The relevance of priestly
Titular Archbishop of Grado
Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy
Conducted by the light of faith, a level-headed analysis of the meaning of terms such as ‘relevance’, ‘modernity’ and ‘validity’ cannot but refer us straight to Jesus Christ, the only paradigm able to verify the basis and truthfulness of what is or is not relevant to the Church of today.
So the problem of the relevance of priestly celibacy cannot evade this ‘basic law’. For reference to other criteria would falsify our reasoning and conclusions. Thus, for example, if we wished to refer to purely sociological data or if we thought to interpret the so-called ‘signs of the times’ as an uncritical survey of socio-cultural conditions present in a given geographical context, then this would not mean anything truly ‘relevant’, according to the spirit of Christ and of the Church. We have to take the element of grace into account. Celibacy cannot and should not be thought of in a merely negative sense or in reference to the purely natural aspect, according to which it is believed that, once the ‘obstacle’ or the ‘no’ to marriage has been removed, a ‘boom’ in priestly ordinations will be the immediate and natural result. The problem of celibacy comprehends both the natural component, bound up with our sexual nature as the Creator has willed it, and the supernatural component pertaining to the order of grace. Today above all, we tend to emphasize the problems bound up with the first of these elements, simply because hedonism has made us lose certain authentic human values: chastity for example, which is obligatory for all of us whatever our vocation.
And yet, the problems encountered in a correct training for chastity are, from this point of view, the same ones as anyone encounters who aims to attain full maturity of personality. The specific aspects of education, both at seminary and in afterlife, to perfect chastity in priestly celibacy are to be understood not on a merely anthropological terrain but rather on that of grace, in the sphere of which celibacy is not ‘the’ problem but one among others, and is ‘contained’ within a symphonic context of priestly training. Human maturation and religious maturation ever go hand in hand and are mutually integrated.
We know that some of those who question the identity and spirituality of the priest in the contemporary world —and celibacy is a very important element of this identity —base their reasoning on evaluations of a sociological kind and hark back to that so-called ‘anthropological turning-point’, where even the figure of the priesthood is to be ‘demythologized’ or ‘de-dogmatized’ and the priest, so as to be relevant and a man of his times, temporized and desacralized. In this ‘humanizing’ design, any reference to the supernatural dimension is seen as ‘alienating’ by anyone who has not heard of pastoral charity, divine intimacy, tendency to holiness or passion for souls, such as prompted Paul to exclaim: «For to me to live is Christ» (Phil 1:21).
The problem of celibacy is closely connected with that of the ontological identity of the sacrament of Order and with the whole question of the relationship between ordained ministries and instituted ministries, the latter having behind them the amply debated relationship between the universal priesthood of the faithful and the hierarchical priesthood. There exists a substantial interdependence between the sacraments, as a result of which the impoverishment of one has its repercussions on all the rest.
So, for instance, if the Eucharist were to be seen primarily or more or less exclusively as a mere sign of community, Baptism would be conceived of as an initiatory rite without any note of supernaturality, and the priestly ministry would be reduced to a simple function within the community itself. In this way, it would be very hard, if not impossible, to grasp the stupendous connection between priesthood and celibacy, and it would be reasonable enough to think of priests as being ad tempus. But would we not gradually come to conceive of an ad tempus Christianity as well?
So, if we are to understand the problem of the relevance of priestly celibacy, we must study it within its true dimension: that of the supernatural. To say that priestly celibacy per se is not a dogmatic datum must not be taken as meaning that it can be relegated to some ‘cultural context’ or other. For we have to bear in mind that neither the doctrine nor the life of the Church can be reduced to formally revealed truths and everything else be regarded as arbitrary. On the contrary, these things are to be regarded as the fruit of the guidance and assistance of the Holy Spirit, and part of the Church’s two-thousand-year-old tradition.
In the question of celibacy, as in many others concerning the practical life of the Church, we have therefore to avoid minimalism, on the basis of which the only truly legitimate institutions and doctrines would be those of proven apostolic origin or otherwise infallibly defined. Seen aright, it is clear that the Latin discipline of ecclesiastical celibacy is neither arbitrary nor in conflict with the natural right to marriage, even though it cannot be affirmed that it can be deduced from revelation by an irrefutable syllogism. It belongs — indeed, very much so — to the sphere of ‘congruity’, in the sense that the basis for it lies in the very nature of priesthood.
With these premises in mind, in this essay we shall try to explain what the Christological, ecclesiological and pastoral reasons are which still justify priestly celibacy today, and why those people who tend to call the connection between priesthood and celibacy into question cannot consequently deserve serious consideration.
The first assertion we still make is that priestly celibacy is relevant because our Lord Jesus Christ is relevant who, consecrated Supreme and Eternal Priest by the Father, chose to live his priesthood in chastity and celibacy. We cannot forget, Pope Paul VI states in the encyclical Sacerdotalis coelibatus, that the Son of God, who assumed a perfect human nature and raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, remained throughout his own earthly life in a state of perfect virginity, to signify his total dedication to the service of God and the human race.1
Nor can it be said that the socio-cultural and religious climate in which Jesus lived favoured this kind of life, for we know that in the Jewish environment no condition was so much deprecated as that of a man who had no descendants. Yet Christ willed, harmoniously and intimately, to combine the virginal state with his mission as eternal priest and mediator between heaven and earth. We can therefore affirm that chastity and virginity are not simply additional or secondary to Christ’s priestly existence, but belong to its very essence. «Don’t you see», St Ambrose writes, «that Christ is chastity, Christ is integrity?»2 In becoming priest by virtue of the hypostatic union, the Son of God committed himself to the Father, offering him his total and exclusive love, and consecrated himself entirely to performing the work of redemption.
By priestly ordination, every priest is configured to Christ and shares in his priesthood and, as St Thomas states, «agit in Persona Christi!» From this identification with Christ, it follows that he who follows Christ in the priesthood, assents to becoming — in an excellent manner —his witness and to adhering strictly to the ontological connotations of his priesthood.
It is on the strength of this essential, ontological and existential assimilation to Christ that the extreme congruity and relevance of priestly celibacy can and should be judged. The priest, inasmuch as he is an alter Christus, finds his true identity, his true raison d’etre, his true style, in his intimate, personal relationship with Christ.
The criterion of ‘relevance’ hence is provided by this essential Christologico-sacerdotal reality and not by passing fashions, mass opinions or certain sociological-type interpretations. If the choices are not faithful to the Model, they are untruthful and false to history: Christ is «the same yesterday and today and forever» (Heb 13:58); so the Christ of ‘today’ cannot be separated from the Christ of ‘yesterday’, since he is the Eternal One, the Absolute, and everything refers to him who is ‘the’ Way, ‘the’ Truth, ‘the’ Life.
Like Christ, the priest is called to give himself totally and with undivided heart to God and the brethren, even to the sacrifice of himself. Of course, no one can claim to achieve so exalted an ideal on his own. The call to the priesthood, like celibacy which is linked to it, is a gift which comes from God; it is therefore a supernatural reality, a mystery. «‘For not all men’, says the Lord, ‘can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given’» (Mt 19:11). Not all, that is to say, are called by God to the height of total self-giving to him in perfect chastity, in accordance with the actual model, Christ. Not to all does God give the potentiality inherent in virginity.
The Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, referring to what is said in St Matthew’s Gospel and in the seventh chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians emphasized that among the various counsels proposed by the Master, there towers up «that precious gift of divine grace given to some by the Father, to devote themselves to God alone more easily with an undivided heart in virginity or celibacy».3
To believe in the precious quality of the connection between priesthood and celibacy, to feel its living, joyful relevance, its charm and its riches, one must have faith in God’s grace and in his help. In this sense, priestly celibacy «is to be considered as a special grace, as a gift... which does not dispense with, but counts most definitely on, a conscious and free response on the part of the receiver. This charism of the Spirit also brings with it the grace for the receiver to remain faithful to it for all his life and be able to carry out generously and joyfully its concomitant commitments.»4 The relevance of celibacy is also the relevance of following Christ: «Come, follow me.» Following Christ means entering into his mystery of grace and salvation, prolonging his word, his life-style, his sacrificial and saving activity.
This life-style is a transparency of the very life of Christ, the Good Shepherd: «Our priestly life and activity continue the life and activity of Christ himself.»5 «By virtue of this consecration brought about by the outpouring of the Spirit in the sacrament of Holy Order the spiritual life of the priest is marked, moulded and characterized by the way of thinking and acting proper to Jesus Christ, head and shepherd of the Church and which are summed up in his pastoral charity.»6
How to follow Christ is set out in the ‘evangelical counsels’, in imitation of the ‘apostolic life’: being a priest and acting as a priest:7 being like Christ to act like Christ. This means that, in the Mystical Body, the priest discharges an altogether special task, inasmuch as he has to make the priesthood of Christ the Head sacramentally visible in history. From this, it follows that the figure of the priest is eminently sacramental, whether because, in general terms, he actualizes the mediation of the Incarnate Word, or because he is linked in a unique way to Jesus eucharistically present in his Church. In the eucharistic sacrifice, the priest is not only minister but also part of the sacrificial sign inasmuch as, by offering himself, he signifies Christ.
This virginal relationship with the Body of the Lord, in the sacramental order, is the basis of a formidable and ever relevant congruity as regards the personal chastity of the priest. Eucharist and priesthood must be taken together; because of this, a solid, impassioned eucharistic life in the sacrifice of the cross, love for the Real Presence, zeal for the dignity of eucharistic worship, daily celebration, visits to and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, constitute elements of exceptional importance for discovering one’s own identity and the scope of one’s ministry, for permanent character-forming and for pastoral impact.
The force binding celibacy to the priesthood lies in the ontology of the priest. The priestly character, being configured to the priesthood of Christ the Head of the Church, is consequently the instrumental cause conjoined with the supernatural grace in the sacraments, especially in those of the Eucharist and penance. The priest, hence, transmits the divine life to the faithful, and this his supernatural fatherhood must not be confused with or limited to a natural one. His being and his acting must be like Christ’s: undivided.
This is the great teaching bequeathed to us, for instance, by the Apostle of the Gentiles: «Cor Pauli. Cor Christ!» exclaims St John Chrysostom. The undivided heart of Paul possessed the splendour of perfect chastity, of celibacy, which he enthusiastically recommended to others, when he exclaimed: «I wish that all were as I myself am» (1 Cor 7:7). But the apostolic heart of Paul, precisely because it was undivided, made him fully conformed to that of Christ: perfect chastity in harmony with the other virtues which came to him from assimilation with Christ, made it possible for him to cry: «It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me» (Gal 2:20). Paul: what a relevant example, valid yesterday, today and — yes, indeed — tomorrow.
Celibacy is a charism which the Holy Spirit bestows on some in function of a good that redounds to the good of the whole Church. As a charism, celibacy is one of those divine favours which no one can ever dispute, any more than anyone is entitled to dispute the choice made by the Son of God of having an ever virgin Mother and a virgin for his putative father too.
To respect this divine ‘favour’ and to set the highest value on the ‘charismatic’ character of celibacy, the Latin Church from earliest times has found it absolutely congruent to unite this gift to the truly sacramental nature of the New Testament priesthood. «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 the Lord.»8
Demanding a total and exclusive love, the Church chooses those who, having received the charism of perfect chastity, freely intend to follow the call to continue the mission of salvation bequeathed to them as their heritage by the divine Spouse. And in so doing, the Church is strengthened by the action of the Holy Spirit moving her, through the privileged experience of holiness, to an ever stricter faithfulness to her Lord.
In this sense, the problem of celibacy is not just to be stated at the level of historicity and, therefore, of the out-of-dateness of a ‘disciplinary’ norm, but on the supernatural plane of Christ’s love for his Church. The priesthood is not a gift given for the use of the individual who receives it, but is for others; so, those who receive it have to be able and fit to give themselves totally and unconditionally to the brethren. As Pope Paul VI put it in the encyclical Sacerdotalis coelibatus, «The priesthood is a ministry instituted by Christ for the service of his Mystical Body which is the Church. To her belongs the authority to admit to that priesthood those whom she judged qualified —that is, those to whom God has given, along with other signs of an ecclesiastical vocation, the gift of a consecrated celibacy. In virtue of such a gift, confirmed by canon law, the individual is called to respond with free judgement and total dedication, adapting his own mind and outlook to the will of God who calls him. Concretely, this divine calling manifests itself in a given individual with his own definite personality structure which is not at all overpowered by grace.»9
Hence, ecclesiastical authority will certainly not try to impose a charism on anyone to which he has not been called; but it does have every right to lay its hands exclusively on those who have received the free gift of chastity in the celibate life from the Holy Spirit. The priestly vocation, therefore, is not simply a subjective self-giving on the part of the individual, but requires clear signs of ‘vocability’ which only the bishop is deputed to ascertain and confirm.
From which it follows that anyone hoping to solve the problem of the shortage of priests (which is grave in certain parts of the world today) along ‘democratic’ lines, is hopelessly astray: how could a community choose itself a priest and oblige him to live the celibate life and, like Christ, give himself totally to the brethren? For the priestly life, in the context of the Church, is a dedicated life, which implies a limitless gift to the human community, a disposability which is not only deliberate but also effective and affective, to become, in practical terms, a man for all people.
This existential radicalism also illuminates another important ecclesiological reason why celibacy is relevant today: the eschatological dimension. Chastity, above all in its priestly-celibate expression, is a reality which, like charity from which it springs, will last for all eternity. Here below, it is a prophetic sign of that which will be realized definitely in life eternal: a good of the celestial and definitive condition where «they neither marry nor are given in marriage» (Mt 22:30). The Synod Fathers in October 1990 made no bones about it, declaring themselves convinced that «perfect chastity in priestly celibacy.., has a prophetic value for the world today», and urgently pressed for «celibacy to be presented and explained.., as a precious gift given by God to his Church and as a sign of the kingdom which is not of this world, as a sign of God’s love for this world and of the priest’s undivided love for God and God’s people, so that celibacy be seen as a positive enrichment of the priesthood.»10 This ‘proposition’ echoes the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, where it says: «In virginity... the human being is awaiting, also in a bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the Church, giving himself or herself completely to the Church in the hope that Christ may give him to the Church in the full truth of eternal life.»11
In the kingdom of heaven there will be no more marriage! The priesthood of Christ and the whole nature of the Church which springs from him, on this earth already prefigure the eschatological state. To reject the precious link between priesthood and celibacy would be like renouncing that anticipative dimension in the sacramental order of the Church or, at least, very much reducing it. For everyone, believer and non-believer alike, expects a priest not only to be able to speak about the world to come but more important still, to bear witness to it, finding in his chaste and generous way of living an anchor of hope in the difficulties of the present.
So, too, the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis12 takes on and develops this doctrine, which has its most immediate source in the Second Vatican Council, according to which priests with their celibacy «bear witness to the resurrection in a future life»13 and «they are made a living sign of the world to come, already present through faith and charity — a world in which the children of the resurrection shall neither be married nor take wives.»14
Priestly celibacy, therefore, is a vigorous affirmation of faith in those supreme values which will one day blaze forth in all the children of God.15 The priest, prolonging the saving activity of Christ, is in his very being a mystery of that regenerating love for God on which all, no one excluded, can draw. This being so, chastity lived in priestly celibacy is not a frigid refusal to love, much less an alibi for not giving oneself, but on the contrary the charism and perfection of love: the song the priest in company with the whole Church raises to Christ the divine bridegroom during our earthly pilgrimage. Faithful priests will receive the reward from Christ of taking part in the procession of those who «follow the Lamb wherever he goes and sing a new song» (Rev 14:3-4).
The modern world, profoundly secularized and materialistic as it is, constitutes the most exacting challenge for the Church of today. The rich part of the world is going through a process of rationalistic and hedonistic secularization unprecedented in history, alienating human beings from their true origin and their supernatural destiny. The secularist mentality leads, insensibly but inexorably, to behaviour characterized by disregard of the supernatural, uncritical acceptance of a kind of humanism seductive in prospect but ambiguous at its deeper levels, and an unduly touchy preoccupation with one’s own self-realization understood as self-centred self-assertion and negation of everything other than self.
In this context, is priestly celibacy still possible and relevant? The question becomes even more alarming if we admit that the mentality described above is dominant not only in the so-called secular world, but can and often does —infiltrate into the religious and ecclesiastical one as well. The consequences flowing from this are most grave: the tendency to put the work of human redemption before that of the religious and the moral; to make light of the differences between one’s own faith and that of the world (and this, not for the praiseworthy effort of seizing on and quickening the environment in which we live, but for trying to assimilate ourselves to it); to prefer the strenuous study of current cultural problems rather than anchor oneself to the sure moorings of revelation and magisterium; to replace the primacy of grace by that of human technology —useful, yes, but only as an instrument.
As we see, the problem of the relevance of priestly celibacy is only one aspect, though a very important and sensitive one, of that more general and fundamental challenge that the Church is facing today and countering with ‘the new evangelization’. Anyone who believes and who wishes consistently and realistically to be involved in this urgent task of evangelization, cannot but practise the teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles: «Do not be conformed to this world» (Rom 12:2). The problems of the contemporary world have to be diagnosed and tackled positively with extreme gospel outspokenness.
To make people aware of the vital relevance of ecclesiastical celibacy, one of the most dynamic elements of evangelization, and we must do all we can to reinvest sacred doctrine with its sapiential atmosphere and metaphysical basis. The world, especially today, has no need of consensus in order to be saved but of transformation and evangelical radicalism, which for every Christian is a fundamental and inalienable requirement, springing from Christ’s call to follow him and to imitate him, by virtue of the intimate living fellowship with him, brought about by the Spirit —(cf Mt 8:l8ff; l0:37ff; Mk 8:34f, 10:17-21; Lk 9:5ff).
And in truth, even in these troubled times, above and beyond human logic, God does not withhold his many ‘wonders’. The Church’s history in our day is crystal-clear witness that the Spirit Paraclete is presenting it with «a new era of group endeavours of the lay faithful... movements and new sodalities... with a specific feature and purpose.»16 And indeed, from this new stage in Church history it clearly emerges that pastoral activity in general and priestly activity in particular, if they are to be renewed in response to the demand of the contemporary world, must not follow the policy of giving-in but, on the contrary, that of the Spirit who calls the whole Church community to bear witness to Christ without compromise or reservation.
Proof of this are those same young people of our day who are drawn, not to what is easy, producing instant and temporary results, but to that gospel radicalism which offers the most effective means for living the grandeur of their personal existence and of their dignity as human beings. It would be a grave mistake to think one could attract the young by lowering the gospel peaks to the secularized levels of a world grown materialistic: youth thirsts for great things, for the pure spring in the snowy peaks of the spirit!
«I will give you shepherds after my own heart» (Jer 3:15). «In these words from the prophet Jeremiah, God promises his people that he will never leave them without shepherds to gather them together and guide them...17 Convinced of the truth of this, we must urgently construct a pastoral policy for vocations —without delay.
Thus the young will be able to hear, as though in their very ears, the voice of the Lord who from the shores of Lake Tiberias distinctly calls their names summoning them to the most exciting adventure of all of leaving all: to let themselves be filled by the All.
The urgency and intensity with which the Holy Father John Paul II lives the «woe to me if I do not preach the gospel», the missionary zeal with which he infects those fresh energies of the young Churches and rekindles those of the more ancient ones, demand holiness and pastoral fruitfulness from priests above all. This — when one comes to think about it — is only the full actualization of the potentialities inherent in the ontology of priesthood. Seen thus, marriage can be an obstacle to the total priestly devotion needed, inasmuch as it sets up a sphere of legitimate and very intense personal interests, which can be in opposition with the practical demands of the ministry. To put it more clearly, the married state would deprive the priest’s life of that precious unity which comes to him, through his various ministerial functions, from his sacramental character.
Immersed in the joys, but in the worries and dangers too, of married life, he runs the risk of becoming purely functional. For only with really great difficulty could the married priest devote —. as is his duty — his free time during the day to private prayer and study, these being the necessary aids for living as a man of God. Not overlooking the many and valued examples of married priests of the Oriental Rite, but nonetheless being aware of the general reactions of the people of God, we must ask ourselves whether the priest would still be able to receive the deepest confidence and most heart-felt confessions from people who need to talk to someone whom they feel, at that point in time, to be only and all for them. Would there not be a real risk of his becoming a functionary of the sacraments or a sort of psycho-religious specialist at the mercy of people’s subjective needs? For the married priest would be divided between two types of fruitfulness: that of the Church, and that of marriage and bringing up children; and his own heart would bear the sign of division between love for the community and love for his family.
The fact of the matter is that today people living in a cold and lonely society where it is hard to make contact with others need the priest to be available always and no matter how, they need the priest who will be all for God, so as to be all for all. The celibate priest, especially today, is one of the few people, perhaps the last, to be available for others.
The combined problems of vocational pastoral policy, of priestly identity and of life-style most appropriate for priests, are, especially today, a problem of faith. Faith in Christ’s providential presence in and assistance to his Church who, if determined to be faithful to the bridegroom, cannot let itself hide or put limits on Christ’s countenances. To the world of the young, who have a thirst for the absolute, for prayer and sacrifice, for strong and all-demanding experiences, for exciting missionary incentives, the priest has to present the whole Christ, the Christ of the Cross and Resurrection. The young man who encounters Christ and welcomes his call does not want ‘mediations’ or ‘simplifications’; he consents to follow him with all the strength of his young heart: the celibate life is the logical consequence of his spiritual choice. Since the very beginning, the Church, under the action of the Spirit, has shown her predilection for this spiritual option, with its roots plunging deep into the mystery of Christ the Supreme and Eternal Priest.
How then can we regard as adequately based the reasons of those now trying to loosen or debase the deep link existing between priesthood and the celibate life? It is said, for instance, that the problem of the shortage of priests (a grave one in certain geographical areas today) could be solved if married men were allowed to enter the priesthood. Apart from the fact that this assertion is not supported by either experience or objective data —which rather shows that even where a married priesthood does exist, the problem over candidates for the priesthood has not been solved —one cannot help observing that this proposal does not take sufficient account of the essentially ‘catholic’ nature of the Church, by reason of which (as has happened in the past), we may hope for an exchange of gifts between those Churches which are particularly rich in priests and those who are short of the same.
The question, furthermore, affects the overall view of the priest and ecclesiastical tradition and cannot be isolated from the many pastoral considerations alluded to above. For this reason, a decision to allow the ordination of married men in the Latin Church could then involve having to take a whole series of interlinked decisions with the knock-on effect of creating stronger pressures for yielding on other points, ending with the abolition of the bond between priesthood and celibacy. We can learn from history here!
Then again, the comparison with the married priests of some Oriental Churches does not seem to be a valid one, for here we have an ancient institution and not one established for reasons of expediency. It must also be said that, actually in those Churches, be they Catholic or Orthodox, the law of celibacy for the priesthood is recommended and held in high regard. This, for example is what a Russian Orthodox bishop of the Patriarcliate of Moscow had to say on the subject in the immediate post-conciliar period: «For us Orthodox, the priesthood is a sacred function. For this reason we are convinced that you, Westerners, you Latins, are not on the right path where you allow the question of ecclesiastical celibacy to be debated in public, in the forum of public opinion. In our Oriental tradition, it has been possible to authorize the ordination of a handful of married men, as in any case you have done and go on doing in certain regions. But take care: in the West, if you separate the priesthood from celibacy, a very swift decadence will set in. The West is not mystical enough to tolerate the marriage of its clergy without degenerating. The Church of Rome (and this is to her glory) has preserved this ecclesiastical ascesis for a whole millennium. Beware of compromising it...»
And a Protestant expresses himself as follows: «This charism of your Church, consecrated celibacy, has an essential role for ecumenism. We of the Reformed Churches could certainly do with it too!»18
This survey of the factors which constitute the humus for an understanding of celibate priesthood, and of those factors which constitute reasons for misunderstanding it, leads to our conclusion about the true relevance of the link between presbyterate and celibacy. For however much we may consider all the arguments against it, none can displace the highest truth.
The ‘yes’ to celibacy is a question of faith, not only on the part of the men who are ordained, but also on the part of their families and the entire people of God. In the ultimate analysis, we are talking about the folly of the Cross.
Today we find ourselves faced with the pastoral demand for renewal and ‘new evangelization’. So be it: the Church will renew itself, as its history of two thousand years attests, but only if it pledges itself to live the gift of itself to Christ its bridegroom with absolute devotion. In these times when conversion is so hard and yet people are easily impressed by others’ testimony, the faith needs lives illuminated by the absolute, it needs witnesses who risk their lives, who give their lives away. A sermon of the great Newman comes to mind: «What have you risked for the faith?»
And what more eloquent proof could be offered today to demonstrate that one’s own faith is genuine, than that of a free, joyous, warm-hearted renunciation of human love for the sake of Christ and the brethren? The celibate priesthood is one of the strongest responses that can be made to today’s pastoral demands, to the new evangelization, to the challenge awaiting the Church in the third millennium. The Lord invites us to put out to sea; if we have faith, fish will abound —for, we know, the Lord sails in the barque of Peter.
1. Encyclical Letter of Paul VI (1967), Sacerdotalis coelibatus, 21.
2. St Ambrose, De Virginitate, 18; PL 16, 271.
3. Dogmatic Constitution, Lunen gentium, 42.
4. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis, 50.
5. Ibid., 18.
7. Ibid., 45.
9. Sacerdotalis coelibatus, 62.
10. Final declaration, Propositio, 11, quoted in Pastores dabo vobis, 29.
11. Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris consortio, 16.
12. Pastores dabo vobis, 29,50.
13. Decree on the Training of Priests, Optatam totius, 10.
14. Decree on the ministry and life of priests. Presbyterorum ordinis, 16; cf also C.J.C., cap. 1, can. 277.
15. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Conciliun, 34.
16. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christ~fideIes laici, 29, 30.
17. Pastores dabo vobis, I.
18. Cf I. Guitton, Matrimonio e celibato del clero, in L’Osservatore Romano, 22 February 1970, p. 1.