By Father Marty Goetz
A dietitian was once addressing a large audience in Chicago. “The material we put into our stomachs is enough to have killed most of us sitting here years ago. Red meat is awful. Soft drinks erode your stomach lining. Chinese food is loaded with MSG. Vegetables can be disastrous, and none of us realizes the long-term harm caused by the germs in our drinking water.
“But there is one thing that is the most dangerous of all and we all have, or will, eat it. Can anyone here tell me what food it is that causes the most grief and suffering for years after eating it?”
A 75-year-old man in the front row stood up and exclaimed, “Wedding cake.”
I think if you would ask anybody the question “Why can’t priests marry?” you’d get a multitude of different answers — some serious, some funny. Some have said that if priests could marry, we would not have the crisis in numbers that we have today facing the priest shortage or we would not have had to suffer the recent clergy sexual abuse crisis. Although the statistics don’t support those statements, a lot of people still believe them.
But instead of looking at “Why can’t priests marry?” in a negative light, let’s look at it in a positive light. Priesthood and religious life is a gift from God. Marriage is a gift from God. Priesthood, religious life and marriage are vocations — a calling — a way of life.
As a priest, I am called to live a celibate lifestyle so I can give myself completely in a spirit of self-giving to the service of Jesus and his church. My celibacy is rooted in pastoral charity so I can complete my self-giving to the mission and preaching the Good News of the Gospel and of bringing others closer to the Lord.
To be a celibate priest or religious is not for everyone, but it is indeed a great calling for some. I remember another priest telling me when I was discerning my vocation to priesthood: “I can’t think of a greater and more exciting thing to do with your life, but it will cost you everything.” In other words, I was being challenged to be the best that I could be for someone and something greater than myself. To me, that’s why I live celibately.
But if we are to have good priests for the future, we need people today who also live their vocation of marriage. I am blessed to have parents who have been married for over 53 years. In this time, they have shared the good times and bad times. And through it all, they have relied on their faith in God. They also encouraged my vocation and have supported me through my good times and bad times.
I am thankful every day that my parents had the faith and courage not only to eat the wedding cake but to live their marriage vows. They have given me the strength to live my vocation as a celibate priest.