celibacyCelibacy is often one of the largest difficulties that a young man has in accepting that he might have a call from God as a priest. It is often difficult for men to understand how celibacy is not ‘giving something up’, but rather a gift of grace. The Papal Document Lumen Gentium (42) tells us:

“This is a precious gift of divine grace given by the Father to certain souls (cf. Mt 19:11; 1 Cor 7:7), whereby they may devote themselves to God alone the more easily, due to an undivided heart”

It is a gift from God, but it is also a gift that the man offers back to God. His sacrifice is a gift of himself, a radical way of following Jesus and leaving all else behind and serving the people of God.

Celibacy can even be understood as the fulfillment of spousal love. In other words, God designed human marriage in part to help us understand our ultimate destiny in loving, and being loved by, God.

“As a sacrament, the ‘one flesh’ union of marriage is only a sign and foreshadowing of things to come. According to the analogy, we’re created for spousal union with God…In short, those who choose celibacy are ‘skipping’ the sacrament in anticipation of the real thing.” (Matthew West, Good News about Sex and Marriage, p 164)

“In essence, it is believing that God will use celibacy to help us become who we are really meant to be.”

This perspective was developed greatly in Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, affirming repeatedly that, “The question of continence for the kingdom of heaven is not set in opposition to marriage.” Indeed, they go hand in hand!

In some ways, considering celibacy is one of the earliest steps in pursuing a vocation to the priesthood. This does not mean that a man must be a virgin, or have no interest in sex. Sexuality is a part of our humanity, but it must be integrated with who we are and who God wants us to be. If we are being called as part of our vocation to live a life of celibacy, we must trust that we will be given grace from God to live out our calling. In essence, it is believing that God will use celibacy to help us become who we are really meant to be. (A far cry from modern society, which tells us that we will only discover who we are by exploring every sexual impulse we may have.)

Sexual dis-integration — not having a grounding on one’s sexual desires and the way they are lived and connected to the rest of one’s life — is a problem regardless of one’s vocation. If a man is worried about the idea of celibacy because he feels he will not be able to control himself, then he must realize that control will be an issue in marriage as well. A married man must be “celibate” with all women except his wife, and even with his wife he must respect her personhood and situation. Whether a man becomes a priest, religious, husband, or dedicated single person, he must face the challenge of becoming sexually integrated.

In seminary, a great deal of the human formation deals with helping him do just that. Through prayer, spiritual direction, counseling, and fraternal support the seminarian learns how to accept, and control, his sexuality. In almost every case he eventually comes to see celibacy for the gift that it truly is.


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