Paul was making a formal vow of celibacy, and 120 people from around the country gathered to celebrate the goodness of God's gift to Paul in a calling to be "love in the heart of the church," in the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and God's goodness to the Church in giving it Paul to love it. But it's an odd goodness, an odd gift; it's not a gift Paul would have chosen anymore than the rest of us would, and not a goodness in the way the Evangelical version of the heath-and-wealth gospel tends to think of it. It's a calling in the way Roger Mehl uses it in his book Love and Society:
The most reliable callings are born from reflecting on a situation that is more or less imposed on us. A vocation is nearly always a way of accepting a situation that was first of all considered a limitation.Paul, who has lived as a celibate man in intentional Christian community sharing in the life (and death) of individuals and families for the past eighteen years, is proclaiming his unwanted calling as a gift nonetheless, aspiring one day to be a content 86-year-old man. Toward that end, Paul vows to give himself fully to the Church, to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others be faithful only unto her, so long as he shall live. Paul's limitations have allowed him to experience love in the context of the Church body in a way that challenges our cultural idolatry of romantic love. Thus God's gift is "good" like Wendell Berry uses the word in Jayber Crow, Paul's favorite book, which we read at the ceremony:
I am a man who has hoped, in time, that his life, when poured out at the end, would say, "Good-good-good-good-good!" like a gallon jug of the prime local spirit. I am a man of losses, regrets, and griefs. I am an old man full of love.So 120 people whose lives have been touched by this 43-year-old man who has tried to embody love to the church gathered to celebrate this past weekend in San Francisco, an odd place to celebrate celibacy (not that such a "celibation" would not be odd elsewhere). The guys had a bachelor party (I hear rumors that chastity belts were involved, but I was not there). There was a reception with a slide-show of pictures, wonderful pasta, plenty of wine, and exhausting dancing. After the festivities, Paul left yesterday for his week-long honeymoon at a monastery near the coast. It was quite a party.
I may mention this again from time to time as my thoughts process, but for now the main thing I heard is that God is indeed good, even if his "calling" is often just the unideal life that was set before us through our series of frustrating circumstances. God is good to Paul, and through Paul's love for the Church he is challenging me in my love for the people we call our "brothers and sisters" even if the familial relationship is rarely realized. May we learn to lay down our lives for each other.