We have heard a lot about priestly celibacy lately, and the question of whether it should be. Clerical celibacy is an established institution in the Roman Catholic Church that has lasted for many centuries; therefore the suggestion to do away with it is not something to be taken lightly. We are speaking now of the Latin rite of the Church. There are Roman Catholic rites in which priests are allowed to marry. However, it is not so easy to switch from one rite to another; one must generally stay within the rite to which they were born. Hence, a priest or seminarian cannot simply switch rites if he somehow has the urge to marry. The Orthodox also, allow priests to marry, but not their bishops. An Orthodox priest can only be made a bishop in that church if he is not married. However, although we have some ties with them, Orthodox are not Roman Catholics and so this would not be an acceptable route to take for a Roman Catholic priest wishing to marry.
Since I am a layman I cannot speak of priestly celibacy from firsthand experience. However, I have been a celibate layman these long years, to this very day, and so I think I can speak a little on celibacy generally. The celibate life has several rewards and advantages for the Roman Catholic. The big reward is just what Saint Paul tells us: that the unmarried man has more time for God. When married, a man seeks to please his wife. He must worry about his budget and children and job. He has more than his own person depending on him. However, the single man has a little more freedom usually. Yes, it may be that he has parents or even siblings that depend on him, but this is often not as great a dependency as a wife and children would be. Consequently he can choose more freely his job, his locale to live, and what to do with his spare time. The godly man will choose these things wisely, with maximum efficiency to live his devotion to God. Constantly on his mind will be God, how to please Him, and how to worship Him and pray to Him in his everyday life. If the single man fails in his secular undertakings, it is usually of no great consequence because God is not so interested in our humanly success except perhaps as it pertains to using our talents to win converts to Christ.
And winning converts to Christ is what we must all do. This might sound trite in modern times because we normally think of most all those in our immediate sphere of influence as having been converted. Customarily, Roman Catholics tend to congregate with other Roman Catholics. They are in our families usually, at our job, certainly at our parish church! Or are they? 'Winning souls to Christ' - and I borrow this phrase from the Protestants because their basic concept is correct, though not the means, is an ongoing process that is never completed. In fact we must win our own souls to Christ every day! We must, as Saint Paul tells us, work out our salvation with fear, trembling, and a good measure of modesty and humility.
No, I'm sorry to say dear friends, we cannot be fully assured that Aunt Tilly is in Heaven just because some family member or funeral coordinator says it's so. Neither can we be assured of our own salvation, despite what the Protestants say about 'accepting Jesus Christ as our personal lord and savior'. We will know at the Judgement Day what is our fate, whether good or bad, and so I think it would be wise to continually work on the act of converting our hearts and minds, and those of the people around us as much as we can, to Christ. We have even the example of soon-to-be Saint Padre Pio, who when he knew it was his time to leave this earth, he was still apprehensive about it although he had led a good life. For your information, even the greatest saints who ever lived will cower before the Mighty and just Judge.
One opportunity to win Heaven comes when we can devote most or all of our time to God. The celibate priest has such an opportunity. His whole life can be spent on matters pertaining to the salvation of souls. Whether he is hearing confessions for eight hours a day or whether he works in a soup kitchen, in his vocation and authority as priest, he has the opportunity to influence those around him for the better in ways that a layman cannot.
This, dear friends, is one reason why it is so important for priests of God to wear clerical garments at all times: how else can people give the priest the honor and respect due him, as though Christ Himself were present before them, unless they are reminded of who he is?
The priest who spends his waking moments steering the ignorant in the right direction, counseling the wayward, exhorting the good and holy to further heights of godliness, and defending the faith is highly esteemed in the eyes of God and His Heavenly court. Such a priest has done as God has asked, and no man in his right mind, whether bishop or fellow priest or layman or secularist, can have anything bad to say. That priest will be duly blessed by God above both in this life and the next, because from his priestly powers will spring forth new life, that is, spiritual life where once there was only desolation or lethargy.
The good priest may or may not be honored by man, but by humility he will not care, because he only seeks to do the will of the Father in Heaven, as our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the high priest, did when He walked the earth, as He has always, and ever will. He who was, and is, and is to come, Who never fails us, is assuredly just what the good priest should be: one who does not fail to go about doing good and keeping the holy precepts of God, that is, as much as is humanly possible by the grace we ask for and the merits God attributes to us.
The Church has spoken of homosexuality as an orientation, and one to be treated with respect in the sense of loving the sinner, while hating the sin. This is not the same as sodomy, which is the act of a sexually active homosexual. We know that sodomy is, after all, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, crying out to Heaven for vengeance. And we can see why: in Lot's day the Sodomites were so bold that they even lusted after the angels brought down from Heaven. And God put an end to it by pouring burning sulfur over those sodomites, which they are encrusted in to this very day. And to those who are merely curious about sodomy and high living, remember Lot's wife! She was turned into a pillar and salt for looking back toward those towns. But the homosexually-oriented person who lives a chaste life is good in God's eyes, so says the Church, and we must in no ways chastise him, but rather, give him the respect that is due all brothers of Jesus. And who knows what good the chaste one might do for the Church by his example and total abstinence from sex, not the least of which is to turn some of the sodomites, and fornicators as well, back to right living and salvation.
When a priest lives a chaste life, it is a great model both to married and unmarried lay persons, as well as to fellow clerics. He is a model to married persons to remain in their state, in parallel to the priest himself, who is married and faithful to the Church. He is a model to single people to live the chaste life, so ridiculed in this day and age but so necessary for the health of the Roman Catholic religion and indeed for our very salvation. He is a model to other priests, the few who might have strayed, to get back on the right course, and to those living the straight and narrow, to maintain it at all costs so as to please the Almighty and build up the City of God.
The moral authority of the Church and her priests comes from the very truth that it was founded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But some of the temporal power surely comes from the fact that her priests are celibate, which seems so unnatural to secularists who have on their minds only humanism and how to build a better world and a paradise on earth. The minds of these secularists cannot comprehend, they cannot understand, how anyone could forego some temporal pleasure, in the form of sexual relations, when our lives here on earth are very short. On the one hand they wonder if the celibate person is half crazy and on the other they wonder if maybe there might be something to it. The priest who lives a right life testifies that there is indeed something to it, and he testifies against all who live for carnal pleasure. The unfaithful priest, particularly the habitually unfaithful, however, does much damage to the Church and allows the secularists to gleefully accuse the body of Christ, as does satan himself.
There are, however, some at least ostensibly good priests who believe that clerics of the Latin rite of the Church should be able to marry. I can tell you first a little about my mother's cousin who is a diocesan priest. Ordained in 1968, let me say first of all that I think he is a competent priest and adheres to all his priestly promises. He presided recently over the 50th wedding anniversary celebration for another cousin and her spouse, and did all things pertaining to this in a very distinguished and priestly manner. For one thing he greatly honored the couple who were married 50 years. He also wore conservative clerical garb. When one second cousin asked Father if he would like to dance, he politely refused, which of course suits the dignity of his office. I know also that He is concerned about his flock and their well-being. However, speaking privately with this same priest cousin, he told me that he admires all of the Vatican II radical reformers from Anibale Bugnini to Teilhard de Chardin. He would like it if priests were allowed to marry. Furthermore, when we spoke of Catholic dogma and doctrine, and I brought up some pronouncements of Pope Leo XIII's, he told me 'That was 100 years ago.' This priest cousin questions the Church even on contraception and abortion, though I think he adheres to its teaching in his ministry. However, it speaks volumes that he is an adamant admirer of all the Vatican II reformers and questions not just priestly celibacy but many of the tenets of the Church founded by Christ. It takes no rocket scientist to realize that without its foundation of dogma and doctrine, the foundation that becomes eroded when radical questions become the basis of radical reform, the Church would be like a house built on sand, that will swiftly be blown away by the wind. We need permanency, which God loves; He tells us: 'I, your God, do not change. Therefore you, O people, are not destroyed.'
Finally, dear friends, although we have spoken of the many merits of it, the celibate life cannot be said to be an easy course to follow. I can well remember a handsome young priest at the Catholic Center of our university. There was a college girl coming on to him even at the weekly Bible study meeting for Catholic students at the Center. Acting out of ignorance, we hope, this girl needs strong prayer. And so does that priest and all priests, who face temptations of all kinds every day, just like all of us. That incident, the like of which I do not think is very rare, also makes a statement about the Church in modern times, and the need for more discipline and respect.
There is no discipline and respect outside the Church presently, but it would seem clear that there is not enough discipline and respect within the Church either. Secular society and secular thinking is rubbing off on ecclesial society, where it most certainly should not, because secular society is a man-made institution, but the Church is divine. Jesus Himself spoke of the lack of discipline and respect in His time, when His own disciples fell asleep at His last hour, and when the Pharisees mocked Him in various ways. He admonished those errant people. Therefore since we have been warned by Jesus, let us be careful to build up our celibate priests, who are working for our good, and make their job as easy as possible, so that we too will share in the fruit of their good labor as well as that of our own.
Hóstias, quæsumus, Dómine,
(Mercifully look down, we beseech Thee, O Lord)