As a person who has been exploring Catholicism for several months now with the possibility in mind of eventual conversion, the following issue has been bothering me for some time now: celibacy as a “higher” calling than marriage
In one of his letters, the Apostle Paul states, as he speaks of celibacy, that he wishes that all men were as he was. Even though he makes it clear that this is his “opinion” and not any doctrinal issue, he still puts himself forward as a “trustworthy” witness of the things of God, apparently intending to lend some weight to his statements on the matter, so this makes me more hesitant outright to dismiss, as some do, these positions of his on celibacy, though I suppose some could counter that the very fact that he had to make such statements about his “opinions” indicates that he himself may have had some sense that something was not quite doctrinal (right?) about htem, though, again, they are part of inspired Scripture, so, perhaps they should carry some weight with us(?).
At any rate, I have always understood the Catholic Church to believe that celibacy was a “higher” vocation than the married life. However, I have also been hearing lately many Catholics considering both paths to God as different but equal. (I’ve even heard this from folks in such reputable places as EWTN Radio make such statements.) Some here have even claiemd–though I’ve no direct evidence of this–that both Vatican II and Pope John Paul II seemed to lean toward this view. However, as I have read up on the subject, the Council of Trent seems dogmatically and indeed infallibly to have determined that anyone who says that celibacy is not better than marriage is to be considered anathema.
So, what gives? Are marriage and celibacy equal paths to holiness, to God? Or can both be right? Is someone in error here? Is this a case where doctrine has changed over time?
I myself have always struggled with the idea of marriage being a “distraction” to serving God, but, rather, I’ve always seen it as just another way to serve God. After all, the word “distraction” has a very negative connotation to it as if marriage inherently keeps one from serving God. Rather, I’ve always thought that marriage is an equal way to serve God through serving spouse and children. After all, isn’t the highest and best way to serve God is to serve others? The contemplative and solitary life is great, of course, but it truly only benefits the individual engaging in it in and of itself. I would agree that the celibate life does free up more time to do other things in regard to serving God other than serving the family. Still, I just don’t understand why serving the family is put at such a low level as opposed to being an equal way of serving God right up there with, say, helping the poor. Indeed, the view that celibacy is superior to marriage seems not only to denigrate sex–created by God, by the way–but also the very family life so often lauded by Catholics today.
If marriage is indeed a “higher” calling, in what way is it “higher”? Is it morally “better”? Is it spiritually and/or essentially “better”? And, why, exactly, is the celibatte life “better”? Please do elaborate on your answers.
In any case, if celibacy is somehow “better and more blessed” as I believe Trent put it, than shouldn’t every Christian strive for this life? Why is the particular calling to celibacy, then, not encouraged for all Christians, if it’s not the better calling?