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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: The Priest as Father

The celibate priest exerts a special love for the Church. Akin to that of marriage, this love is a manifestation of a lifelong bond and spousal partnership with the Church. He is loyal or faithful to her above all others. All his hopes and dreams are in her. He has a sacred duty to care for her. His generative energies are both focused upon her and can only come to fruition within her. This love so molds and realizes the identity of the priest that he is affirmed by the sons and daughters of the Church by the title, “Father.” The spiritual fatherhood of the celibate priest has a source that is deeper and more profound than just his pastoral care for souls.

The mystery of God is often compared to a fire that both purifies and punishes. The fatherhood of the priest emerges from his unity with Christ. The priest dies with Christ at every Mass. Celibacy is a powerful sign of this surrender with Christ. The priest is not so much thrown into the crucible as he deliberately enters the furnace. I would liken the fatherhood of the celibate priest to the witness of the three Hebrew brothers in the Book of Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego sang and danced in the flames. Abednego (Azariah) stood up in blazing white fire and loudly prayed,

“Blessed are you, and praiseworthy, O Lord, the God of our ancestors, and glorious forever is your name. For you are just in all you have done; all your deeds are faultless, all your ways right, and all your judgments proper… We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bulls, or tens of thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be in your presence today and find favor before you; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame. And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we seek your face. Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us in accord with your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord: Let all those be put to shame who inflict evils on your servants; Let them be shamed and powerless, and their strength broken; Let them know that you alone are the Lord God, glorious over the whole world” (Daniel 3:26-27;38-45).

A father leads his family in the truth. His faith becomes their faith. He works himself to death for them. If the mystery of God is like a furnace then the priest finds himself in the midst of the fire. He does nothing to compromise the Gospel or the genuine worship that God demands. He offers himself up with the Lord for the sins of his people. Every priest is a father who intercedes for his spiritual children and lays down his life for them. This is realized in his promises, in the sacraments and in his disposition before God. The canticle in Daniel is fulfilled,

“Priests of the Lord, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Servants of the Lord, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever” (Daniel 3:84-85).

Our priests are one with the high priest who makes atonement for the whole world. He dies that we might live. He makes himself a slave that we might be free.

“Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. For he has delivered us from Sheol, and saved us from the power of death; He has freed us from the raging flame and delivered us from the fire. Give thanks to the Lord, who is good, whose mercy endures forever” (Daniel 3: 88-89).

Daniel 3:91-92 continues:

“Then King Nebuchadnezzar was startled and rose in haste, asking his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ ‘Certainly, O king,’ they answered. ‘But,’ he replied, ‘I see four men unbound and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.’”

The celibate priest has cast himself into the heart of the divine mystery and encounters the one who is the Son of God. Intimately connected to the one who is the revelation of the Father; the priest is also properly a father. He generates new life for souls out of the deepest recesses of his own life and the power or authority given by Christ.

St. Paul speaks of this priestly mystery, one which also touches his celibate vocation:

“I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).

This reference to fatherhood in the epistle is crucial to our understanding of priests, particularly when there is no share given to biological fatherhood. It is a metaphor rooted in an abiding spiritual reality. Paul brought the Gospel to them. This made possible their encounter with Christ and their new birth in faith. He feeds them with the truth. He accepts responsibility for them. In turn, many of them will also be summoned to spread the faith and to exercise spiritual parentage. His fatherhood is never an accomplished act. It establishes a perpetual relationship. He will always be a father to them. Not just with his words but with his whole life and identity, he will remain their father. Such is the understanding of the Church in regard to priestly fatherhood. The Church envisions itself as a family.