Many condemn priestly celibacy for a number of reasons. To me, the most difficult argument to answer is as follows: celibacy is not openly demanded or commanded in Scripture. The underlying assumption here is if the teaching did not come out of the mouth of the Lord directly, it is not valid. But as we read in today’s Gospel (Mt. 9:3-12), Jesus said, “Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it [emphasis added].” However, even if this Gospel passage isn’t enough for some critics, shouldn’t we give equal weight to the things that Jesus did as well as said? Jesus never married.
Rather than viewing celibacy as something “missing” from the life of a priest, we can see it as the gift that it is (see 1 Cor. 7:7). The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education document, A Guide to Formation in Priestly Celibacy, powerfully describes priestly celibacy as an act of love that impels one “to share in the life-style of Jesus and dedicate himself to His Kingdom. Such a one chooses celibacy because of his ‘existential impossibility of doing otherwise’.” In other words, since the priest is “Alter Christus [another Christ]”, the priest functions “In Persona Christi [in the Person of Christ]”, and Jesus was never married, then the priest remaining unmarried is the best practice. As this document beautifully declares, “Priestly celibacy is a communion in the celibacy of Christ… [Who is] the immediate model and supreme ideal.”
May the Lord bless and sustain all of our priests who have “renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.”