Priestly Celibacy
Christ's Gift to the World

Chapter 10: Why I Want Mandatory Celibacy to Continue

I hope with all my heart that the Church will continue mandatory celibacy for the priests of the Latin rite, but I'm not sure that I can explain to you why. There are secrets of the heart which the mind does not always comprehend, and which words cannot express adequately.

When Christ calls a person by name to follow Him specially, this is not a minor event in that person's life; nor is it a trifling matter for Christ, who does the calling. Christ prayed all night, consulting with the Father and the Spirit, before He called the twelve apostles by name (cf. Lk 6:12 ff.). Thus He initiated a new bond of friendship, sealed mutually:

You are my friends... I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not chose me, but I chose and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain (Jn 15:14,15-16).

How can a priest explain to others his newfound joy in the awareness of Christ's undying friendship? When lovers marry and consummate their union, something new happens in their lives whose experience they alone understand. Their love is an exclusive love; an enclosed garden protected from prying eyes. As the Song of Songs articulates conjugal love:

I am my beloved's,
and his desire is for me.
Come, my beloved,
let us go forth into the fields,
and lodge in the villages;
Let us go early to the vineyards,
and see whether the vines have budded ...(7:10-12).

Together the lovers take a new interest in life, discovering that the world is a delightful place to live in. Much the same is the experience of a priest, when he discovers Christ and follows His call to friendship, to union in the priesthood. He is a new man, has new energies, and discovers that life is very beautiful and rewarding. We read in the Gospel that the apostles dropped everything to follow Christ exclusively. With Him they walked through fields and highways, crossed the sea in boats, fed the 5000, worked miracles, preached repentance and the arrival of the Kingdom. Peter practically blew his mind when He saw Christ transformed on Mount Tabor, and suggested that they should settle down there forever.

We priests are privileged to share Christ's companionship deeply and closely. The community pays for our livelihood, frees us from the need to earn our daily bread, and allows us the luxury of time to meditate, to read Holy Scripture, to prepare our sermons, to learn from Christ all that the Father has told Him (cf. Jn 15:15). We dare to call Christ down to the altar daily, to renew His sacrifice for us and for the world; we ask Him to forgive the sins of the world, to lead our generation of pilgrims safely into heaven. We eat His body and drink His blood, as the Apostles did at the Last Supper, and ask Him to reveal His secrets to us.

Christ not only molds His priestly character into us by the seal or ordination; He also fills our souls with the ineffable joy and power of the Spirit whom He imparts to us from the Father. We not only walk and speak in His name, we feel His life throb in us through the companionship of His Spirit. Maybe we seem to be at odds with the world because we don't belong to it any more. Maybe some will say that we had too much to drink when we declare the wonders of the Lord with conviction. Peter tried to explain this extraordinary event on Pentecost Day:

These men are not drunk as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel:... I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:15-16,17).

Raised to a new mentality by this Spirit, the apostles brushed aside the objections of officialdom, saying "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Ever since then, Christ has been saving the world through His priests whom He accompanies as they teach, comfort, heal, baptize, nourish, forgive, anoint, join couples in marriage, and induce others to become priests like themselves.

400,000 celibate priests, whose lives are transformed by friendship with Christ, are everywhere cajoling believers to follow Christ and believe in Him. Everywhere priests settle in with the people, build another church or repair the present one, teach catechism, announce parish events, set up schools and parish institutions, carry on the total mission given to them by Christ. Why is it that there are 18,000 parishes in the United States, usually with a church enriched with art, often with a school, a social center, rooms for meetings, and a lively community, if not because a priest is there to be their agent of Christ? Why is it that there a billion Catholics in the world, and other billions who benefit from us, if not because priests are with us to mediate Christ? And why is it that priests are still venturing out into the whole world to make new converts, to teach and baptize, to begin the transformation of nations with the dynamic yeast of Christendom? The evident truth is that Christ lives truly in His priests.

Priests, having left behind their own families, are overwhelmed with much larger company: a hundredfold of "houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands" (Mk 10:30). African men may be born into a culture which favors polygamy, where a man without children is considered a waste; but today seminaries in many parts of Africa are bursting at the seams with men who aspire to the celibate priesthood. Father Emmanuel Obuna, who is engaged in the formation of priests in Nigeria, writes how celibacy breaks the pattern of selfishness:

The world needs and will always continue to need celibates -that is, men and women who are prepared to love completely and absolutely, ready to give up everything, asking for nothing in return, in the selfless service of God and their fellowmen. Were not some of the greatest figures of history men of such calibre?...

The world needs and will continue to need celibates as a constant reminder that there is a better world beyond this earthly one ... African Priests and Celibacy, pp. 42-43; Leberit Press, Rome, 1986).

It is always a family, a parish, a diocese, and the entire Church in which a vocation to the priesthood sprouts and matures. When these are holy and obedient to God's law, vocations tend to abound. I have made surveys among seminarians whom I taught in the USA and in Japan, and learned that most - but not all - come from large families, especially obedient to the commandments. Pope Pius XII saluted large families as "those most blessed by God and specially loved and prized by the Church" (Address, January 20, 1958). I am grateful to my family - we were ten children - my parents, our pastor, our parish, our bishop, and the Catholic Church for my vocation.

When I was ordained in 1946, our seminary was full; our Techny, Illinois compound housed 400 priests, brothers, seminarians, novices, aspirants. My sister took her first vows with a class of eighty new members in her Milwaukee convent. In the meantime vocations have taken a nose dive, both in the USA and here in Japan where I have spent most of my priestly life.

New ordinations to the priesthood in the world declined during 1972-1979, but their number rose steadily during 1980-1992. In 1993, the most recent year for which figures are given, there was a marked decline (cf. Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 22 March 1995). The number of priests in the USA in 1995 is 49,947, down by over 7,000 from 57,317 in 1985. Seminarians in 1995 totalled 5083, down from 11,028 in 1985. In the past year 522 were ordained to the priesthood (The Official Catholic Directory. The bright side is that are still so many new priests and seminarians; the dark side is the current decline.

Why the decline? My opinion is that too many Catholics avoid children, and by sinful ways; by contraception, abortion, and sterilization. "If you love me," said Christ, "keep my commandments." Maybe a new found obedience to Humanae VItae will solve the vocation problem more fully than recommendations of sociologists and psychiatrists, and clamors for an end to mandatory celibacy. May the Church in the USA and everywhere present to Christ obedience, prayer, and love - and many vocations to the priesthood and religious life!

One of the bright moments in my life was the time I showed the Pope a photo of an exquisitely beautiful mosaic of Mary, Star of the Sea. Father John Weipert, a golden jubilarian in Kariya, Japan, composed this large marble mosaic in the vestibule of his church. A tiny ship tosses precariously on the waves, but Mary steadies the ship from above. When the Pope viewed a photo of this masterpiece, he smiled a beautiful smile and said: "Yes, indeed! The Church would sink in the waves if Mary would not protect her." To her, then, we commend the Church during these stormy days; and to her we commend especially the priests and seminarians who aspire to love the Church with their chaste lives.

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