In the wake of scandals that have affected the priesthood and episcopacy that have been so much in view in recent weeks, our attention should once again turn to the role of celibacy and chastity. It is essential for us to come again to a proper understanding of celibacy in the life of the priest and the Church.
For clarification, we again turn to the great gift that is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. CCC No. 1579 reminds us: “All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.’”
Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to “‘the affairs of the Lord,’ they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.”
Celibacy is taken freely and joyfully by the priest at the day of his ordination. His resolve is for a life-long commitment for the good of his Bride, the Church.
It’s not enough simply to be celibate; the priest must be a chaste celibate. Celibacy must be lived with the virtue of chastity. Perhaps the clear words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 2337 might be helpful to quote here, to aid our understanding: “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.”
To be chaste means to live as an integral person. The words of the Catechism No. 2338 tell us: “The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.”
It involves discipline, indeed self-mastery. It means a triumph over selfishness and our own immediate desires. It’s really all about being an adult. It’s about loving, truly loving others.
Without chastity, there can be no real charity. Pray for your priests and bishops that as a eschatological sign, a sign pointing to the world to come, they may always show us the charity that Christ wants.
Pray that all Christians, no matter what state of life we are in, may always be chaste and charitable.