The Holy See
back up

Priestly celibacy:

Sign of the charity of Christ

Mother Teresa of Calcutta



We read in the Scriptures how Jesus came to proclaim the Good News that God loves us. He wants us today to be that love. Jesus said: «You did it to me»: I was hungry, naked, homeless and lonely and you did it to me. I call this — the Gospel on five fingers.


Everyone is called to love God with their whole heart and soul and mind and strength and to love their neighbour out of love for God. But on the night, before he died, Jesus gave us two great gifts: the gift of himself in the Eucharist and the gift of the priesthood to continue his living presence in the Eucharist.


Without priests, we have no Jesus.

Without priests, we have no absolution.

Without priests, we cannot receive Holy Communion.


Just as God our Father prepared a worthy dwelling place for his Son in the immaculate womb of a virgin — so it is fitting that a priest prepares himself to take the place of Jesus, the Son of God, by freely choosing priestly celibacy. Marriage and procreation are miracles of God’s love by which men and women become his co-workers, to bring new life into the world. But Jesus has clearly spoken to something even greater than that, when he said that in heaven people neither marry nor are given in marriage but live like the angels; and that there are some who have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God.


Priestly celibacy is that gift which prepares for life in heaven. Jesus calls his priest to be his co-worker in the Church, to fill heaven with God’s children.


One day, two young people came to our house and they gave me lots of money to feed the people, because in Calcutta, as you know, we have many many poor people whom we feed daily. And I asked them where they got so much money. They said: «Two days ago we got married. Before marriage we decided that we were not going to buy wedding clothes, we were not to have a wedding feast, but that, instead, we would give you the money to feed the poor.» It was something extraordinary for Hindu high-class people to do that. I asked them again: «Why did you do that?» and they said: ‘We loved each other so much that we wanted to share the joy of loving with the people you serve.»


To me, this beautiful, living story of two people in love with each other is a living sign of that oneness of Jesus and his priest. Here the sacrifice is not money or material things but a higher and better gift — that of priestly celibacy. The greatest gift that one can give to Jesus on the day when one joins the priesthood is a virgin heart, a virgin body. We call it priestly celibacy. It is like the virginal love of Christ for his Church, whom the priest represents. The Church is the body of Christ, it is the spouse of Christ.


Celibacy is not only our ability to give but more our ability to accept God’s gift, God’s choice. Prayerfully reflect how he, the Creator of the universe, has time for you, his little creatures.


Priestly celibacy creates an emptiness to receive that other wonderful gift that only Jesus can offer and give — the gift of divine love. First of all, Jesus offers his precious gift of himself for a life-long, faithful and personal friendship with him, in tenderness and love. Nothing will make him give up his faithfulness. He remains faithful.


Dear co-workers of Christ, you have said ‘Yes’ to Jesus and he has taken you at your word. The word of God became Jesus, the poor one. Your priestly celibacy is the terrible emptiness you experience. God cannot fill what is full, he can fill only emptiness — deep poverty, and your ‘Yes’ is the beginning of being or becoming empty. It is not how much we really ‘have’ to give, but how empty we are — so that we can receive fully in our life and let him live his life in us. In you, today, he wants to relive his complete submission to his Father. Allow him to do so. It does not matter what you feel, but what he feels in you. Take away your eyes from yourself and rejoice that you have nothing, that you are nothing, that you can do nothing. Give Jesus a big smile, each time your nothingness frightens you. This is the poverty of Jesus. You and I must let him live in us and through us in the world. Cling to Our Lady, for she too, before she could become full of grace, full of Jesus, had to go through that darkness. How could this be done? she asked. But the moment she said ‘Yes’ she had need to go in haste to give Jesus to John and his family. Keep giving Jesus to people, not by words, but by your example, by your being in love with Jesus, by radiating his holiness and spreading his fragrance of love everywhere you go. Just keep the joy of Jesus as your strength. Be happy and at peace, accept whatever he gives, and give whatever he takes with a big smile. You belong to him. Tell him, I am yours, and if you cut me to pieces, every single piece will be only all yours. Let Jesus be the victim and the priest in you.


By freely choosing priestly celibacy the priest renounces earthly fatherhood and gains a share in the Fatherhood of God. Instead of becoming father to one or more children on earth, he is now able to love everybody in Christ. Yes, Jesus calls his priest to carry his Father’s tender love for each and every person. For this reason, people call him ‘Father’.


Priestly celibacy is not just not getting married, not to have a family. It is undivided love of Christ in chastity. Nothing and nobody will separate me from the love of Christ. It is not simply a list of don’ts, it is love. Freedom to love and to be all things to all people. And for that we need the freedom and poverty and simplicity of life. Jesus could have everything but he chose to have nothing. We too must choose not to have or to use certain luxuries. For the less we have for ourselves, the more of Jesus we can give, and the more we have for ourselves, the less of Jesus we can give. As priests, you must all be able to experience the joy of that freedom, having nothing, having no one, you can then love Christ with undivided love in chastity. That is why, a priest who is completely free to love Christ, the work that he does in obedience is his love for Christ in action. The precious blood is in his hand, the living bread he can break and give to all who are hungry for God.


Let those who are called to follow Jesus in priestly celibacy and to share in his priesthood, pray and ask for the courage to give — ‘to give until it hurts’. This giving is true love in action and we can do it only when we are one with Jesus, for in him, with him and through him only, Jesus will be able to do great things, even greater things than he himself did.


There is no comparison with the vocation of the priest. It is like a replacing of Jesus at the altar, at the confessional, and in all the other sacraments where he uses his own ‘I’, like Jesus. How completely the priest must be one with Jesus for Jesus to use him in his place, in his name, to utter his words, do his actions, take away the sins, and make ordinary bread and wine into the Living Bread of his own body and Blood. Only in the silence of his heart can he hear God’s word and from the fullness of his heart can he utter these words: «I absolve you» and «This is my body». How pure the mouth of the priest must be and how clean the heart of a priest must be to be able to speak, to utter the words, «This is my body», and to make bread into the living Jesus. How pure must be the hand of the priest, how completely the hand of Jesus must be the hand of the priest, if in it, when the priest raises that hand, is the precious Blood of Jesus. A sinner comes to confession covered with sin, and leaves the confessional, a sinner without sin. O how pure, how sacred a priest must be to lift away sin and to utter the words, «I absolve you.»


For me, the priesthood is the sacredness, the holiness for which Christ has come on earth to become man, to live his Father’s love and compassion, and to wash away sin. We have a wonderful example of that in the experience with our people.


The sisters found a man and did everything possible for him that love could do for a man who has been shut in like that for years. He did not speak for two days. On the second day, he told the sisters, «You have brought God in my life, bring Father also.» So the sisters went and brought a priest and he made his confession after sixty years. The next morning he died.


This is what the priest is — he is the ‘connecting link’ between humanity and God, just as Jesus was — to take away sin. God had come into this man’s life, but that forgiveness for his sin had to come through the priests to make the connection with God total. This was a miracle of grace that came to that man who had been away from Jesus for so many years, and he expressed it ~ «You have brought God into my life, bring Father also.» That connecting, that mercy, that washing away of his sins came through the hands of the priest, and the words of the priest.


The priest has also to proclaim Christ. And he cannot proclaim him unless his heart is full of God, and God is love. That is why he needs in the silence of his heart to hear the word of God, for only then, from the fullness of his heart, he can speak the word of God.


You, as God’s priest are to be his living instrument, and so you must ever give him permission to do with you exactly as he wills for the glory of the Father. The same spirit will invite you to live an ever closer oneness with Jesus — in mind, heart and action — so that all you say and do will be for him, with him and to him. As he is one with the Father, so must you be one with Jesus. As it is with his own priesthood that you have been sealed, so he must be the one to live that priesthood within you. Nothing and nobody must separate you from Jesus, so that you can say with St Paul: «It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.»


Christ made himself bread of life to satisfy our hunger for his love, and then he makes himself the hungry one so that we may satisfy his hunger for our love. When St Paul was going to destroy the Christians in Damascus, he was thrown down, and he heard the voice: «Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?» and Paul asked him: «Who art thou, Lord?» Christ did not mention the Christians of Damascus. It is the same thing. «Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it me.» If in my name you give a glass of water, you give it to Me. If in my name you receive a child, you receive me. And he has made that a condition also, that at the hour of death we are going to be judged on what we have been and what we have done. He makes himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, the sick one, the lonely one, the unwanted one, the rejected one, and he says: «I was hungry and you gave me to eat.» Not only for bread, I was hungry for love. I was naked, not only for a piece of cloth, but I was naked for that human dignity of a child of God. I was homeless, not only for a home made of bricks, but I was homeless, rejected, unwanted, unloved, a throw-away of society, and you did it to me.


Jesus in the Eucharist made himself bread of life to satisfy our hunger for God, for we have all been created to love and to be loved. And it is very clear what Jesus meant, because how do we love God? Where is God? God is everywhere. How do we love God? And therefore, he gives us the opportunity to do to others what we would like to do to him. To put our love for him in a living action. So, therefore, every priestly vocation is not just to do this or to do that; a priest has been created to belong totally — body, soul, mind, heart, every fibre of his body, every fibre of his soul — to God because he has called him by his name. A priest is very precious to him, a priest is very tenderly loved by God, by Jesus who has chosen him to be his ‘second self. And the work that the priest has been entrusted to do is only a means to put his tender love for God in living action. And therefore, the work that he does is sacred. And the work must always lead not only himself to God, but must be able to lead souls to God. That is why Jesus said: «Let them see your good work and glorify the Father.»


You are to be a radiance of Jesus himself. Your look must be his, your words his words. The people are not seeking your talents, but God in you. Draw them to God, but never to self. If you are not drawing them to God then you are seeking yourself, and people will love you for yourself, not because you remind them of Jesus. Your desire must be to «give only Jesus» in your ministry, rather than self. Remember that it is only your communion with Jesus that brings about communication of Jesus. As Jesus was so united to the Father as to be his splendour and image, so by your union with Jesus, you become his radiance, a transparency of Christ, so that those who have seen you have in some way seen him.


To be able to really be a priest according to the heart of Jesus, you need much prayer and penance. A priest needs to unite his own sacrifice with the sacrifice of Christ, if he really wants to be completely one with Jesus on the altar.


When our Holy Father Paul VI died, I received a trunk call from London asking me what I thought of the death of the Holy Father, and I said: «He was holy, he was a loving father. He had a great love for children and the poor and a special love for the Missionaries of Charity. He has gone home to God and now we can pray to him.»


What I said was true of the Holy Father because when he was dying, Mass was being said by his secretary by his bedside. Just at the consecration he suffered the fatal heart attack. Connect this with what he said the year before, when somebody said to him that he was suffering so much, that he was continuing the Passion of Christ, that he suffered more from within the Church because of bishops, priests and religious who were leaving the Church.

Holy Father did not discuss or explain but expressed one short clear sentence: «I am only living my Mass.»


By your life woven with the Eucharist, God’s love in Jesus, hidden under the humble appearances of bread and wine, can be lived in all its greatness and beauty in the humble events of daily life. You must continue your Mass after its daily celebration during the Liturgy, by your sincere fidelity to the little moment-to-moment things of life. Like the drops of oil that feed the sanctuary lamp which burns continually near the living Jesus in the tabernacle, your life must continue as a living extension of the Eucharist that you offer. With this Bread you must be broken for many, with this Cup your life must be poured out. Charity is love in action.


Today, many priests are becoming involved in social work and social development, and neglecting the work of their priesthood. But there are many people who can do that. What the people need in a priest is a man who will take them to God, who will give them Jesus. They do not need a priest to do social work. There are many good people who can do these things a thousand times better and it is not right for us to take away the work that other people can do so beautifully. No one can do the work of a priest that you are called to do, but only you, as his priest. So, do not substitute any other work, however beautiful it may be, for that of your priesthood.


The Missionaries of Charity Fathers — founded in October 1984 — combine the greatness and power of the priesthood with the charisma of the Missionaries of Charity, and so witness to the truth of the Gospel preached to the poor.


I think many, many priests are being called, even without their realizing it, to give themselves totally to the Lord. Yes, the world is in great need of priests, of holy priests, of priestly celibacy, for the world is in need of Christ. To doubt the value of one’s priesthood and one’s priestly celibacy in today’s world is to doubt the very value of Christ and his mission — for they are one. Christ’s mission is ours.


It is inconceivable how we can turn away from the almighty God and stoop to a creature, however good that creature may be. Is Jesus not the one who can fill you up to the brim with God’s love? It is not surprising then, that married people are questioning the Church. In the Catholic Church, there is no divorce. How is it that the Church cannot divorce a married couple and yet a priest can leave his priesthood? A priest may get dispensation but nobody can take away his priesthood. Once a priest, he is a priest forever. In hell also he remains a priest. The Church however, can withhold the use of his priestly power.


Mary, Mother of priests: Contemplate Our Blessed Lady, the Mother of Jesus standing at the foot of the cross of her Son, our only High Priest — with St John the beloved apostle and priest close by her, to whom Jesus said: «Woman, behold your son» and «Son, behold your mother.» No one could have been a better priest than the Virgin Mother of God, because she really could without difficulty say: «This is my body... This is my blood» — for it was really and truly her body and blood that she gave to Jesus. And yet she remained only the handmaid of the Lord, so that you and I may always turn to her as our Mother. And she is one of our own, so that we can always claim her, turn to her and be one with her. And of course, that is why she was left behind — to establish the Church, to strengthen the priesthood of the apostles, to be a mother to them, until the Church, the young Church was formed. She was there. For just as she helped Jesus to grow, so she also helped the Church to grow in the beginning. She was left behind for so many years after Jesus ascended to heaven, so that she was the one who helped to form the Church. She is the one who helps to form every priest; and no one can have a greater claim on Our Lady than a priest. And I can imagine she must have had, and she still has, a very tender love and special protection also for every priest, if he only turns to her.


How wonderful then, it is to see that likeness to Mary. We need her. Let us pray to her that she may obtain for us that great and beautiful gift of priestly celibacy, the sign of the charity of Christ. To this God calls you when he calls you by your name, if he has chosen you to be his very own priest, if he has chosen to espouse you with tenderness and love, be not afraid, follow him. She will help you, guide you, love you — that you as priests may make the presence of Jesus even more real in the world of today.


Put your hand in Mary’s hand and ask her to lead you to Jesus. When Jesus came into her life, she went in haste to give him to others. You, as his priest, go with her in haste to give Jesus to others. But remember, you cannot give what you do not have. To be able to give, you need to live that oneness with Christ, and he is there in the tabernacle where you put him. Make it a point that first thing in the morning that Jesus be the centre of your life. During the day, learn to pray your work: work with Jesus, work for Jesus. Always keep close to Mary. Ask her to give you her heart so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, her heart so full of love and humility that you are able to receive Jesus and give Jesus in the bread of life to others. Love Jesus as she loved him and serve him in the distressing disguise of the poor — for we read in the Bible that one of the signs that Jesus was the Saviour to come was that the gospel is preached to the poor.