No matter where I go no matter what the context, no matter what situation I'm in, that's the question people ask me. That's the hot topic that always seems to be the one I'm always asked. Why can't priests get married? And they always ask me like it's an epiphany, like for them it's never been asked before, like it's a brand new question. They're going to ask me this question that I've never heard before, right? Why can't priests get married? And it's kind of funny because this is a question that had been asked from the very beginning of our church.
So we heard about this even at the time of St. Paul, and Jesus dealt with this question, too. So from the letter that we heard today, "Brothers and sisters," St. Paul saying, "I should like you to be free from all anxieties." He's talking about the unmarried life and the married life. He says, "A married person is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife and he is divided. But an unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord and how he may please the Lord." So he's talking about this very question right here.
So the last few weeks and the weeks ahead, the second reading is going to be Paul dealing with all of these issues. So some of the questions that Paul was being asked in this time, the hot topics were, is it all right to get married? So Jesus was talking about the end of times, the end of the world and the second comings. So people were saying, "Is it okay if we get married?" They were asking Paul this question. They were also asking, "Is it okay if we stay married?" Some people were questioning should we leave our marriage and dedicate ourselves to Christ? Some were asking, Are all of us supposed to be celibate? Should everybody be celibate? And what about widows? Should widows stay married, or can they get married again? What state of life are we supposed to be in so that we are most ready for Christ's coming?
So, by the way, this is not new. It's not a new question that people are asking about, the celibate priest. It has been asked for 2000 years, and I imagine it will continue to be asked. But I hope to, in some way, bring some light to it in addressing it because I know it is a source of constant confusion for a lot of Catholics and non-Catholics.
So Paul himself is dealing with these very questions, and he addresses it in today's second reading. Paul was unmarried, by the way, and he saw that as a great advantage for the service of the scripture. So he saw it as a wonderful freedom to be unmarried and in order to preach the Gospel. But he was also clear that there is a case to be made for married life. There is a dignity to married life. He was also sure that he was celibate and it was good for him, but he didn't say it was great for everybody. He said it's a really good thing if you could do it, but it might not be the best case for everybody. So he did make a case for marriage. So we hear -- I'm going to read you just a couple scripture quotes.
Paul said, "Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. In view of the present distress that is the impending advent of the lord it seemed a good thing for everybody to remain as they were."
So he's saying it's probably a good thing for you all to remain as you are.
"So this is what I think is best because of the present distress; that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is."
So to kind of sum up what he's saying in the final teaching that he gives, amidst all the confusing things, the grass is always greener on the other side. That's what he's saying. To enjoy your present state of life. If you are married, stay married. Enjoy your marriage. If you are widowed, it's all right. You know, enjoy this time of your life. If you are young and you're not married yet, enjoy this time of your life. Don't be anxious about getting married. It will come if it happens. And if you are a priest, enjoy celibate life. Enjoy being a priest.
He says at end of the reading today, "I'm telling you all of this for your own benefits, not to impose a restraint on you."
So when people say, "Why don't priests have to be celibate," or "Why can't priests get married," it's not a restraint. "I'm saying this not to impose a restraint on you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction." So that we could be truly dedicated to the Lord without distraction.
So the difficult thing in our time, I think kind of the deception of our time, is you have to be married to be happy. So from the time kids are in grade school, it's kind of like this society implants us that your goal in life is to get married. You have to find the right one, you have to find the knight in shining armor, and if you don't you're going to be miserable. So you better find somebody and get married or you're not going to be happy. So guess what? From like grade school, boys and girls are panicking about getting married. And then they get into high school and if they're not getting serious by college, they're in trouble.
Now think about people who are later vocations. You know, they will come and talk to me sometimes and say, like, they're anxious because, you know, when you get later in life, like in your 30s or 40s, people are already kind of like beyond, they're already kind of doing it. So ladies are like, I've got to give in to this guy if I'm going find somebody and be married. So there's all this panic about it.
And the truth is, Paul says to us, "If you don't want to have any anxieties," and he doesn't want us to be anxious, "be totally devoted to God." It's not about being married or single. It's about being devoted to God, and the rest of that will be made clear.
So specifically, the question of celibacy, why do priests have to be married, well, that's the wrong question. Priests don't have to be married, actually. Why do priests have to be celibate? They don't. In the eastern rite they can be married. In the western rite, the Roman rite, we choose from among the celibate. So the catechism -- I'll be like the Fulton Sheen for a little bit here.
Catechism 1579. All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of deacons -- so our deacons are married -- are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom of God.
So they were chosen. I was chosen first because I was willing to live a celibate life and to remain living a celibate life. Why? For the sake of the kingdom of God. So I'm doing it for the sake of the kingdom of God.
So people often ask me, "Father, if they changed all the rules, would you get married? And the truth is I can't. I've already, like, made that promise of celibacy, unless the church changes a lot of rules, which they could. But I've already made that commitment to be celibate.
We're called to consecrate ourselves for the undivided heart to the Lord and to the affairs of the Lord.
So the celibate life is supposed to be undivided. You know, so that everything that I do is all about service to Christ. And the idea is that I'm giving myself totally to Christ and totally to all of you, actually, so that I don't have a divided heart.
Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of the Church’s ministering and the consecrated; and it's accepted with a joyous heart and celibacy is to radiantly proclaim the Reign of God.
So hopefully celibacy has not made me miserable. If you know me at all, celibacy, it's supposed to be joyful. So hopefully I have a joyful heart. And it's also supposed to radiantly proclaim the Reign of God. It's supposed to be a sign for us of the kingdom of God to come.
Catechism 1618 says, "Christ is the center of all Christian life."
So what is the most important thing of life? It's not being married or being celibate or being single or being successful. Christ is what is most important. And the bond with him which takes precedence over all of the bonds, familial or social, is what is important.
"From the very beginning of the church..." So from the very time Christ instituted the church there were men and women that were willing to renounce marriage for the kingdom of God. There were people that gave up, husband and wife and all things, actually, just for the kingdom of God, to please Him and to meet the Bridegroom who is coming. Christ himself has invited certain persons to follow him in this way of life, of which he remains the model.
So when people say why do priests have to be celibate, it's kind of the wrong question because Christ was celibate. Jesus never married. And priests are supposed to be an image of Christ. We're supposed to represent Jesus, though unworthily, we're supposed to represent him at the altar.
It's so funny because just today walking into mass, there was a little girl that was being carried in by one of her parents, and when she saw me she pointed back and said, "Jesus is here. There's Jesus." And you know, it's always a very humbling thing because I know I'm not Jesus. However, it's a reality that priests, we do represent Jesus, and Jesus was celibate. So it does make sense to have a celibate priesthood.
Jesus himself said that there are eunuchs. So eunuchs were people that were not able to have sex. So from their very birth there were some eunuchs, and there were eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there were also eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God." They have chosen to be celibate for the kingdom of God. And then he said, "He is who is able to receive this, let him receive it."
So celibacy is a gift. And those that can live it and can receive it, are able to for the kingdom of God.
1619. "Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ."
So why we are we celibate? Because of our bond with Christ. He gives us this love and this union that allows us to be dedicated. It's an ardent expectation of his return and a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away."
So ultimately, celibacy is a sign of heaven; that we believe in heaven. There will be no marriage; that we are all united. Our souls are united with God and each other.
So in the Latin church, as I said before, the sacrament of Holy Orders for the presbyterate is normally conferred only on candidates who are ready to embrace celibacy freely and who publicly manifest that intention of staying celibate for the love of God’s kingdom and the service of men.
So why do priests have to be celibate? Well, they don't. But we do, in the Latin rite, choose celibates to be priests.
Finally, 2349. "People should cultivate chastity in the way of life suited to them."
So the final thing is chastity. All of us are called to be chaste, whether we are single, whether we are priests in celibate or not in celibate or whether we are married, we are all called to be chaste.
Some profess virginity or the consecrated life which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single. Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence.
There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: The first is that of spouses, the second is that of widows, and the third is that of virgins. We do not praise any above the others. They are all to be praised, the great virtue of chastity.
So when we get down to it, really, what is Paul trying to say to us? He is trying to say the grass is always greener on the other side. So enjoy the way of life and the state of life that you are living. And if you are able to, especially for those that are young and discerning their call if life -- you know, the call in life is not ultimately marriage. Our primary call in life is union with God, and out of that come the four vocations: Of married life, religious life, priesthood or single life. But ultimately, we must be dedicated to God. And that's what's truly going to make us happy. That's going to be what truly makes us joyful and that's going to be what truly allows us to consecrate ourselves to God and live a life worthy of the call that we have received.
Uncertainties about this view seem to lie behind the questions that Paul is answering here in chapter 7. Is it all right to get married? is it all right to stay married? are all supposed to be celibate? What about widows? What state of life are we supposed to be in so as to be most ready for Christ's coming?
Paul himself was unmarried and he saw advantages for the service of the Lord in remaining so. But he was very clear about not wanting to recommend his situation for everybody (See 7:7 and following) 7
Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God,* one of one kind and one of another.a
In view of the present distress that is the impending advent of the lord it seemed a good thing for everybody to remain as they were.
So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is.i
1579 All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”70 Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to “the affairs of the Lord,”71 they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.72 (1618, 2233)
1618 Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social.113 From the very beginning of the Church there have been men and women who have renounced the great good of marriage to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, to be intent on the things of the Lord, to seek to please him, and to go out to meet the Bridegroom who is coming.114 Christ himself has invited certain persons to follow him in this way of life, of which he remains the model: (2232, 1579)
“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”115 (Matthew 19:12)
1619 Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.116 (922-924)
1620 Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the Kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with his will.117 Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom118 and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce each other: (2349)
1599 In the Latin Church the sacrament of Holy Orders for the presbyterate is normally conferred only on candidates who are ready to embrace celibacy freely and who publicly manifest their intention of staying celibate for the love of God’s kingdom and the service of men.
2349 “People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.”136 Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence: (1620)
There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others.... This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church.137 St. Ambrose
915 Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple. The perfection of charity, to which all the faithful are called, entails for those who freely follow the call to consecrated life the obligation of practicing chastity in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, poverty and obedience. It is the profession of these counsels, within a permanent state of life recognized by the Church, that characterizes the life consecrated to God.454 (1973-1974)