Many years ago I had a website called the GEHENNA PAGE (1996-97). There really were no blogs back then and the Catholic presence online was pathetic. However, anti-Catholic sites were popping up everywhere and little men were pontificating like popes against the Church. I posted this response below to one critic’s biblical proof texts which were supposed to hurt the Church.
Contending that it was from the devil to prohibit the good of marriage, he made the following citations:
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the last times some will turn away from the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and demonic instructions, through the hypocrisy of liars with branded consciences. They forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the invocation of God in prayer (1 Timothy 14:1-4).
I responded that these words refer to a false asceticism and not to the practices of Catholic Christianity. The early Church and well into the Patristic period, had to deal with cults and movements which made all sorts of exaggerated claims and required various austire practices. Some urged a return to Jewish dietary laws. Others wanted to go even further with fasting and abstinence, perpetually destroying joy in the goods of creation. There were even movements which urged strict celibacy upon all members as the only way to enlightenment and salvation.
The Catholic position is quite different. Our use of fasting and abstinence is not perpetual and it is not a rejection of certain foods as unclean or unworthy of man. Rather, their absence, to coin a cleche, is to make the heart grow fonder. It is precisely because something like meat is good that we might temporarily abstain. Jesus himself fasted and prayed in the desert and alluded to it in the future as something his followers would do. As for marriage, Catholics believe that Christ raised it up to a level of a sacrament, a special sacred sign of his relationship as the bridegroom to his bride, the Church. It is a mysterious means of encountering the Lord himself and receiving grace. Obviously, if such is the Catholic view, we would not be seeking to degrade it by our practice of celibacy. Priests and religious vow celibacy freely, not because marriage is bad, but because it is so good. Celibacy becomes a wonderful gift, freely embraced, as a sacrifice for God and his holy people. Jesus was celibate. St. Paul not only practiced it but encouraged it. The celibate priest becomes a sign of contradiction pointing for the kingdom of Christ to a hedonistic world. It is not a rejection of love, but a selfless abandonment to divine love as manifested in service to God’s people, the Church. It is not a calling for everyone, just as not everyone is called to priesthood or consecrated life. The majority of people seek holiness in marriage and family life.
Noting that Peter was married, he asked how could the purported apostolic line come through Peter when Catholic priests and bishops were celibate? The critic followed with more piece-meal verses:
And when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed, sick with a fever (Matthew 8:14).
Now Simon’s mother-in-law was keeping her bed sick with fever, and they immediately told him about her (Mark 1:30).
But he rose from the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a great fever, and they besought him for her (Luke 4:38).
These references to Peter’s mother-in-law do indicate that Peter was married; although her absence from these texts might lend one to think that she experienced some mishap and might have passed away. Be this as it may, the Catholic Church has never hidden the fact that Peter and other religious leaders of the Church were married. Indeed, the Catholic Church had a married clergy all the way up to the 12th century. The Fourth Lateran Council was quite decisive in mandating compulsory celibacy for any who would be priests of the Roman or Western Rite. The Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, to this very day (in Europe and the Far East) have an optional married clergy. These priests are in full union with Rome.
Also, in our own nation many Protestant clergy, Lutheran and Episcopal, have entered into the Roman Catholic priesthood, even though they are married and have families. Those who are raised in the Western rite realize that celibacy is a special gift and a particular charism of our priestly experience. It is a sign of a wondrous single-hearted love. One of the fruits of this sacrifice is the availability that a priest can give to his prayers, study, and service.
Any indication that Peter’s married state would affect apostolic succession is a low blow. Those who followed Peter had a spiritual and not a physical affinity to the great apostle. While the Church has known nepotism, such is the exception and not the rule.
No one forces a young man to become a priest or brother. There is no coercion for a woman to become a nun. They know that vows of poverty, obedience, and celibacy are part of the package. If God gives a person a vocation in the Catholic Church, we believe that he will give them the graces and gifts to follow this life.
The majority of men who leave the priesthood to get married ultimately have failed marriages. Promises are made to be kept. The problem is not the Church or God; the dilemma are people who are unwilling to surrender their lives fully to Christ. Marriage is also a sacrifice, amidst the joys. However, if we trust God and walk with him, he will guide our path.
Acknowledging that St. Paul was single, he claimed that the apostle thought we should have the freedom to marry. The debate continued and the anti-Catholic critic quoted more poorly applied Scripture:
Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and brothers of the Lord, and Kephas? (1 Corinthians 9:5).
The Catholic Church also recognizes the right of people to get married. However, the Church has a right of her own to regulate her ministries. Permanent deacons, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Catechists, Readers, Acolytes, and Lay Evangelists and Ministers all serve the Church and may be married. Would the anti-Catholic demand compulsory matrimony? I hope not. Those who opt for priesthood in the Roman Rite also freely embrace celibacy. This is no less than what St. Paul did. After listing all the various rights that a follower in Jesus possesses, he acknowledges that he has chosen not to use these rights for himself.
Here are some Scripture citations of my own:
[After listing the right to marry among many other freedoms, St. Paul says] Yet we have not used this right. On the contrary, we endure everything, so as not to place an obstacle to the Gospel of Christ. … I have not used any of these rights, … (1 Corinthians 9:12,15).
[After speaking about marriage] This I say by way of concession, however, not as a command. Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: It is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, … (1 Corinthians 7:6-8).
[Advice to Virgins and Widows] Now in regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife. If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that. I tell you, brothers, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:25-31).
[More on virginity] So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better (1 Corinthians 7:38).
[About a widow] She is more blessed, though, in my opinion, if she remains as she is, and I think that I too have the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 7:40).
[Celibacy is a sign of the kingdom!] His disciples said to him, “If the case of a man with his wife is so, it is not expedient to marry.” And he said, “Not all can accept this teaching; but those to whom it has been given. For there are eunichs who were born so from their mother’s womb; and there are eunichs who were made so by men; and there are eunichs who have made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let him accept it who can” (Matthew 19:10-12).).