The Opera, A Play, A Villa & Celibacy

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Father Morelli was coming down the stairs from the loft where he sometimes like to go and read His Bible. He had been up there for quite some time and was now making his way to the sanctuary because he was expecting Genet to stop by. They saw each other once or twice a week. Last week Friday she had stopped by to invite him to go with her to see Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth at Gigi Proietti Globe theatre.

The theater was located on Largo Aqua Felix inside Villa Borghese. They could only access it by walking through the park. Yesterday evening was a perfect one for being in an open air theater. It was a beautiful, clear and balmy evening. The theatre was filled to capacity. They had seats in the lower balcony and a had a good view of the stage. He enjoyed the play immensely and thanked Genet for inviting him.

Afterwards, they went to his parents’ restaurant for dinner. His mother was very pleased to see them. She greeted them with a warm smile and hugs then, she showed them to a table in the corner. She waited on them herself. Genet complimented her on her hair and told her that it made her look hip. Mrs. Morelli was very pleased to hear that, so much so that she gave her an extra slice of Torta Antica Roma, at no charge. After dinner, they walked through the gardens, savoring the beautiful evening before he walked her to the train station and made sure that she got safely to the platform before he left and returned to the parish.

Today was his day off. A priest was entitled to one day off during the week. After breakfast and his personal time of prayer, he went up to the loft to read his Bible in solitude. Next to being in the garden, he loved being in the loft where it was nice and quiet. Up there, he could pray, meditate and read his Bible or a devotion without any interruption.

He went into the sanctuary where Genet was waiting for him. After they greeted each other, he said, “Thanks again for inviting me to go with you to see the play, Macbeth. It was truly a wonderful experience.”

“You’re welcome. It was my way of thanking you for inviting me to see the opera, La Traviata which I enjoyed very much.”

“When I got the tickets, I immediately thought of you and was happy when you stopped by that day.”

“And when I heard that Macbeth was playing at the Gigi Proietti Globe theatre, I thought of you and was happy that you were available.”

“Would you like to stay here in the sanctuary or go outside in the garden?”

“Let’s stay here. It looks like it’s going to rain. That’s why I have my umbrella with me.”

“All right. Let’s have a seat over here.” He preceded her to one of the pews and waited until she was seated before he sat down beside her. “Have you ever been to Villa Celimontana?”

She shook her head. “No. I’ve never even heard of it.”

“It’s a villa on the Caelian Hill in Rome, best known for its gardens. One of these days, we can visit it together if you like.”

Genet smiled. “I would like that very much.”

“I went there once when I was in my late teens. Villa Celimontana is one of the most loved places by the Romans. Its gardens are famous for their fountains.”

“How far is it?”

“It’s about a 10 minute walk from the Colosseum.”

“I guess we can meet in front of the Colosseum and then walk to the Villa.”

“Yes, we can do that.”

“It feels strange going about the city of Rome with a priest.”

“Why should it?”

“I don’t know. It just does. I guess it’s because people look at us.”

“I don’t see why it should draw any attention. Priests are men, not gods.”

“Yes, but priests are different from everybody else. My aunt who is Catholic told me that respect for priests is actually respect for God. Priests are ordained by the Catholic Church to mirror Jesus’ instructions to his disciples. She said that we honor God when we honor priests and one another.”

“When it comes to matters of faith, we are different. We were called to educate people about God and Jesus; to execute the Catholic faith and morals by guiding people in the right direction. We are to daily follow Jesus’ example and bring His love and influence into people’s lives.”

“Do you have to be a virgin in order to be a priest?” Genet asked.

Father Morelli shook his head. “No. Take St. Augustine of Hippo for example. When he was a young man, he was sexually active and later, he lived openly with a concubine who gave birth to his son. He once prayed, “Give me chastity, Lord, but not yet.”

“What happened to him? How did he become a saint?”

“God delivered him from his sexual sin problem through something Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans. St. Augustine read, ‘Not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.’ He was baptized the following Easter. His mother died happy because he was safe in Christ. He gave up any dreams he had for marriage and committed himself to a life of celibacy and poverty. When his son with the concubine died, his dreams of returning to a quiet life in his hometown of Thagaste evaporated in the light of eternity. He decided it would be more strategic move his monastic community to the larger city of Hippo. He thought since they already had a bishop, there was a slim chance of them giving him that position but he was wrong. The church forced him to be the priest and then the bishop of Hippo where he remained for the rest of his life. He is a great bishop, saint, and doctor of the Church and the greatest convert after Saint Paul.”  

“I still don’t understand why he and other men who become priests can’t marry. The Bible doesn’t forbid priests from marrying. There were many priests who were married with families like Aaron, his son, Eli and his sons, Annas, Caiaphas. You can be married and serve God.”

“Not everyone is meant for marriage. There are those of us, like Jesus and Paul who chose to be celibate.”

“When Paul talked about being single vs being married, he was answering a question someone asked. The person wanted to know if it was good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. Paul’s answer was that to prevent sexual immorality, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.”

“Yes, but he also said to the single people that it would be good for them to stay unmarried as he was.”

“Yes, but that was his opinion. And he said that if they couldn’t control themselves, they should marry because it would better for them to get married than to burn with passion. Singleness isn’t for everyone just like marriage isn’t for everyone. Both are a choice not a commandment. Besides, we know that some of the disciples were married. Remember when Paul was asking if he had a wife and if she were a believer, couldn’t he bring her along on these trips just as the other disciples and the Lord’s brothers and Peter did? I think it’s in 1 Corinthians. And there’s further evidence that Peter was married. In one of the Gospels, there is an account of his mother-in-law having a fever which Jesus healed. If Peter whom Catholics believe was the first pope and other disciples were married, I don’t understand why priests aren’t allowed to be married too.”

“Being single allows priests time and energy to focus completely on their flock and to emulate Jesus, who was unmarried, more faithfully.”

“This whole idea of celibacy in the priesthood is based on tradition not biblical teaching. And you can emulate Jesus by living a life of obedience and whether you’re single or married.”

“I should make it clear that the Catholic Church does not consider the law of clerical celibacy to be a doctrine. It’s a discipline.  The vow of celibacy for clergy is a requirement for young men wishing to become ordained as priests. Celibacy is a gift of God and it allows a priest to give himself completely to God and to concentrate on pastoral care without the distractions of married life.”

“What happens when a priest falls in love?”

“First of all, it isn’t a sin for a priest to fall in love. Pope Francis admitted in an interview that he fell in love with a girl while he was in the seminary.  Priests are humans and therefore, not immune to falling in love. In answer to your question, if a Catholic priest falls in love and he wants to be with the woman he will go to his Bishop and tell him the situation. The priest will be given permission to marry the woman or to go with her but he will no longer be a priest. By marrying the woman he loves that he loves, he’s breaking the vow he made which is why he would no longer be a priest although he can still be a Catholic.”

“I guess you will never break your vow for the sake of a woman.” Genet said.

Father Morelli didn’t answer right away. He thought of his conversation with his mother. She was wrong. His heart was with God and the church. He would never give either up. “You guess correctly,” he said to Genet.

Genet turned her face away. “Just think that if instead of breaking up, Fabrizio and I decided to get married, you would probably be the one to marry us.”

Father Morelli watched her. “But, you aren’t going to marry Fabrizio because you and he are no longer together.”

She looked at him then. “You’re right. I was just being foolish. Maybe you’ll end up marrying your ex-Carla to someone else.”

“Maybe.”

“You can tell me that it’s none of my business but did you and she ever…?”

“No. Like you, she wanted to wait until she was married before she had sex.”

“Were you a virgin when you became a priest?”

“Yes. I’ve been one all of my life.”

“Oh. Do you ever think about sex?”

“No. I think about other things. Do you think about it?”

“Sometimes.”

“Do you regret not having it with Fabrizio?”

“No. I believe that sex should be between a husband and a wife who love each other.”

“That was God’s intention for it.”

Genet stood up. “Well, I’ve to go now.”

Father Morelli stood up too and stepped out of the pew so that she could step out into the aisle. “So, where are you off to now?”

“I’m meeting my Nigerian friend, Yetunde at Centro Commerciale Anagnina for dinner and maybe a little window shopping.”

“Let me know when you would like to visit Villa Celimontana.”

She smiled. “I will. Ciao, Roberto.”

“Ciao, Genet.”

Sources: Catholic AnswersTGCDesiring GodMy Catholic LifeLive Science; Viator; Saint Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church; Wikipedia; Turismo Roma; Worcester Magazine; South Coast Today; Wikipedia; DW; Opera News; Trip 101

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