The Personalist Project

A rare soul has left the world, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete.

Msgr. Albacete was born Jan. 7, 1941, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He obtained a degree in physics, and after his ordination to the priesthood he earned a doctorate in theology at the Angelicum, officially known as the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.

He served as the responsible for Communion and Liberation in the U.S. and Canada, and was chairman of board of advisors for Crossroads Cultural Center, a project which hosts events exploring the relationship between religion and culture.

He was also a co-founder of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.

I've read several of his articles over the years, but came across him in person only once, at a conference on marriage at FUS in 1987. The conference featured many great speakers, including Carlo Carfara and Alice von Hildebrand. But his talk stood out, as being both profoundly illuminating and hilariously funny. It was from him that Jules and I first heard the expression "the nuptial meaning of the body." (He had suggested we try scribbling on a napkin the next time we go to a diner, leaving it for the waitress to ponder.)

In honor of his passing, a facebook friend linked a New York Times article of his on celibacy. It was published in 2002, at the height of the priest abuse scandal.

Here are the essential paragraphs, revealing how thoroughly he had absorbed the personalism of John Paul II.

I began to understand the meaning of celibacy, oddly, during a time when I was seriously questioning it. A dear friend of mine in Europe had sent his only son to study in the United States and asked me to watch over him. This friend told me how much he was suffering from this separation. I told him that at least he had a son, whereas I would never experience being a father. This aspect of celibacy, I said to him, was much more difficult than the lack of a sexual companion.

''But you have many sons and daughters,'' he said. ''Look at the way young people follow you. You are a true father to them.''

''Yes,'' I replied, ''but let's be honest. They are not really my sons and daughters. Each one of them would have existed even if I had not. They are not mine as J. is your son.''

''But Lorenzo,'' he said, ''that is the point. J. is not my son. I do not own him. I must respect his freedom. And I thought that's why priests took a vow of celibacy, to help spouses and parents understand that to love is not to own, but to affirm, to help, to let go. I need this help now that J. has left home.''

I understood then that celibacy has more to do with poverty than with sex. It is the radical, outward expression of the poverty of the human heart, the poverty that makes true love possible by preventing it from corrupting into possession or manipulation. That is why child abuse by priests is so shocking, so horrible, so destructive. It places celibacy at the service of power and lust, not of love.

Note:

1) The personal narrative mode of truth-learning and truth-telling. He's not expounding on a text, but talking about his own journey toward deeper appreciation of the meaning of his vocation.

2) The role of friendship and dialogue in the apprehension of deep moral understanding.

3) The emphasis on spiritual poverty and suffering. We turn toward each other, because we are conscious of our need for each other in the economy of redemption.

4) The fundamental contrast between love and manipulation.

5) The idea that we do not own others; each of us has her own sphere of freedom and responsibility that must be respected.

6) The hint at the master/slave hermeneutic, the power dynamics that are the mode of the world versus the mutual love and service that are the fruit of the gospel in our midst.

RIP, kindred spirit. Thank you for your witness! Help us with your prayers!

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