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Celibacy is the personal denial of marriage for the observance of chastity by those who enter the priesthood.  The modern challenge to celibacy is coming from all quarters.  In recent years, many lay people, theologians, and religious—as well as many other Christians and non-Christians—have stated that marriage should be made available to priests.

The challenge is staggering to those who are not called to the priesthood by God.  The sexual drive in humans is a powerful thing, and is a good thing when used for right purposes in marriage.  Yet, are people really called to be celibate?  In this sense-ridden age where love is passion, and feelings rule over reason, there are some who do not believe celibacy is worth preserving.  But is it?

The Church faces a crisis of identity in the priesthood today.  The contemporary interpretation of the priestly vocation, the effort to make it irrelevant in our day, and the failure to respond to the call of the priesthood has aided this crisis. 

Christ’s call to the priesthood is a unique and blessed call.  God has not stopped calling men to the priesthood.  The confusion is here before us, not before Him.  In some ways, we have forgotten the mystical reality of Christ Himself, that each priest when ordained shares in a special way the priestly function of Christ.  This supernaturally excellent relationship between Christ and His ordained priests is well founded in the documents of Vatican II where it reads, that the bishops and his priests act in the place of Christ Himself.  (Lumen Gentium, No. 21).  The Church has confirmed this for centuries in her documents.  But is celibacy biblical?  Can it withstand careful scrutiny in the study of the Holy Scriptures?

The answer is yes.  First, it is known that marriage is a sacrament, is a calling and is a blessing.  This is no less true of the priesthood.  If a priest denies to himself a right of enjoyment and privilege for service of God, then he is free to give his whole heart and care for the Church and its flock.  This is clearly stated in 1 Corinthians, where it reads, “Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  (1 Cor. 4,1).  As St. Paul notes, for the practical side, that, “An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.”  A married man, St. Paul states, is divided between the things of the world and the things of God.  (1 Cor. 7, 33-34).  It is not St. Paul, but Christ, who clarified this further, where he states that celibacy is not for all, but only to those it has been granted by God, where He states, “For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs were made so by men; and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven.  He that can receive, let him receive it.”  (Matthew 19, 12)There are those who are called to be doctors, to be teachers, to be librarians, to be homemakers, to be professionals, and to every other vocation—including priests.  This Godly relationship is a call to a supernatural state where the priest answers Heaven, and God responds by giving the grace to fulfill this special relationship between Him and His Church and His flock.  This is truly a blessing.

 by John C. Keenan, O.P.L.

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