On Priestly Celibacy

Tonight, allow me to share to you a thought on carrying one’s cross. Today’s Gospel talks about giving up everything in order to follow Jesus. How do we best live up to the standards of Christianity in our own ways?

Father Roy Cimagala, chaplain of CITE in Talamban, Cebu City, shares to us on his Facebook notes page the joys of priestly celibacy. In this way, may we reflect on how we as Christians love the sweet load that is given to us as much as priests like Father Roy try to live out to the standards imposed by Jesus himself, especially in the context of today’s gospel readings.

     I KNOW I am treading on dangerous water here. But I feel the issue has to be aired somehow. Priestly celibacy just cannot be marginalized, especially now when it is vastly misunderstood and a persistent wave of misconceptions continues to assail it.

    There are those who think that priestly celibacy is just an ecclesiastical law meant perhaps to serve some practical purposes in the life of the priest and of the Church.

    For sure, there is a good amount of practicality in a priest leading a celibate life. For one, it would make his life simpler, largely undisturbed by domestic concerns. The priest’s heart, time and attention could get more focused, more undivided for God and others if he is celibate.

    The Church leaders, bishops in particular, who are supposed to take care of their priests even financially, need not worry about having to support the families of these priests. The Church can run more smoothly with celibate priests.

    But there are those who also think that a priest can manage to work properly and even to be holy without being celibate. Proof of this, they say, is the growing number of married people who are also very active in Church affairs and thus are practically working like priests themselves.

    Some even say that these lay people can be more dynamic and effective than some priests. So, why can’t priests be considered like them? Or at least, why not make priestly celibacy optional? For those who want it, fine. But please don’t impose it on everyone!

    They claim that priests are also men and that they have certain needs that cannot be met in a celibate life. To rub it in, they say that many priests are actually not leading continent or chaste life. Ok, the point is made. Pertinent pieces of evidence are aplenty. So let’s stop there.

    We can actually go on and on with the pros and cons of priestly celibacy. I imagine that arguments, examples and statistics to support both sides will never be lacking. But I think we would be missing the point if we frame this issue within the parameters of practicality, human needs and ecclesiastical law alone.

    The law on priestly celibacy is not just about practicality. It has a deeper reason. And ultimately it rests on the truth that priests are conformed to Christ as head of the Church. They act “in persona Christi,” and as such, they are expected to live like Christ in his full status as the Son of God who became man to redeem mankind.

    Priests are the sacramental image of Christ wherever they are, 24/7. While their priesthood is most lived when they renew the sacrifice of Christ’s on the cross in the Holy Mass, they continue to be “in persona Christi” even in their sports, shopping and sleep.

    Priestly celibacy is actually an intrinsic requirement of priesthood, because Christ himself, on whom priests are conformed sacramentally and ontologically, that is, affecting one’s being, was/is celibate, his will fully engaged with the will of his Father.

    Recent studies show that while the law on priestly celibacy was first recorded in the 4th century, it must already have been required and lived during the time of the apostles. In short, the apostles must have understood their priesthood to involve celibacy.

    Proof of this can be gleaned from that gospel passage where Peter who, like many of the apostles, was married, told our Lord that he has left everything behind to follow Christ. (cfr Mk 10,28ff.)

    “Behold, we have left all things, and have followed you,” Peter said. And Jesus answered: “Amen, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who shall not receive a hundred times as much, now in this time, houses and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands with persecutions, and in the world to come life everlasting.”

    And so, it is quite clear that during the time of the apostles, those apostles who were married understood that once they were ordained, they had to let go of their conjugal relations, of course in a voluntary way between the spouses.

    This mindset is reflected in all the historically recorded laws about priestly life and celibacy in the Western Church. The Eastern Church followed a more tortuous path but somehow also upheld priestly celibacy. Those laws were precisely made to protect, not impose, this intrinsic requirement of celibacy in priesthood.

Sweet the load of the priesthood. Alleluia.


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