Third Meditation - The Church's Ruling
I. Let us see in this meditation how the unchanging Mind and law of the Church is concretely expressed in current Canon Law:
Canon 132.-1. Clerics in major orders are, under pain of nullity, forbidden to marry, and they have the obligation of observing chastity, so that sins against this virtue are also a sacrilege.I recognise the whole force of this obligation, Lord, because one of the articles of faith which I profess every day is: Credo in unam, sanctam, catholicam, et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
2. Clerics in minor orders may indeed get married but, unless the marriage was invalid on account of their being forced to such a marriage by grave fear or violence, they cease to be clerics ipso facto.
3. A married man who, though in good faith, receives major orders without a dispensation from the Holy See is forbidden to exercise such orders.
II. From the day I received the sacred Sub-diaconate, the first of major orders, I became disqualified for life, by a diriment impediment, from contracting holy matrimony.
Since any sexual act, of those forbidden by the sixth and ninth commandments, both interior and exterior, by desire or by act, would be lawful only within the legitimate use of marriage; from the moment I received major orders I came under the law of absolute continence, exterior and interior; and I shall break the law only at the cost of grievously offending Almighty God.
Not only do I offend Him, like any other person sinning against the commandments; I become guilty of sacrilege, of profaning something holy, something offered to God and to His service. The law entails not only the obligation of observing the sixth and ninth commandment, it becomes a matter of the first commandment, that is, an act and duty of religion.
Chastity for me, therefore, is an obligation resulting from a vow. I live bound by the vow of chastity, the same as any man in religion; and every sin of mine against my vow would be no less grave than the transgression of a religious against his. On the other hand, the merit of my observing the vow is no less sublime.
Do I really accept my obligation in this sense, such as is expressed above, such as I understood it when it was enjoined on me, such as I then embraced it? And am I aware that the following words of St. Paul apply to me more than to anybody else?
"Do you not understand that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit has his dwelling in you?" (1 Cor. iii, 16)III. Let us listen to the voice of opposition, and answer it.
"Surely you know that your bodies are the shrines of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you." (1 Cor. vi, 19)
"If anybody desecrates the temple of God, God will bring him to ruin." (1 Cor. iii, 17)
"A tyrannical imposition, this law of celibacy." - Yes, this has often been said, but there is nothing in the statement except a vile calumny. The Church has never imposed celibacy on anyone. She excommunicates with all the might of Her authority any person who has the audacity to do so. One example, among many, should be referred to:
Canon 214. The cleric who received a major order out of grave fear may by the sentence of the ecclesiastical judge be reduced to the lay state, provided he can prove that he was ordained in fear and has not ratified the ordination afterwards, at least tacitly, by the exercise of the order with the intention of subjecting himself to the obligations of the major orders. He is then free from the obligation of celibacy and from the duty of saying the Divine Office. . . .To the law of celibacy, however harsh it may seem, you submitted entirely of your own free will, and for ever.
"But I didn't understand properly what I was doing." - What? At 23 years of age, at the youngest, when curiosity, the source of so many evil suggestions, is most irresistible; when the passions and the physiological life have reached their highest development; hadn't you felt a thousand times in your flesh and heart and brain the storms of sexual desire? Then, when are they going to be felt? At twenty-three, when the intelligence had matured and you had finished your studies, didn't you realise exactly what celibacy entailed?
"But I was forced into it." - A lie, and you know it is! Remember the ordaining Prelate's serious admonition to you just before you received the sub-diaconate:
"You must attentively consider again and again that the burden you ask to assume today you ask for entirely of your own free will. Until this you are free. . . think over it while there is yet time. If you receive this order you will be obliged to observe chastity. Therefore, while there is yet time, take thought; and if you are ready to persevere in your holy endeavour, in the Lord's name, approach.""Oh, there were other coercions: my parents, uncles and aunts, vested interests, etc." - And what has that got to do with the Church? Are you going to make the Church responsible for the blunders and even crimes of your family? And don't you blush for shame that at the age of twenty-three you hadn't the courage to withstand your family in a matter of such supreme importance? Didn't God and His Church warn you against approaching the altar for such disreputable aims as these?
Now, be honest with yourself, and if today you are weighed down under a law to which you freely and spontaneously - ultro - submitted, own up to the fact that what you need most is manliness. Esto vir, be a man who can stick to his word, to that sacred word the most solemn that ever came from your lips, to that word you spoke to the whole world, to the Church, to God Himself.
I shall find out whether I am keeping to my word. I resolve most firmly to keep to it from now onwards, even if, as Christ commands, I have to cut off my right hand and foot and pluck my eye out from me and cast it away, to avoid its becoming a stumbling-block and an occasion of sin. I am resolved from this moment, if in the past I have not done so, to observe with scrupulosity Canon 133:
1. The clergy shall take care not to have in their houses, nor to visit, women that may give reason for suspicion.Don't complain of the harshness of this law; it would be more than harsh, it would be cruel, if the Church did not lay down the law. Having bound me to continence, could the Church have left me free in the midst of the greatest dangers without being a cruel and bad Mother?
2. They are allowed to have in their houses only such women as those concerning whom there can be no suspicion, either on account of the natural bond as mother, sister, aunt, or from whom on account of their character and likewise their more advanced age all suspicion is removed.
Experience clearly shows how easy it is, relatively speaking, to keep this virtue if only we get away from the occasions which so readily excite and blind us and are the cause of over ninety-nine per cent of our lapses. It is incomparably less painful to pluck out one's eyes and to cast them away, that is, to cut away from those people, however dear and necessary they may seem to us, if they afford us a proximate occasion of sin, than to remain in their midst and resist the brutal onslaughts of passion.
It is Thou, my God, who commandest me; do not therefore deny me Thy abundant and efficacious grace, that I may faithfully abide by Thy Will.
Adapted from The Priest at Prayer
by Fr. Eugenio Escribano, C.M. (© 1954)
Translated by B.T. Buckley, C.M.
Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood!