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Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2494

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Flight from commitment a threat to marriage and priestly celibacy, says Bishop

A devaluing of lifelong commitment is undermining both marriage and priestly celibacy, the Bishop of Shrewsbury has said in a homily.

Bishop Mark Davies warned Catholic couples that the institution of marriage, which, he said, was once taken for granted in society, is being threatened by indifference, anti-family legislation and by lifestyle choices, posing a threat to the environment for human life and flourishing as grave as the destruction of the physical environment.

He said that faithfulness of marriage is today wrongly considered to be “a diminishment of personal freedom and choice” and that priestly celibacy is seen often as a mere restriction instead of a way of life “embraced for love alone”.

The Bishop, however, also told the congregation in St Joseph’s Church, Birkenhead, that “as never before in our history, society stands in need of the united witness of married couples and singlehearted celibate love”.

During the annual diocesan Mass in celebration of marriage and family life on Saturday, Bishop Davies thanked the couples who have reached landmark wedding anniversaries for the witness of their faithfulness.

Bishop Davies prayed that the united witness of married couples with that of faithful celibate priests and lay people would “contribute to an environment of love and faithfulness in which generations to come may grow and flourish”.

“It seems we have strangely neglected the human ecology so bound-up with the well-being of marriage,” Bishop Davies said.

“Marriage is the environment on which depend the health and flourishing of every generation. Yet, marriage is under threat, and not merely from indifference: it has been proactively weakened by both governmental actions and lifestyle choices.

“Imagine, for a moment, if government and society conspired to relax restrictions and allowed more plastics to be thrown into the oceans, more toxic substances to be released into the air. We would surely expect loud public protest. Yet, for half a century the institution of marriage has seen its treasured place in society and the protection of its promises steadily eroded.”

The Bishop said: “Alongside the threat to marriage we have perhaps inevitably seen an undervaluing of celibacy which, as St John Paul II often reminded us, stands in support of the true and faithful love of marriage.

“Celibate consecration is happily growing today among apostolic lay people and remains the hallmark of the Catholic priesthood. Yet, how readily celibacy embraced for love alone is lightly dismissed today, as if it were merely a restriction, just as the faithfulness of marriage is considered a diminishment of personal freedom and choice.

“May we never become prey to these superficial ways of thinking in what has become a toxic atmosphere toward lifelong commitment, an attitude which threatens not only Christian marriage but also the cherishing of priestly celibacy.”