Over the weekend, I got into a discussion with a friend about the priesthood and celibacy that went something like this:
Is it possible and appropriate nowadays to observe such an obligation? Has the time not come to break the bond linking celibacy with the priesthood in the Church? Could the difficult observance of it not be made optional? Would this not be a way to help the priestly ministry and facilitate ecumenical approaches? And if the golden law of sacred celibacy is to remain, what reasons are there to show that it is holy and fitting?
I say “something like this” because I’ve just quoted the exact questions which the encyclical The Celibacy of the Priest sought to answer…in 1967! I was surprised as I was reading the first few paragraphs, because more than forty years later it sounded as if it were written yesterday.
In light of recent scandals, plenty of opinions about the priestly obligation to “perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Canon 277 §1) have been featured on the news, yet the disagreements are rather old and worn. Can we disagree with the fact that Christ lived celibately? “Like Christ Himself, His minister is wholly and solely intent on the things of God and the Church, and he imitates the great High priest who lives ever in the presence of God in order to intercede in our favor.” (28, The Celibacy of the Priest)
The encyclical answers each of the disagreements in a orderly fashion to reveal the truth and beauty of the gift of celibacy. If you have questions about priestly celibacy or have friends that are asking about it, I highly recommend that you read it.
With the many distractions, temptations, and seductions faced by priests in our culture today, let’s continue to pray that they nurture their gift of celibacy.
St. John Vianney, pray for us and our priests! (Feast Day: August 4th)
One Reply to “The Priesthood and Celibacy”
I think the best explanation for celibacy came from St. Paul himself:
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided…I am saying this for your own good, **not to restrict** you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Celibacy frees the priest and allows a single-minded service of God. In the years I worked in the hospital ministry at our church I noted how much more available the Catholic Priests were in comparison to denominations where the majority of ministers were married. You could get hold of a Catholic Priest twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He could be disturbed from his sleep and called into the hospital at 2am to anoint a dying patient without fear of waking a wife or family.
“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” – James 5:14
Not forgetting, of course, that there actually *are* married priests within the Catholic Church: priests who belong to the Eastern Rite (I think about 20% of all priests) and also those married ministers who have converted to Catholicism and wish to become a Catholic priest (an allowance that was introduced in 1980).
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