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CELIBACY & PARALYSIS column sent Feb. 04 to TAC

by William Cleary



How I lost my celibacy



Dick was a college senior, skin and bones when I first saw him on his hospital bed. Dotted red lines formed a necklace across his chest, then traveled below his shoulders and encompassed his biceps on both sides. He could feel from the red line. . . up. Nothing else. Swimming accident.

His smile was broad and winning but he had to struggle to draw in breath to speak. "Hello," he said, and a motionless hand rose into the air on my side of the bed, and I took it. It was cold and stiff. I held the motionless hand while I introduced myself. "I'm a theology student like the other guys," I said. We visited this hospital as part of our summer vacation.

"Of course you still pray -- for more. . ," I studdered, and blushed.

"I hope to walk," he whispered, and grinned wanly. We talked, a brash young Jesuit scholastic and a paralyzed, gifted math student, I found out later.

The next week he thought he'd felt something in his toes. A month later, the red marks hadn't moved. I began talking to him of religious celibacy. He wanted marriage, and had a lovely girlfriend, but her visits to him were becoming less frequent. I explained how I had decided to follow Jesus all the way, including his celibacy. "I'm making myself a eunuch for the kingdom," I explained, adding, "and so is my brother, and my nun sister." It was beautiful, I said. Maybe he was called too?

Dick was adamant: he couldn't get his mind around celibacy.

We became friends, and prayed together over the summer, but I couldn't fathom his dreams of finishing college, much less of marriage and parenthood. It seemed so profoundly hopeless, even pitiful.

As I left town to resume studies out in the country, I presented him with a "reading machine" which I made for him. It enabled Dick to turn the pages of books by simply raising his otherwise lifeless arm about 12 inches. He thanked me profusely (though it never worked very well), and our friendship became just occasional post cards from me. But he was always in my prayers.

Six months later I was told Dick was back in school. "Healed?" I asked, astonished. "No, not at all," my informant said on the phone. "Still can't move."

A year later I got word Dick had graduated and had been hired as a university teaching assistant. I was again amazed. "Plus he has a new girl friend," someone told me. Then came word of a marriage, and finally of an adopted child. But my life had moved to another part of the world, and we lost touch.

I also lost that celibacy argument. In fact, after 22 years of vowed celibacy, I ended up marrying -- with the church's approval -- a religious sister, and so did that priest brother of mine. To cap it all, my nun sister married a priest. Together we have added six children to the spiritual kingdom in the bargain, our own little miracle.

Looking back, I had thought I could inspire a kind of spiritual resurrection in my paralyzed friend. Instead I wonder if his resurrection into love did not in some way inspire my own. #



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