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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Priestly Celibacy – Will Any Answer Satisfy Critics Today?

Some reasons for priestly celibacy do not impress people today. For instance, the argument that it focuses personal energy or that it optimizes the available manpower might not convince one as a typical “ends justifies the means” argument. The institution is requiring a great deal of the individual: the perpetual abnegation of a major natural right. Many men find a sense of fulfillment, purpose and self- development in marriage and family. All this is denied the celibate priest. Certain Catholics, themselves, bewail the loss from the gene pool of those Catholic men who are the most fervent and intellectual in their grasp of faith. They contend that we short-change the men and the Church. The next generation would probably supply the Church men and women with similar gifts and a ready willingness to serve others. Instead, they argue, we leave these men personally stunted, alone and barren. He will have no helpmate to share his life. There will be no children to give him joy. It is a pretty dark picture. What they do not see is that celibacy makes possible another whole level of fulfillment and spiritual fruitfulness. The future of the Church does not depend upon his priestly loins, but rather upon the spiritual fruits of his priestly proclamation and his exercise of the sacraments. The priest delivers himself entirely into the hands of God, the divine supernatural agency. It is God who will make the sacrifices of a priest worthwhile and efficacious. The celibate priest gains more than he loses, even if the world cannot see the spiritual value.

The celibacy of the priest, although an accidental by comparison to the male humanity of the priest, is another marker that connects the ordained minister to Christ. Christ is the pure and unblemished Lamb that is sacrificed on our behalf. The ordained priest participates in the one high priesthood of Christ. He acts “in the person of Christ” the head of the Church. He is a living and breathing “icon” for the Lord. While marriage is it’s own expression of Christ and his covenant with his bride in a particular or individual fashion; the priest is most uniquely groom in a universal or corporate way while celebrating at the marriage banquet altar of the Mass. He signifies Christ the groom to his bride, the Church. His celibacy speaks loudly that he belongs to no one woman, no single cell in the body of Christ; rather, he is in spousal relationship to the Church as a whole. It is a spiritual marriage and yet, also very real. Christ gives himself to us as priest and victim, as spiritual food and as oblation. The priest sacrifices his individual life so that the body might know the forgiveness of sins. He is servant or slave. His obedience, celibacy and poverty joins him to Christ as the victim who dies to self so that others might live. Celibacy insures that the priesthood will never be just a job with regular work hours. The priest surrenders a basic human right that most men take for granted. He does so, not to suffer needlessly, but so that others might benefit from the ministry of Christ that is perpetuated through him. This ministerial identification is a great mystery. All of us were made in the image of God and are called by grace to share in his likeness. But the ordained priest has been set apart. He is just a man and yet he is not an ordinary man. An indelible character marks his soul. While marriage is “until death do we part,” the priest will still be a priest in heaven, and God forbid, if he should damn himself and suffer as a Judas, in the lowest circle of hell. He has been given special graces for holiness; however, the maxim remains true, the more that one has been given, the more one will be held accountable. That is why some of the saints feared that it was easier for a priest to suffer perdition; unlike other souls, he could neither claim ignorance of the truth nor distance from the saving sacraments. Celibacy is a safeguard to help the priest in maintaining perspective about how important and unique his vocation actually is. He says at the altar that “this is my body…this is the chalice of my blood.” Similarly, at confession, he extends his right hand and says within the absolution prayer, “I absolve you….” Both at the altar and in the confessional, the priest speaks in the first person. Here is the great mystery. Never had God in the history of the world given such power and authority to men as he gave to priests. God is called down from heaven and sins are forgiven. The priest is still a man and a sinner but he is also so much more. Celibacy speaks to this element of “more.” Because of this man we hear Christ speaking. Because of this priest, Christ is present both in his person and in his saving activity. Celibacy prizes in a unique way who the priest is and who he becomes for the community of faith. He belongs to the Church and no other woman shares his bed. He is consumed for the love of his bride and on fire for the salvation of souls.