Priestly Celibacy

We live in a sexualized culture. This is hardly news to anyone with a television, a DVD player, or access to the internet. Images of sexuality, in all its’ forms and expressions, are constantly before us. And yet, as Christians, we are called to lead lives of chastity. Single people are commanded to remain celibate. Married couples express chastity as the total committment to their spouse, in body, mind, and spirit. A sacramental marriage encompasses sexuality in all the fullness and self-giving of a shared love which is open to the gift of new life.

 Living a chaste life in our modern world is a strong expression of our faith in Christ. In the Roman Catholic Church, men who are called to the priesthood promise to remain unmarried and to live, as all single persons should, a life of celibacy. This is not a doctrine or dogma of our faith, but has been a traditional practice since the early Middle Ages. There are exceptions to this tradition, including the many Catholic priests outside the Latin Rite who are married men.

 Jesus Christ never married. Among His Apostles, He called both single and married men to serve Him and found His Church. Jesus tells us that some men renounce marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God. “Whoever can accept this ought to accept it” (Matthew 19:11-12). Christ saw the celibate life as a special and privileged calling, one for which not all men are suited, but one that gives glory to His Kingdom. St. Paul certainly supports the celibate life as a calling from God when he writes his first letter to the church at Corinth. Some early Church Fathers wrote in support of a celibate priesthood, including St. Cyril, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine.

A priest gives himself completely in service of the people of God. Pastors serve as “Father” to their flocks, shepherding and guiding them throughout all of life’s joys and sorrows. The priest is the representative of Christ. In this respect, a priest understands his identity by following the example of Jesus, who lived His life in perfect chastity and obedience. The priesthood is a holy calling, something set apart from the rest of the world. Just as Christ gave His life for His Bride, the Church, so too does every priest offer up his own life for the good of Christ’s people.

 Most Catholics do marry, and all Catholics venerate marriage as a Holy Sacrament, an action of God’s grace in our souls. It is precisely the holiness of marriage that makes celibacy so precious, for only what is good and holy in itself can be given up for God as a sacrifice. In a poor comparison, just as fasting presupposes the goodness of food, celibacy presupposes the goodness of marriage.

 “The priest is called to be the living image of Jesus Christ; the spouse of the Church” (Pope John Paul II). His celibacy is a radical act of love freely given, in total committment to the Saviour of the world. His life, like that of Christ, goes against the culture of the day. Our priests are examples to us of a life poured out in service. Over the centuries, these men have brought billions of people to Jesus Christ. Through their service, they established the largest charitable organization on the face of the earth: The Catholic Church. They compiled the books of the Bible. Priests established the world’s first legal system in the Code of Canon Law, which is still in use today. We owe the college and university system of education to the work of faithful priests. The world’s first hospitals and medical centers were founded by priests and brothers of the Catholic Church. Priests work as missionaries in every country on the planet and thousands of them have been martyred for their faith. From the lions of the Roman Coliseum, to the despots of communist China, and the terrorist-murderers of Iraq, these faithful priests continue today to fearlessly lose their lives in sacrifice for Him. And they baptize our babies, hear our confessions, bury our loved ones and bring us Christ Himself at every Mass every day around the world. The history of the Catholic Church has, in large part, been the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the lives of His priests and the flocks they serve. As Catholics, we celebrate the dedicated men who answer God’s call to His priesthood and who offer everything they have to His glory.

“Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart, celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.” –Paragrah 1579, The Catechism of the Catholic Church
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