As we approach Valentine’s Day next week, I am especially mindful of a surprising reality in my life: recently, a number of University of Portland students have been seeking my advice about their romantic relationships. I say this is surprising, because as a celibate priest and a math professor, I certainly must occupy a place that our culture would least associate with expertise in matters romantic. And still, they come, and we talk, and the conversations actually have seemed to bear fruit, at least for some of them.
Now, the students certainly do know my obvious limitations. No resident of Villa has been silly enough to ask me what opening lines to try, or what to wear on his first date, or what cologne to use, or how to dance.
Instead, these students have intuited that, as a priest, I might understand something about the skills and virtues needed in any intimate relationship. They sense that through prayer and through counseling, I may have learned how to listen and how to express myself honestly, and so we talk about communication. They know I preach the gospel and hear confessions, and so we talk about forgiveness and reconciliation. They appreciate that I’ve committed myself to celibacy, and so we talk about practicing chastity, and striving for healthy detachment, and even cultivating space and solitude after break-ups.
Jesus, of course, is the model for the celibacy practiced by priests and religious. And yet, throughout the New Testament, Jesus addresses romantic relationships in a variety of ways. He performs His first miracle at a wedding and is identified metaphorically as “the Bridegroom.” He declares marriage indissoluble, admonishes the woman at the well for her five past husbands and her current paramour, and reconciles the woman caught in adultery. Finally, He inspires St. John, author of Revelation, to envision Heaven itself as the eternal Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
These two vocations – the one to celibacy and the other to romantic love and marriage – do not just complement each other; they find support in one another. I am blessed that the students here at UP, most of whom will probably be called to marriage, already have begun to look for that support in me.
Fr. Charlie McCoy, C.S.C., is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Portland. He is a monthly contributor to the Spes Unica blog, reflecting primarily on the work of Holy Cross in education. Learn more about the work of Holy Cross priests and brothers in the field of education to bring hope to the Church and world.