Priestly Celibacy
Christ's Gift to the World

Chapter 3: Priests - Sons of the Resurrection

When the Sadducees came to Christ, and with tongue in cheek, asked which of the seven brothers who had married the same woman would claim her after the resurrection, Christ charged them with ignorance about things in the next world.

Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Lk 20:34-36; RSV, Catholic Edition).

Pope John Paul II gave an insightful explanation sons of the resurrection don't marry, in a series of Wednesday Addresses, November 11, 1981 to July 14, 1982 (see The Theology of Marriage and Celibacy Daughters of St. Paul).

The eschatological situation in which "they neither marry nor are given in marriage" has its solid foundation in the future state of the personal subject, when, as a result of the vision of God "face to face," there will be born in him a love of such depth and power of concentration on God Himself, as to completely absorb his whole psychosomatic subjectivity (Ibid. 35; Address of December 16, 1981).

In a real sense, Christ takes His priest with Him to heaven and makes him already a son of the resurrection. For the man who lives in persona Christi lives not as Christ once lived in mortal life walking the plains of Galilee, nor as Christ dying on the cross, or as buried in the tomb; he lives the Persona of the present and living Christ, the One who is risen from the dead, who is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

The priest, already living in eschaton, seated permanently with Christ at the right hand of the Father, has no need, no suitableness for marriage; he is already a son of the resurrection, being caught up by Christ to be seated at the right hand of the Father. The priest already experiences this glory in himself incohatively, seeing his new dignity in a mirror in a dark manner, awaiting its full revelation in the next life. His new self-image takes over his entire lifestyle, dominates his thoughts and actions and his ministry, and becomes a beacon light to show the way to the resurrection to the entire Church militant.

"Is celibacy relevant?" asks Archbishop (now Cardinal) William H. Keeler, who is Archbishop of Baltimore and president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. As relevant today as ever, he responds, and perhaps even more so because of overwhelming secularist influence:

In a society where all the gospel values of marriage, family life, and sexuality are flaunted, and where countless individuals and families along with society itself, suffer grave harm as a result, the witness of fidelity given by celibacy and chastity are enormously important values (The Priest, January 1994, pp. 38-40).

Keeler's insight that priests, by their celibate life, are witnesses of deep meanings in marriage and sexuality, may not be evident immediately. Why should a refusal to marry and to procreate be a sign of their sacred values? The answer is that when we sacrifice something precious to God in response to His call, we demonstrate an appreciation of its worth.

God tested Abraham by challenging him to sacrifice his son Isaac whom he loved most dearly: "Take your son, Isaac, whom you love ... and sacrifice him as a burnt offering" (Gen 22:2). Abraham remembered that the Lord had promised him offspring through Isaac. How then was God to keep His promise if Isaac is sacrificed? Hebrews reveals Abraham's inner thoughts: God is able to bring Isaac back to life, to raise him from the dead (cf. Heb 11:19). Abraham, our father in faith, believed that God would absolutely keep the promise He had made, despite all present appearances to the contrary.

And so too the priest: he sacrifices what is very dear to him when God asks him to do so, believing that to follow God's invitation to the celibate life will not prove a disappointment. God will restore to him what he sacrifices: in this life a hundred fold, and eternal life in the next. God shows His love to the priest by calling him to make a great sacrifice, and so to witness that he walks in absolute faith.

Vocation vs Sanctity

But you say: "If Christ calls priests to come apart from the crowd, and to be specially holy like Abraham, then Christ must regard married believers to be second class members of His Church." Right?

Wrong! Christ calls all alike to be holy in the Mystical Body, and assigns different duties to individual members. As the philosopher Pope John Paul II said, both marriage and continency have a complimentary meaning, both being practiced for the Kingdom of Heaven (April 14, 1982, see the Pope Speaks 1982, 229). By BEING what Christ calls us to BE, we become holy in that specific vocation. Let the priest be celibate, since that is how God calls him to be. Let the married person be married, since that is also God's call to him and to her. Let the single lay person likewise live a holy vocation, whether consecrated to God by vows, or whether flowering with grace without vows. St. Paul gave sane advice to the Christians at Rome in this respect:

In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully (Rom 12:5-8).

The priest ordained to the ministry should not be conceited, but should know that he, with his gift from Christ, belongs to all the others. The lay person, called by Christ to be a royal priest in a specific lay vocation, should know how to live to the praise of that glorious grace of Christ given to him or to her (see Eph 1:6). The vocation to the ministerial priesthood, then, like the vocation of each member of the Mystical Body, belongs to all of us, to all members of that same mystical organism whose Head is Christ. As Pope John Paul II said,

Jesus did not demand this radical renunciation of family life from all his disciples, although he did require the first place in their hearts, when he said: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Mt 10:27). The demand for practical renunciation is proper to the apostolic life or the life of special consecration (General Audience 17 July, 1993).

The vocation to the celibate life, then, is not given to all. But the SIGN given by this life of renunciation is a gift of signification intended for the benefit of all.

Reason One For Celibacy: "Do You Love Me More Than These?"

Pope John Paul II in his address of 17 July 1993, states that the first reason for priestly celibacy is that it fosters exclusive love for Christ. That is, "a more complete adherence to Christ, loved and served with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-33)."

And so we should not be surprised that Christ selected an inner circle of apostles with whom He lived for three years, detached as they were from family life, and attached only to Himself. During these three years the apostles were not distracted by the needs of children and of a wife. They were exempted from the duty of conjugal affection, and of being breadwinners for a family. The apostles were full time employees of Christ, and He wanted their complete loyalty and affection as well. Had they lived as family men, their hearts would have been less centered on Christ alone, more taken up with the family affections and family cares.

The apostles were being trained now for what was coming for them in the future. They would be sent into the whole world, without regard for homelife, to make disciples of all nations. They would give their lives for Christ in martyrdom, without compunctions about leaving a family behind destitute of a father, husband, and breadwinner.

Of Peter Christ asked a greater love for Himself than for his companion apostles. If he had to make a choice, Christ must be his number one: "Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" (Jn 21:15). Peter, now being named as Pope, had to agree to be a reliable individual, without need of psychic support even of the apostles if need be. He must be Peter the Rock, the final reference of doctrine and discipline, even should the other apostles fail. He must strengthen them with that power which Christ gives to him specially. Christ told Peter how to tap that source of extraordinary strength: "Do you love me?" Love will be Peter's strength. Christ was speaking to a celibate Peter, living now without wife and children, living even separately now from the other apostles, from whom Jesus had withdrawn Peter for this special lesson in love. Three times Peter responded that he loves Christ, and with that Christ rested His case.

And of every priest Christ asks the telling question: "Father Pastor, do you love me more than anyone else on this earth?" And the priest, aware of his celibate consecration, answers with Peter, "Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you." Christ's first reason for choosing a celibate priesthood, then, is His desire to have the full attention and full love of that priest. Priests are the great prize of Christ, the first reward for His redemptive work. To Mary, Christ gave the preventive grace of the Immaculate Conception, as the first fruits of His efforts. To the priest Christ gives the special grace to "Love me more than these" by living the celibate life for Jesus alone.

Next Page: Chapter 4: The Celibate Priest Is At Your Service
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