Alain-Marie de Lassus, of the Community of St John, has provided a wide-ranging study of adoration from a biblical, philosophical and theological point of view. His slim book, the newly reprinted Adoration in Spirit and Truth (Newman House Press, 128pp, £7.50/$10), is packed with scholarship and a prayerful understanding of man’s true relationship to God.

It also offers a useful perspective for those who assume that “adoration” implies Eucharistic Adoration in front of the tabernacle in a church. The author reminds readers that it is natural for human beings to adore their Creator and that in all periods of history “man appears as a religious being”. It is largely in the late 19th and 20th century that his gaze has moved from God to alternative, false foci for worship: man himself, political ideologies, the Earth and so on – the age of Marx, Darwin and Freud.

As the author emphasises, “Seeking to block this orientation [towards God] from the human heart blocks the development of an authentic dimension of the human person.” In other words, we only become fully ourselves, at the height of our powers as men and women, when we acknowledge our created status, then embrace it, give thanks for it and offer ourselves to God in return for his gratuitous act of love in our creation.

Fr de Lassus offers thoughtful analysis of many scriptural passages, pointing out that “fear of the Lord” is not a craven attitude but a “holy fear … of offending [God] by sin”.

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It is good that Ignatius has reissued The Case for Clerical Celibacy (by Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler, Ignatius Press, 94pp, £8/$11), which was first published in 1990s. It is the classic text on clerical celibacy – especially as, with clockwork regularity, progressives in the Church call yet again for the rule to be changed.

Describing celibacy as a “rule” is inaccurate. What Cardinal Stickler is at pains to explain is that priestly celibacy goes back to apostolic times: it was the case at the very beginning of the Church for married men called to the priesthood to live in marital continence with their wives (with the latter’s agreement). This hallowed tradition was later codified in the medieval period by which time there had been a gradual increase in the ordination of single, celibate men.

As Stickler emphasises, in writing of clerical celibacy “we are dealing with a charism” – a gift of God, well understood by those called to the priesthood. He comments: “This demanding commitment, which involves a life of constant sacrifice, can only be lived out if it is nourished by a living faith … It is only through a faith that is constantly and consciously sustained that the supernatural reasons underlying the commitment can be truly understood.”

Citing many early documents of the Church Fathers, as well as Church councils, Stickler argues that at the Council of Carthage in 390, it was understood and accepted that married continence was “a teaching of the Apostles”. Sources such as St Paul, Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome are used to make an overwhelming case.

In the Eastern Church, the earliest tradition mirrored that of the West. But the cardinal argues that later texts were manipulated and modified to suggest that married clergy (though not bishops) were an ancient “tradition”. Further, the Eastern Church did not provide the same level of care for continent clergy – and there was no universally accepted authority to ensure discipline; thus “a de facto situation was accepted”.

Writing in 1993, the cardinal noted that it was hard for modern priests “to resist a worldly mentality”; the supernatural identity of their priesthood “quickly disappears” if a priest does not constantly keep in mind “his intimate union of life with Christ”.

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I have been a member for many years of the pressure group Mothers At Home Matter. This has attempted to persuade successive governments that mothers staying at home to raise their children when they are very young is at least as vital a public service as sitting at an office desk. I am therefore glad to see that my Herald colleague Fr Ronald Rolheiser, in his new book Domestic Monastery (Darton, Longman and Todd, 112pp, £6.99/$15.89), regards raising children as a deeply prayerful form of “domestic monastery”. Addressing mothers, he writes: “Your place of work is a seminary, your work is a sacrament, your family is a monastery.”

I only wish he had given references to the authors he cites – Goethe, Rilke and Montaigne among them – and that the illustrations (engravings of old masters) had been similarly identified.

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A charmingly illustrated children’s story-book in verse, The Seed Who Was Afraid to Be Planted (by Anthony DeStefano, Sophia Institute Press, 32pp, £13.99/$16.95), is indeed about a little seed afraid to be planted, but who comes to see that, as the proverb goes, “mighty oaks from little acorns grow”. It also reminds us grown-ups that, in Our Lord’s words, a seed has to die in order to bear much fruit. “The tree understood / that he had been freed / he barely remembered / when he was a seed.”

Many children’s books today contain irritating ideological messages; how about reading one that combines a universal truth about nature alongside a mystical truth, in a format that young children can easily grasp?