The Odd Dilemma of a Celibate Catholic Gentleman

Practicing unyielding moral virtue in a decadent world

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Faith Virtue

Decades ago, to avoid social isolation, I took up ballroom dancing and within a month met an attractive woman who was my age. She could dance well and had a compatible personality, so we hit it off. We entered dance contests and won prizes. We dined out every week and watched plays. We shared interesting articles and complained about life to each other’s sympathetic ear.

In time she revealed that her husband had a chronic mental illness. His worsening condition drained her resources and threatened disrupting her teaching job. The situation got so burdensome that she feared for her sanity. So she had to find a way out from under it. She confided that the Church and state granted her an annulment based on her in-laws never revealing prior to the marriage that her fiancée had mental illness.

She was aware that I was Catholic, never married, and had almost become a Trappist monk. Because of her husband’s condition, I was reluctant to tell her of my nervous breakdown some 25 years before. But I did, and she did not freak out. She knew I was living a chaste lifestyle and my attitude against premarital sex. Our unhindered, candid communication made for a mutually supportive relationship.

I invited her to accompany me to Europe but on two unusual conditions: We could have no sex and she had to pay her own way. She hesitated but agreed, and it worked out well. We traveled and toured historic sites in London, Austria, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. We flew to the Hawaiian Islands three times. When I happened to tell a close buddy of mine that she and I each had practiced chastity for 26 years, he was shocked. I presume the world also would snicker at such a preposterous notion and judge us both crazy loons for doing that.

A quarter century later, her husband died, and she began to look upon our close relationship with marital ambitions. I sensed the shift in her mindset, since her marital vow to her ex-husband had finally been fulfilled. Even though she had been legally off the hook, and technically had never been married, love had inextricably bound their souls together. So, for many reasons, his death was for her a great relief.

One night she blurted, “Look, I’m still a desirable woman, and I don’t see why you aren’t sexually attracted to me. I had a dance teacher who told me in confidence he was gay. So why don’t you admit to being homosexual? I can take it.”

That shocked me. I had a delayed reaction, not quite believing, after all our years together, that she harbored even plausible doubts about my virtue. Anger welled up within me. “You mean to say, because I have resisted many temptations to make love to you, that I must be gay?”

It flashed in my mind that lately, whenever we walked at the park, she would remark at how dazzled or fascinated I was by the play of little children, as if recording those brief episodes to someday charge me with pederasty. She was baffled I did not behave like a red-blooded man. By the time I finished telling her off, I had raised my voice and threatened never to return.

We had had a good run and I sensed it was over. After nine months of no communication, she called me to announce she was soon going to be married, and of course I was not invited. He was three years older, in ill health, but he needed her. That made all the difference. She had often said, “Man was not meant to live alone,” hinting that marriage suited her and that I should have taken the plunge with her when I had the chance.

Somewhere I read that men who choose to be celibate ought not indulge in mixer promenades. We’d be unwelcome squares amid round pegs. So ever since, I have stayed home, with no dancing or traveling anymore. I had been living the single state for over half a century, so a reclusive lifestyle did not bother me much. I had only my own neuroses to deal with.

What causes me heartache, though, is the odd dilemma of a celibate Catholic gentleman who practices unyielding moral virtue in a wicked and decadent world ― one that expects and even approves of weakness and compromise. After the sordid scandals of clergy sex abuse in high places, I cannot blame folks for supposing Christ has recently lowered the bar for entry to heaven. But supposing that would be a serious mistake, for to paraphrase Matthew 5:20: “Unless your virtue exceeds that of the theologians and priests, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Now, can you guess who phoned me after five years of marriage, to tell me her second husband had recently died of liver cancer? We cautiously met to celebrate her 77th birthday.

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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