In Today’s Gospel, we hear the challenging words of Jesus regarding marriage and divorce. After being asked by his disciples why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus replied: Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.
To this response, his disciples respond again: then it is better not to marry.
I realize at this point, you are thinking, why is the title of this blog entry about celibacy? I’m sure some day I’ll address the first part of this dialogue of Jesus regarding the sanctity of marriage and the seriousness of divorce. However, today, my thoughts are more on the later part of this dialogue.
Jesus’ response to the thought it is better not to marry. Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it. (See Matthew 19:3-12)
This teaching of Jesus has been one of the central understandings of the Church in the traditional expectation that priests live a life of celibacy. It is important for the People of God to know that this requirement comes not only from this teaching of Jesus, but perhaps even more importantly, from the life of Jesus.
A priest is called to imitate the life of Jesus; to conform his life as closely to Jesus as possible, and celibacy is one significant conformation to the life of Christ. Some in the Church today feel this is an ancient practice, and is no longer beneficial to the Church, indeed, is an unrealistic expectation in today’s culture.
I believe our Holy Father, Pope Benedict addressed this beautifully in his teaching, The Sacrament of Charity; Sacramentum Caritatis #24:
“This choice [of celibacy] on the part of the priest expresses in a special way the dedication which conforms him to Christ and his exclusive offering of himself for the Kingdom of God. The fact that Christ himself, The eternal priest, lived his mission even to the sacrifice of the Cross in the state of virginity constitutes the sure point of reference for understanding the meaning of the tradition of the Latin Church. It is not sufficient to understand priestly celibacy in purely functional terms. Celibacy is really a special way of conforming oneself to Christ’s own way of life. This choice has first and foremost a nuptial meaning; it is a profound identification with the heart of Christ the Bridegroom who gives his life for his Bride. … I reaffirm the beauty and the importance of a priestly life lived in celibacy as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Kingdom of God…Priestly celibacy lived with maturity, joy and dedication is an immense blessing for the Church and for society itself.
I’d like to invite all of us to pray for a number things with this teaching and practice of the church in our hearts and on our minds:
- Pray for your priests (and all religious and consecrated virgins) who seek to live this close conformity to Christ through celibacy.
- Pray for married couples that they may continue to grow in their chaste love and fidelity.
- Pray for our single people who seek to live a sacred, single life.
- Pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
- Pray for the conversion of our highly sexualized culture.
Finally, I ask that all of us take an active role in promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. If you know someone who has the qualities you want to see in your next generation of priests, talk to them. Tell them specifically why you think they may be called to priesthood and / or religious life.
If you are thinking of priesthood, and are a member of this diocese and do not know who to talk to, please speak with your pastor or contact our Vocation Director, Fr. Bill Hill. You can always contact me as well through the comment section of this blog. As always, Church, know of my love and admiration for your efforts to lead lives that are holy and pleasing to God!