By Corey Close
Of the three promises a candidate to the priesthood makes on his diaconate ordination day, perhaps the most difficult is the promise to be celibate. It is certainly the better known of the promises. Despite this fact, the “why” of celibacy is perhaps one of the best kept secrets of the Church.
The issue of celibacy is a large one, and can be difficult to explain in a short amount of space. But this month I would like to share what it means to me, a seminarian studying for the priesthood who will lie down on the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome five months from now to be ordained a deacon. I will be making the promise of celibacy for the rest of my life.
First and foremost, celibacy is indeed a sacrifice. You may be tempted to think that men who are called to the priesthood aren’t really interested in marriage, or don’t think it would be difficult to give up marital relations. This is not true. Adam, when he was in the garden with God and all the animals, felt the pangs of loneliness which were fulfilled when he met Eve for the first time and declared, “This one, at last, this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (Gen. 2:23)!” We have been built from creation to yearn for the companionship of the other, and this is something both beautiful and wonderful. This we give up as priests.
But further, if you have been blessed with children, you know what a wonder and a miracle they can be. So captivated by the world we long ago grew bored of, and what joy they find in the simplest things, rekindling joy in our hearts. The gift, the surprise, and the mystery of being a parent are truly spectacular. This, too, we give up as priests.
At this point, you may wonder, “Why give these things up, if they are so beautiful?” But it is precisely because they are so beautiful that our sacrifice of them resounds in the heart of God. If you really love someone, you’re willing to sacrifice even the best things for them. If a father takes a second job to make ends meet, the joy he receives from providing for those he loves surely outweighs the sacrifice of long hours and hard work.
So it is with those called to the priesthood. We give up something amazingly beautiful, something which will remain a sacrifice our entire lives. But we receive a joy and a closeness to the Lord that otherwise would not be possible. We throw all our need for love, which is normally fulfilled in marriage, onto God. He fulfils the need in our hearts in a way we could never dream possible.
The priest’s soul, as it were, is wedded to God and to his Church. But in so doing, the priest becomes a Father. For as a human father begets human children, so too does a spiritual father beget spiritual children. It is precisely because of the priest’s sacrifice of human marriage and family that he can become Father of the household that gathers every Sunday and has needs every day of the week.
So I am writing this article because I want to say how excited I am to live a celibate life. Certainly in today’s culture this may sound shocking, but for those of us whom God has called to be priests, this sacrifice has a beauty and a wonder that are unimaginable.
The joy priests can receive from their lives is truly remarkable. The sacrifice may not always be easy, but God provides. I am sure that many of you reading this have been helped on your journey through life in significant ways by a priest. I firmly believe that those experiences would not have been possible if he had not made this sacrifice to God.
Finally, I would like to ask all of you to pray for me, for all seminarians, and especially for all priests, that we may continue to grow in the joy of this gift.
(Corey Close is a third-year seminarian studying for the Diocese of Davenport at the North American College in Rome.)