Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The joy of priestly celibacy

We have had many bloggers commenting recently about celibacy for priests, and I appreciate them all. When we dive into the topic of priestly celibacy, we need to keep in mind that this is not a doctrine of the Church; it is a discipline. Doctrine cannot change because it is the Truth as revealed by God. Disciplines can change; celibacy was not a requirement for Roman Catholic priests until about the 11th century. Guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the Church deemed that celibacy was necessary for Her priests to live as "other Christs" in the world.

Now, people can look at the lower number of priests today and point to the celibacy requirement as the main reason. I'm sure there are many men who say they would be priests if celibacy was not a requirement; I have worked with dozens of them over the years, from teenagers to young adults. So, it would seem that there is a large amount of laborers ready to work in the vineyard, if only the rules for being a laborer would change.

I take a different view. I have thought for many years now that if Catholic priests could get married, I wouldn't want to be a priest. I have been very attracted to the Church's discipline of priestly celibacy since I was in my early twenties. Why? Because it calls for a 100% commitment. The celibate priest is called to give himself completely to God's people. In this way, he imitates Christ (who himself was celibate). "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

People are correct when they say that celibacy is not natural; it is a supernatural gift. God calls some men to the life of priestly celibacy and gives them the Grace to live it out. The man who lives as a celibate priest in God's Grace is a man who has found his fulfillment and joy in life. He is truly satisfied in giving his life to the Church, the people of God. He is at peace, knowing that his sacrifices (of marriage, family, career, etc.) represent the greatest love of "laying down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:13).

Someone wrote about my own struggles with answering the call to priestly celibacy. Yes, it did take me many years to fully understand and appreciate that celibacy is a gift, and that God is offering it to me. But, since that epiphany, my heart has grown in peace and joy every single day. I cannot describe how happy I am to be a celibate priest! Marriage would have been great; but, priesthood fulfills me. On top of that, I get to spend all of my time, efforts, and energy doing what I love: serving God and His people....

(to be continued)

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