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Q & A with Father Anthony



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If chastity was not required in the Bible, why is it required now?

Augustin asks:

Dear Fr Anthony,

If chastity was not required in the Holy Bible, why is it required now? Do you think St. Paul or Jesus were wrong when they allowed marriage in these cases?

Dear Augustin,

There are some facts that we need to set straight before answering your question. This will, I hope, avoid confusion.

- The Catholic Church does not teach that married priests are going against what Christ taught. The Catholic Church does not think that married priests are a bad thing, and the Church has recently accepted former Anglican clergy into the priesthood, even though they are married.

- As you know, the Catholic Church has different rites. There are approximately 15 different rites in the Catholic Church. The Latin rite is the largest. The Latin rite has prescribed that all Latin rite priests make a promise of total commitment to perfect celibacy. They are not to be married. Other rites within the Catholic Church permit priests to be married.

Now, to your question. Your question was why, if the Bible doesn't prohibit married priests, would the Catholic want to prohibit them. Well, the answer, from what you see above is that the Church does not prohibit married priests outright.

The Latin rite does require that priests remain celibate throughout their lives. The reason for this is not because a married priesthood is somehow evil or wrong. But it is a choice, a decision, that is as old as the Church herself, and for a very deep and good reason. Indeed, the decision for priestly celibacy comes from the example of Christ himself.

The priest, as you know, is by the grace of ordination configured to Christ. He is another Christ, and has received special power from Our Lord to watch over, nourish, direct and guide the Church. Now Christ himself was celibate. He never got married. The Latin rite priest follows this example of the perfect love of Christ, who gave himself totally and exclusively to the service of God the Father and to redeeming us. The life of Christ was a total gift to the Glory of God the Father and the Redemption of us men and women. The Latin rite priest is called by Christ to follow in the very same footsteps, and live the totality of the gift of his person to the Father, so as to help many men and women reach heaven.

The Church sees celibacy as a gift, and that is how the vast majority of priests have always seen and will continue to see celibacy. It is a gift from heaven. Our Lord says that some of his followers would be called to lives of perfect chastity. This, he says, is only for those who are called. "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." Matthew 19:12

Those then, who are called to the priesthood in the Latin rite, have received the gift to be celibate.

St. Paul: I suggest you read 1 Corinthians 7 where he teaches that marriage is a good thing, but not to get married (to be celibate) is better. He bases this on his own experience: "About people remaining virgin, I have no directions from the Lord, but I give my own opinion as a person who has been granted the Lord's mercy to be faithful." 1 Corinthians 7:25

This what Pope John Paul II and the Bishops of the Catholic Church wrote on the topic in a document called “Pastores Dabo Vobis”: "It is especially important that the priest understand the theological motivation of the Church's law on celibacy. Inasmuch as it is a law, it expresses the Church's will, even before the will of the subject expressed by his readiness. But the will of the Church finds its ultimate motivation in the link between celibacy and sacred ordination, which configures the priest to Jesus Christ, the head and spouse of the Church. The Church, as the spouse of Jesus Christ, wishes to be loved by the priest in the total and exclusive manner in which Jesus Christ her head and spouse loved her. Priestly celibacy, then, is the gift of self in and with Christ to his Church and expresses the priest's service to the Church in and with the Lord.

For an adequate priestly spiritual life, celibacy ought not to be considered and lived as an isolated or purely negative element, but as one aspect of the positive, specific and characteristic approach to being a priest. Leaving father and mother, the priest follows Jesus the good shepherd in an apostolic communion, in the service of the People of God. Celibacy, then, is to be welcomed and continually renewed with a free and loving decision as a priceless gift from God, as an "incentive to pastoral charity" as a singular sharing in God's fatherhood and in the fruitfulness of the Church, and as a witness to the world of the eschatological kingdom. To put into practice all the moral, pastoral and spiritual demands of priestly celibacy it is absolutely necessary that the priest pray humbly and trustingly, as the Vatican Council points out: "In the world today, many people call perfect continence impossible. The more they do so, the more humbly and perseveringly priests should join with the Church in praying for the grace of fidelity. It is never denied to those who ask. At the same time let priests make use of all the supernatural and natural helps which are now available to all." Once again it is prayer, together with the Church's sacraments and ascetical practice, which will provide hope in difficulties, forgiveness in failings, and confidence and courage in resuming the journey."

Again, Pope John Paul writes in his Letter to Priests in 1995:

"The Apostle Paul, who lived a celibate life, writes in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each one has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another" (7:7). For him there is no doubt: marriage and celibacy are both gifts of God, to be protected and fostered with great care. While emphasizing the superiority of virginity, he does not in any way diminish the value of marriage. Each has its own specific charism; each of them is a vocation which individuals, with the help of God's grace, must learn to discern in their own lives."
Pope Paul VI wrote in his Encyclical on priestly celibacy:

"22. Jesus, who selected the first ministers of salvation, wished them to be introduced to the understanding of the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven," but He also wished them to be coworkers with God under a very special title, and His ambassadors. He called them friends and brethren, for whom He consecrated Himself so that they might be consecrated in truth; He promised a more than abundant recompense to anyone who should leave home, family, wife and children for the sake of the kingdom of God. More than this, in words filled with mystery and hope, He also commended an even more perfect consecration to the kingdom of heaven by means of celibacy, as a special gift. The motive of this response to the divine call is the kingdom of heaven; similarly, this very kingdom, the Gospel and the name of Christ motivate those called by Jesus to undertake the work of the apostolate, freely accepting its burdens, that they may participate the more closely in His lot.

23. To them this is the mystery of the newness of Christ, of all that He is and stands for; it is the sum of the highest ideals of the Gospel and of the kingdom; it is a particular manifestation of grace, which springs from the Paschal mystery of the Savior. This is what makes the choice of celibacy desirable and worthwhile to those called by our Lord Jesus. Thus they intend not only to participate in His priestly office, but also to share with Him His very condition of living."

So you see Augustin, celibacy is a gift from God. Any man called to the priesthood in the Latin rite has received the magnificent gift of celibacy. He has done nothing to earn it. He has been chosen, and this gift has been given to him. He will be able to be faithful like St. Paul, and like him he will give his life joyfully and unconditionally to the salvation of his brothers and sisters in Christ for the greater Glory of God the Father. He is not deprived; he is filled with the joy of Christ. His life is realized, it is complete and whole in Jesus Christ. He knows he has received a precious and great gift, and he has committed himself to being faithful.

Please pray that all priests be faithful to the call that God has made to them to live in perfect chastity.

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