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Open Questions
Reflections at the conclusion of a training course for priests

Masculinity’s wounds

07 January 2023

I recently participated in a training day with young priests from the Barcelona diocese, on the theme Masculinity and celibacy at the service of the mission. The interest and curiosity that the title aroused confirmed for me how little is said about these things in seminaries and among priests. Yet these are crucial aspects. They fully concern their identity and mission.

The crisis of masculinity that we experience today is significant. In a context in which identity and sexual difference are increasingly blurred, men are often the most downtrodden. Masculinity today is associated with toxicity, abuse, violence against women, and the patriarchy. Of course, there is no shortage of reasons for this, but that does not detract from the fact that it is complicated for young men today to have ideals to aspire to. Heroes are becoming less and less fashionable, even in films.

And, what about celibacy? That is even more discredited! Cases of abuse shake the Church every day. In such a context, priests are viewed with suspicion, whether they are guilty or not. It almost seems as if they have to ask for forgiveness for the mere fact that they exist.

My intuition is that this very scenario is a great opportunity, even a calling. I am convinced that God brings forth the kind of witness who can illuminate the darkness of the world in every historical era. Therefore, I believe that in a pan-sexualized society that distrusts masculinity a priori, celibate priests have a special mission. They can remind the world what it means to be a man, and the meaning of sexuality.

In addition, this is possible not because they are perfect, actually quite the contrary. A priest is made of the same clay as everyone else. We devoted the first meeting of the day to talking about the wounds of masculinity and illustrating how the gifts that God has given man for communion are tainted by sin and produce the opposite effect. Moreover, no one is free from this. The good news is that sin does not have the last word. Grace comes to liberate, restore, purify and Christianize the sexual dimension of the baptized person. A priest has a special calling to let his masculinity be configured to that of Christ, to be his sacrament too. A priest must be a witness to the fact that God’s power makes all things new.

For this reason, in addition to decisive cooperation with grace, it is necessary to put all one’s flesh onto the fire. We devoted the second meeting to giving certain pointers on how to positively integrate the sexual dimension into a celibate identity. To do this, all the resources of a man’s body, psyche and spirit must be brought into play. However, this does not always happen. They are often associated with his sexuality, with a paradigm of fear and naivety, and lack the means to welcome and integrate everything. That is why there are small or large breakouts, or the sense of a castrated masculinity is experienced.

I saw the priests in Barcelona happy, full of hope. God, who has started good work in them, will complete it.

by Marta Rodriguez