Thursday, May 10, 2007

After Asceticism...

Fr Tim Finnegan posts about about what looks like an interesting book called 'After Asceticism' and links to this article over at Catholic World News.
Personally, I think that one of the major difficulties concerning the approach to priestly celibacy and religious chastity is a lack of the big picture. Certainly, I think that there is much to be learned by viewing celibacy and chastity as positive and life-giving realities which elevate them above the level of mere discipline. However, there is, I think, a reluctance within the Church to speak of celibacy and chastity as ascetical disciplines, for fear of falling into too 'cold' an understanding of these realities. Both dimensions need to be affirmed. A denial of the fact that forgoing marital intimacy is an ascetical discipline is frankly delusional, and makes it all the harder for the priest or religious to cope if he or she is challenged in this part of his or her life. Expecting celibacy or vowed chastity to be a wholly liberating and joy-giving experience without the understanding that it can and will involve discipline, pain and sacrifice can very easily lead to total disillusionment if a difficult moment comes for the priest or religious. It is thus very easy to slip into the situation of seeing celibacy as being a resented imposition.
What is needed is a balanced approach - sober recognition of celibacy and chastity as an ascetical discipline as well as enthusiasm for the freedom of heart it gives the priest and religious for the love of God and the service of the Church.

Incidentally, the linked article makes a point that deserves much more exploration in contemporary theology. One of the clearest messages of the New Testament is that there is a struggle between spirit and flesh in the life of fallen man. It does not do, as so many theologians who have been poisoned by the body-worshipping cultus of modern society, to write this struggle with the flesh off as some form of dualism or gnosticism. The tradition of the Church and the testimony of scripture is quite clear - our corporeality is a gift of God and created good, but one of the key effects of Original Sin is a poisoning of the just relationship between flesh and spirit, meaning that the flesh is all too easily a motive of sin for us. Why has it become almost taboo to make this obvious observation?

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