Celibacy is discerned alongside the priesthood. In the Roman Church celibacy is a discipline that is the norm for all ordained priests. This is distinct from various eastern Catholic Churches which allow for married priests while all bishops are celibate. The church venerates the celibate life for her priests because our high priest, Jesus Christ, was celibate. The tradition of the church also proclaims that all the apostles, the first bishops, lived celibately following their call from Christ, and that this is not simply a way for priests of the church to ‘have more time’ for ministry, but it is a call into a spousal relationship with the church itself.
The longer I live my priesthood the more I appreciate the spousal aspect of my celibacy. Just as a husband lives for his wife and seeks to give himself to her in all that he does, the priest should do the same for the church. As the love between a husband and wife bears fruit through children and in the community, the priests’ love for the church and his care of protection of her brings forth spiritual fruit in the people of the parish and those that he encounters in the wider community.
Priesthood is most fruitfully lived by men who understand and ‘lean into’ their spousal identity. This means that priesthood is not reserved for men who otherwise would not desire marriage, or who simply want to ‘do good in the world.’ Priesthood is for men who are invited into a relationship with God through the church that brings out a not just a true fatherhood, but first a spousal union. Men are husbands before they are fathers, and so a priest has to be dedicated to giving himself fully to his bride, the church.
When a man is discerning the priesthood, he should pay close attention to the call to celibacy. There should be a discernable movement within the heart of a man as he progresses through the seminary that he is willing and able to give his life away for his bride. Our society has many roadblocks to maturity that sometimes need to be tackled outside the seminary system, and so it is my job and that of the formators at the seminary to help our men see those roadblocks and overcome them. In our day, the ability to commit to lifelong covenant relationship is inhibited by constant distractions, some more gravely immoral than others. Our understanding of our own manhood can be threatened by cultural movements that seek to limit the specific genius of masculinity and femininity. All of these issues are addressed within the seminary as men are encouraged and required to grow in maturity so they are able to be a leaven in society, not to simply go with the flow.
If he is not willing or able to grow in this identity, then he is may not called to priesthood, or he needs to step away in order to grow in maturity and an understanding of who he is as a man. The church needs husbands and fathers seeking to give themselves completely for the life of the church. The call to celibacy must be present if a man is to live out his priesthood as a true spouse of the church, and as he gives himself more and more to that life giving relationship, he will see the fruits of his labor through many spiritual children.
– Father Nick Adam
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