On priestly celibacy

On priestly celibacy

THE other day, the Cebu clergy held their monthly afternoon of recollection with priestly celibacy as the theme for consideration and reflection. This topic, of course, is part of the line-up meant for this Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons.

While the speaker gave a very thorough and also very humorous treatment of the topic, what struck me first was that the main approach sounded more like priestly celibacy as a burden rather than a gift of God.

I have always believed that priestly celibacy is first of all a gift—in fact, a great gift and treasure—in the life of the persons involved and of the Church in general. It should make priests more happy and welcoming rather than worried and hesitant.

And that’s simply because priestly celibacy conforms one to Christ as head of the Church in a more intense way. With celibacy, a priest like Christ can be more available to the people in their spiritual and moral needs.

Besides, priestly celibacy holds the so-called eschatological meaning of reminding everyone here on earth that in our definitive state of life in heaven, all of us will be celibate.

And that’s because Christ clarified in that gospel episode where he was asked whose wife a woman was who got married to seven brothers, that in the resurrection on the last day and in heaven we will be like angels. (cfr Lk 20,27-40)

In other words, in heaven our resurrected body will be completely spiritualized, like that of Christ after his resurrection.

There will be no need for any carnal or marital activity since the population there will be fixed. There will be no more births nor deaths. That is why priests and consecrated persons have to dress up and behave in such a way as to give some kind of public witness to this truth of our faith.

How I wished this aspect of the reason for priestly celibacy had been more highlighted!

I believe the problem was because the main approach to the theme was that of priestly celibacy as an ecclesiastical requirement rather than a gift and treasure. It gave more focus on the frailties of men rather than on the grace and mercy of God and the beauty of celibacy itself.

Of course, it cannot be denied that priestly celibacy would require nothing less than heroic efforts from those who are obliged to live it. Given our weaknesses, not to mention the growing temptations around, we cannot exaggerate the need for this kind of efforts that should correspond as faithfully as possible to God’s abundant grace.

Without detracting from the more fundamental truth that priestly celibacy is a divine gift, we should be realistic enough about the grave duties and responsibilities we priests and consecrated persons have in living that gift.

That is why the need for a life of genuine prayer and sacrifice, of vigilance and spiritual struggle, of developing the appropriate virtues and skills, cannot be overemphasized. There’s no way one can live priestly celibacy if these means are not taken up seriously.

In a recent statement, Pope Francis confessed that he had been talking to victims of clerical sex abuse and that he considered this scandal of erring clerics as the “greatest desolation that the Church is undergoing.” He also said that the scandal expresses both the Church’s fragility as well as its level of hypocrisy.

Those are truly strong words that should stir up in all those concerned the need to get very serious in loving God and others more and more, because only with that love can one truly live priestly celibacy. Only with that love will one continually wage war against his human frailty and the many temptations and sins around.