Why priestly celibacy must continue in the Catholic Church
A uniquely Catholic institution that sets the church apart from all others
In recent times there has been an increasing number of challenges to the rule of mandatory celibacy for priests. This is understandable in a society that has become sexually permissive almost beyond belief. Nonetheless, celibacy lies at the heart of a priest’s identity and commitment.
Celibacy has an eminent spiritual dimension that greatly transcends the question of discipline. In an article published by L’Osservatore Romano, Stefan Heid, professor of Liturgy and Hagiography at the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology stated that “according to the judgment of the early Church, ecclesiastical celibacy has dogmatic relevance...When Jesus spoke of the eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven [for example] it was understood as perfect continence for all of the disciples, regardless of whether or not the Apostles were married.”
Celibacy has thus become a time honored tradition that has been embraced and guarded by the Catholic Church for centuries as a brilliant jewel.
The Second Vatican Council confirmed that the Christian priesthood can be understood only in the light of the newness of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff and eternal Priest, who instituted the priesthood of the ministry as a real participation in His own unique priesthood.
To share authentically in the ministerial priesthood of Christ means to devote one’s entire life to the faith while sharing with Christ his very condition of living. Indeed Jesus promised a more abundant recompense to anyone who should leave home, family, wife, and children for the sake of the Kingdom of God. (Luke 18: 29-30).
There is also ample evidence in the words of Jesus and St. Paul (Mt.19:12; Cor., 7, 7-8 and 32-35) for looking upon virginity as the higher call, and by inference, as the condition befitting those who are set apart for the work of the ministry.
Further, priestly celibacy is a way for the priest to become more united with Christ and his mission, in an anticipation of the world of the resurrection. In celibacy the priest is pulled forward toward the new and true life of the future for, as Jesus tells us: “When people rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but live like angels in heaven (Mt. 22:30).”
This, of course, creates a problem with the contemporary mind-set, which seeks to close off God. In the agnostic world, the world in which God does not enter, celibacy is a great scandal precisely because it demonstrates that God is considered and lived as a reality. Hence, The world's problem with celibacy is not really about sexuality, but about the priest's commitment to the call of a higher power.
Today, more than ever, the church needs martyrs for the faith. The celibate life, one that is lived in close union with the Lord, prepares one extremely well for the supreme sacrifice of one’s life if this is the path that the Lord leads his faithful disciple to follow.
Celibacy also enables a priest to engage more intensely in spiritual direction. Contrary to some critics it is not true that spiritual guidance for couples would be better if it were given by lay spouses. Such a guide always runs the risk of unconsciously reliving the experiences of his or her own marriage and of transforming his or her own emotions into actions through a psychological mechanism without reflection.
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