N THIS DATE THREE YEARS AGO, I was ordained a deacon. That day, not only did I receive the grace of Holy Orders, but I also publicly professed several promises. Among them was the promise of celibacy. Fittingly enough, I also spent part of yesterday morning teaching our eighth-grade students about Holy Orders and celibacy, so the topic has been active in my mind lately.
For some reason, progressives seem insistent on challenging and destroying the institution of celibacy among the Roman clergy. Is the ultimate demise of celibacy inevitable? As I observe the third anniversary of my own commitment to the celibate state, I can only respond by saying that I perceive celibacy as an extraordinary gift to me, personally, and an equally marvelous gift to the world.
Of course not all priests in the Catholic Church (or even the Roman Rite) have promised celibacy, but the majority have. Entailed in this promise is the renunciation of marriage, but the reason for this is not because marriage is something bad or sinful or detestable. The Catechism clearly teaches that Holy Matrimony is a beautiful Sacrament, instituted by Christ, that contributes to the sanctity of the People of God.
Yet, celibacy cannot be defined simply as “not getting married.” I do not consider myself single or a bachelor. Every time I fill out a form that questions my marital status, I pause to consider whether I should add a category for “celibate.” Celibacy entails not only the renunciation of marriage, but also the total commitment of one’s life to the Lord and to His Church. Thus, marriage and celibacy differ only in the smallest way. Marriage is a total commitment to one particular person (one’s spouse) for the rest of one’s life; celibacy is a total commitment to Christ and the Church for the rest of one’s life.
Neither marriage nor celibacy is a renunciation of love. They are just two different ways of loving. Marriage is a call to love one person exclusively, whereas celibacy is a call to love all people inclusively.
The world thinks it understands marriage. The world (at least superficially) still perceives marriage, which it often reduces to sex, as a way of loving. But the world cannot understand celibacy. The world refuses to see that celibacy is also a way of loving. Despite what the world thinks, my chosen path is not one of darkness, psychological distortion, and affective immaturity. Is it possible for a celibate priest to become a lonely, miserable, cantankerous, vicious scoundrel? Yes. And it is equally possible for a husband or wife to become the same.
In my experience—admittedly brief, though not negligible—celibacy is a gift. It has brought me joy and opened my heart to deeper love than I previously thought possible.
Are we, as a Church, beyond celibacy? No, because we are not beyond love.