Why do priests keep celibacy?


Dear Sister,

Why do priests in the Catholic Church keep celibacy?

Dear Friend,

I have always been surprised at the apparent vexation this discipline stirs among some Christian people, especially since it is explicitly recommended in the New Testament. Paul is very clear about its value for those who are, as we might phrase it today, “in ministry.” After discussing conjugal rights between Christian spouses in his First Letter to the Corinthians, he continues with:

“This I say by way of concession (his advice about marriage), not by way of command. I wish that all were as I myself am (unmarried). But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.”

Then later in the same chapter,

“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Cor. 7:6-8, 32-34).

St. Paul could not be more clear and literal in emphasizing what is simultaneously a practical and spiritual advantage in having a celibate clergy. Inevitably, regardless of how lofty his intentions may be, the married man trying to serve the People of God beyond the members of his own household will find that “his interests are divided.” Paul also mentions that the celibacy he is describing is a gift – and this is one of the reasons that the call to priesthood or any form of consecrated life must always be a free choice on the part of the candidate – a true gift can never be forced on someone. As well as being a gift to be freely accepted, a call to any form of consecrated life is also a gift that must be discerned by the larger Church as well as the individual. Like priesthood itself, “no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God” (Hebrews 5:4).

In presenting this highly counter-cultural path to his disciples, Jesus is the last word in blunt!

“His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given (gift!). For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can” (Matthew 19:11-12).

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has cited this passage as the original basis for the practice and understanding of priestly celibacy. While it is more symbolic in nature, he also reminds us of God’s distribution of the Promised Land to the tribes of Israel. Each tribe was given a portion of the Promised Land, a geographic inheritance, an earthly domain. Not the tribe of Levi, however. The Levites were the tribe of Israel’s priests. They inherited no earthly region because they were told that as priests, God Himself was their inheritance: “Then the Lord said to Aaron: ‘You shall have no allotment in their land, nor shall you have any share among them; I am your share and your possession among the Israelites’” (Numbers 18:20).

It is abundantly true that those who walk away from family ties for the sake of the Gospel will indeed receive a hundredfold of like treasures even in this age. But first, the disciple called to “full-time ministry” must quite literally walk away from personal family rights and obligations in order to give himself to a new family – to the Bride of Christ, the Church.

Until next time,

Sister Benedicta Marie, O.C.D

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Promoting a Deeper Spiritual Life Among Families through Healthcare, Education and Retreats

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles strive to give striking witness as a vibrant, thriving community of dedicated women with an all-consuming mission. It is our God-given mission, a mission of the heart, a mission of loving service to the poor, the sick, the needy and the uneducated. Our loving service overflows from each sister’s profound life of prayer. We strive to reflect His life and hope and His promise to all that light has come into our world and darkness has not overcome it.

A look at the history of our community, with its motherhouse in Alhambra, California, reveals how its life-giving presence has come about. During the beginning decades of the 1900s just as the epic Mexican revolution was subsiding, a ruthless religious persecution was gaining momentum in Mexico. This horrible persecution accompanied the birth and humble beginnings of our community, a legacy that Mother Luisita, our foundress, and her two companions brought with them as religious refugees entering the Unites States in 1927.

Those seeds planted by Mother Luisita, now a candidate for sainthood, have taken deep root in the United States since those early days. People and places have changed throughout the years, yet the heart of our mission remains. As an autonomous religious institute since 1983 we continue to carry out our loving service in our healthcare facilities, retreat houses and schools which remain to this day centers of life and hope. Today we are moving forward together “Educating for Life with the Mind and Heart of Christ” in schools, being “At the Service of the Family for Life” through health and eldercare and “Fostering a Deeper Spiritual Life” through individual and group retreats. At the heart of our vocation is a passionate mission of loving service which facilitates our life-giving encounter with the living God.

The heritage of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the spirituality of Carmel, the Gospels, the Church, with our particular charism derived from our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its roots in a long history and living tradition. The spirituality of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross is rooted in this tradition. Carmel means enclosed garden in which God Himself dwells. The divine indwelling in the soul is the foundation of Teresa's doctrine. Thus our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service to the Church.

Our ideal finds a living expression in the life and charism of our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, whose spirit we faithfully preserve and foster.

Our life is characterized by: - A life of prayer and union with God - A deep love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist - Devotion to our Blessed Mother - Steadfast fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church - Praying for priests - Commitment to works of the apostolate in ecclesial service

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