6. Old Celibates have nothing (worthwhile) to say about sex. Part of the pleasure of doing something "shocking" is imagining the reaction of your maiden aunt if she new about it. "Think about what old aunt Sarah would say if she walked into the room right now." Folks like to picture us old celibates the same way. This seems to hold even though there have been lurid revelations of priestly scandals in recent years. If a swear word comes out, people still expect a shocked reaction from the priest. This irritates some of my brother priests so much that they will let out a stream of their own profanities. I have always resisted that temptation, partly because I feel people have a right to their myths.

However, in this essay I would like to separate fact from fancy. I do not mean the fancy that priests are disembodied souls with no sexual identity or impulses. Nor do I mean the fact that some priests have acted upon those impulses. What I would like to suggest is a deeper meaning to sexuality which people do seek from priests.

Part of this "deeper meaning" is simply the exposition of the teaching we received from Jesus and have been repeating for almost two thousand years. C.S. Lewis as always stated it most starkly: apart from marriage, total abstinence. Pope John Paul II talked about young people wanting a "beautiful love," that is a love which waits for the total self-giving which is possible only in marriage. That is the only teaching which can truly be called "bold" and "free." An old celibate not only proclaims it, but testifies to it in a rather startling way. He will always have something to say to young people.

But there is something more. A priest is not only a teacher, he is a sacrament. The Greek word on which sacrament is based is "mysterion." Celibacy certainly ties in with the mystery, the secret which is the priesthood. I've heard a lot of talk about celibacy being inappropriate to certain cultures. For instance, when I worked with the Aymara, it was said that they valued fertility so much they could never understand celibacy. I had to ask, "Does U.S. culture understand it? Does any culture?" The fact is celibacy will always be a sign of contradiction—and a source of endless fascination. I could buy a new computer if I had a dime for every person who asked me about it.

I am often amazed that people share with me intimate details of their lives and sexual struggles. Most commonly it happens in the confessional where they are seeking forgiveness and some guidance. I have nothing particularly erudite to offer, just a word of encouragement and a statement of what the Catholic Church teaches. Anything more is because those young married couples themselves have been my teachers. Pope John Paul II acknowledges that same kind of debt in "Crossing the Threshold of Hope." Our teaching about the benefits of Natural Family Planning, for example, comes from listening to young couples whose marriages it has enriched. We encourage, we teach, we learn. That is what we old celibates offer on this delicate topic.