Priests. Boyfriends. Two Different Things.

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March 12, 2013 by lucieromarin

Well, the first thing I have to say is that consecrated virgins should have a title! The thoughts in this post were prompted by an article on the blog ‘Sponsa Christi,’ but I can’t help feeling that, while referring to the author by her first name is over-familiar, both ‘Miss Cooper’ and ‘Ms Cooper’ are incorrect (she’s not single, and she’s not disguising her marital status!). Anyway, the article was about the wrong reasons for becoming a consecrated virgin. You can read the whole thing here, but the salient lines were these:

In a good marriage there is a great deal of self-sacrifice. But as the original human vocation, on an immediate level marriage is oriented to tangible satisfaction for our built-in longings for love and companionship. Conversely, consecrated virginity provides NO fulfillment of emotional or sexual desires…A woman who looks to consecration to provide consolations similar to that of human marriage will be severally[sic] disappointed.

Reading those lines, I felt like a little character in a snow dome – which has been overturned and violently shaken for too long – once the dome has been righted and everything settled in its proper place. Because, of course, her words did not only apply to people trying to use religious consecration as an alternative to married joy – they applied to any devout Catholic using anything as a substitute for something else.

The problem is that our culture of substitution is pretty strong; you can see, for example, where Catholic media stops being a useful and worthwhile supplement to secular media and starts being an alternative universe in which an actor who has appeared in one or two movies never seen outside the Catholic loop can be referred to as a ‘star.’ You can see where sermons stop being instruction and start being the week’s entertainment. You know there’s a difference between a woman whose director confirms in private that she is indeed called to be a spiritual mother to priests, and a woman who noisily embraces the apostolate of spiritual motherhood of priests because it hurts less than facing the fact that she is childless or has been failed by her children. And you can imagine that, when I was an aspirant in a traditional religious order dedicated to the service of priests, and the Prioress sat down with me and said, with an upturned face and shining eyes, “Really, we are being…their wives,” the alarm bells in my mind went “RINGALINGALINGALINGALING!!!!!”

The obvious point was on the tip of my tongue – my guardian angel stopped me from making it.

Now, at first, I thought it was just her. However, years later I heard a neo-conservative Dominican religious superior say almost the same thing. “We need them for the sacraments. They need us for our prayers,” she said, and she then concluded that this was like the mutual need that exists between husband and wife. I was gobsmacked, and I’ll say now what I didn’t say then, which is that if you think that praying for a man and doing his laundry is enough to make you his wife, then not only do you basically think that wives are about as good as servants, you also do not know where babies come from. And I’d like to point out that, while housework can be outsourced without any detriment to the sacrament, outsourcing the making of babies is a mortal sin. This puts baby-making closer to the essence of marriage (at least, at a natural level) than housework.

It’s not limited to consecrated women. A sort-of-friend said to me a few years ago, “I don’t think I could marry, because if did, I’d have to give up my relationship with Father.”

Er…giant HUH???

Clerical celibacy is there to free men from the guilt of neglecting their expectant wives while answering emergency phone calls at 2am. It is not there in order to free priests to be the Significant Others for women who are looking for a deep spiritual relationship. Yes, I’m all about thinking that your spiritual director is awesome; and yes, if he directs you for long enough, you’re going to pick up details about him, too; you’ll notice how he sits when he’s tired, or what he eats when he’s depressed, or how infrequently he washes his cassock, or whatever. That just goes with being an observant female. It’s not a sign that you have a Beautiful Relationship, and it is absolutely and supremely important to make sure that, if you are single, you are not using a priest for the wrong reasons. A priest listens. A boyfriend listens. But they listen differently. If you’re having the feelings while being listened to by a priest that you’d have while being listened to by a boyfriend, you’re having the wrong feelings, and you have to be truthful about it.

One note of kindness, though – one young priest told a friend of mine (it’s okay – she’s his sister!) that he understands why some women treat him that way (yes, some of them can tell.) “They’ve been so hurt,” he said. “They know I’m not going to ask them out and then dump them; I’m not going to betray them; I might be the first man they’ve ever met who doesn’t hurt them.”

It is terrible that women can be so hurt. Even so, they are lucky that he understood what they did not.

So. I do not care how pious you are or what you have cooked, sewn, or washed for a priest: do not think of him as your husband unless you have actually exchanged vows with him in an Eastern Rite ceremony and you are allowed to have his babies. In fact, if you are in any doubt at all about your relationship with any man, ask yourself, “Am I allowed to bear his children?” If the answer is ‘No’, then you are not his wife.

Jenna Marie Cooper is right. There is no subsitute for the consolations of marriage – not in consecration or anywhere else. You have to learn to deal with that, because treating non-husbands as husbands is weird.




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