|Sr. Julie and Jessie with Seminarian Eric and Fr. Patrick|
Jesus also gave a direct teaching on celibacy, found in Chapter 19 of The Gospel of Matthew. The Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce and remarriage, and Jesus explained to them that divorce was only allowed because of their hardness of heart, so anyone who divorces his wife ‘except for sexual immorality’ and marries another is committing adultery. Because of this, Jesus’ disciples then state that maybe it is better not to marry at all. But Jesus disagrees with them, explaining that there are only some who are called to be unmarried, and says the following:
“But He said to them, ‘All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Mt 19:11-12).
There are a couple of statements Jesus is making about celibacy in this passage. First, celibacy is not for everyone. Being a celibate is a call by God to particular individuals to whom God will give the grace to live out this particular state of life, which is why ‘all cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given.’ Second, celibacy must be freely chosen by the person whom God has called. ‘He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.’ Thirdly, Christian celibacy is not an end in itself, but is a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven. ‘There are eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake’ – men and women who freely respond to God’s call to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom. These men and women, called by God, serve as a sign or foreshadowing of what our life in heaven will be like, where “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven” (Mt 22:30). They witness to the reality that all of humanity is created to one day be in total union with God in heaven – and these men and women express that reality by consecrating their lives to God while still on earth, desiring not marriage in this life, but marriage with our Eternal Bridegroom in the life to come.
So, with the ideas in mind that celibacy is a call by God which must be freely chosen for the sake of the Kingdom, we want to look at celibacy within the Catholic priesthood. First of all, celibacy is a discipline of the Roman Catholic priesthood, not a doctrine of the Catholic Church. There are churches in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, in particular the Eastern Catholic Churches such as the Ruthenian Byzantine Church we belong to, that allow for married men to discern and be ordained to the priesthood. Both are valid disciplines and both are in communion with the Holy See in Rome. In both cases though, the key to celibacy or marriage in the priesthood is that it must be freely chosen. No one is forced to become a priest – they must freely choose to enter into discernment, which the Church ratifies by accepting that person into the seminary. With that free choice comes the knowledge that to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest, you must remain celibate or in the Eastern Churches, you may be married prior to ordination but if your wife precedes you in death, you may not remarry. Therefore, marriage is not forbidden, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, but is freely given up to embrace the gift of celibacy for the sake of building up God’s Kingdom here on earth.
Celibacy is not a burden, but is truly God’s gift to priests and religious men and women. When celibacy is freely chosen in response to God’s call, God provides the grace each day to embrace that life of single-hearted dedication to Him. As priests and religious men and women, we are called to obedience to God’s will for our lives, including celibacy, just as Jesus was called to be obedient to His Father’s will, which also included remaining celibate for His entire earthly life. God asks us no more than He asked of His own Son – that we be willing to freely lay down our lives for one another, just as Jesus has done for us. It is with great joy, ardent love, and much fervor that I proclaim my ‘yes’ to God’s call to celibacy as a nun, in obedience to the wisdom of the Catholic Church, whose foundation is Jesus Christ. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory to Him Forever!