I wanted to title this post “Celibacy vs. Marriage,” but that would have just been click-bait, because the two really aren’t in a competition.
They are in a family together.
Today I write something that is related to the idol of marriage which has permeated so much of Western Christian culture. It might have permeated further than that, but I don’t have experience with that; I’ll stick with what I know.
I have written some brief thoughts on the popular practice of praying for your child’s future spouse, but I want to look at the expectation of marriage from a different angle today.
Let’s start at my cousin Gabi’s wedding just over ten months before my own, in July of 2008. I had the privilege of representing my branch of the Martinez family. My parents were selling their house and couldn’t make it, so I took up the (Rod) Martinez family mantle and participating in the joyous event. I was joined by my then-boyfriend, who would become my husband in June of 2009.
Gabi and her branch of the Martinez family are passionate followers of Jesus who worship in the Catholic Church. They have encouraged me in my faith over many years, bringing much comfort as I navigated being charismatic in a mostly non-charismatic family. They were consistently and kindly for the work of the Spirit in my life. I’m so thankful to be related to them. Anyway, moving on.
Gabi and Jonathan’s wedding was a Catholic one, and it was full of oddly Catholic things. The oddest thing for me was that a priest performed their wedding.
Now, I know that it is a very normal thing for a priest, Catholic or Anglican or Episcopal or Orthodox, to perform marriages. What struck me as odd—and distinctively Catholic—is that the priest performing the wedding ceremony was himself unmarried. Celibate. And, pardon my naive honesty, I thought to myself, “What do these priests know about marriage? How can one of them offer a wedding homily that will be edifying to this couple?”
The priest offering the homily said something along these lines–“Not that I know exactly what you’re getting in to…”
I left the wedding, so happy for my cousin and delighted to celebrate with her, but also scratching my head a little at this celibacy vs. marriage issue. I chalked it up to the superiority of the Protestant and Orthodox practice of permitting the clergy to marry and lamented a little for my Catholic friends and family that their priests were missing out on something better.
Fast forward to this past year, when I have been wrestling with the question of singleness and marriage in the Church. Questions like: how do these different life positions effect relationships? what do friendships between single people and married people look like in the Church? how can I deeply love my friends or others I encounter who find themselves, by choice or by circumstance, unmarried?
It has caused me to confront the great idol of marriage. The one that has resided in my own heart. The one that resides in the Western Church. The one that threatens my friends and terrorizes so many others.
I do not wish to get into the gritty details of why or how God puts some people in marriages and not others. It is a truly deep and many times painful mystery. But I have learned that all my friends and family are needed in my life, no matter their marital status.
I need them to participate in my life because they have deep and great things to teach me. Things about patience, about faithfulness, about loving the least of these, about challenging the status quo, and so much more.
And I have realized (this week!) that the Catholic Church affirms this in the marriage ceremony. The single and celibate and more-likely-than-not never married priest has SO MUCH to give a couple on their wedding day. Because he is living life and loving others and laying down his life daily for the sake of the Gospel. Singleness does not exclude him. He has the beautiful priority of leading others into this sacrament. Let’s celebrate marriage and let’s celebrate singleness.
If we can get away from the idolization of marriage in the Church, a much happier and integrated family we will be. We are a family. There is room for everyone in this family–gay, straight, single, married, rich, poor, happy, depressed, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Messianic Jew.
He Himself is our Peace, tearing down the walls we’ve built. Lord Jesus, Send Your Holy Spirit and make us one as You and the Father are One.