“To have a heart of bronze for chastity.” 

Portrait_of_Dominique_LacordaireThis post is a continuation of a previous post. To read the previous post, click here: What Does it Mean to be a Priest? Part 7: On Charity

If there was one stumbling block for people when it came to the priesthood, it would probably be chastity. It is of no wonder, then, why Lacordaire included this phrase into his quote on what it means to be a priest.

The Bronze Age

Before we get into the matter of chastity I want to address what first stuck out to me in reading this part of the quote. After reading it over several times I kept asking myself the same question: “why bronze?” Why did Lacordaire say that priests have a heart of bronze for chastity? That’s not a phrase that we would typically use to describe someone’s heart. A heart of gold? Sure. A heart that’s on fire? Okay. But a heart of bronze? Not so much. What’s Lacordaire getting at? After trying to figure it out on my own (never a good idea) I finally made the responsible decision to look and see what sacred scripture had to say about bronze. To my surprise there is quite a bit of bronze in scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. There was one passage in particular that caught my eye and, essentially, satisfied my curiosity. It’s the passage when God is describing how the altar of sacrifice is to be made:  “You shall make an altar of acacia wood, on a square, five cubits long and five cubits wide; it shall be three cubits high. At the four corners make horns that are of one piece with the altar. You shall then plate it with bronze.” (Exodus 27:1-2, emphasis added) So the altar, upon which sacrifices to God were to be made, was plated with bronze. So what does this mean for us and for this quote? Lacordaire sees the heart of the priest as a bronze plated altar, just like the one we hear about in Exodus, upon which the priest sacrifices partaking in a life that otherwise would include sexual intercourse and thus, a wife and family. What an amazing way of understanding and looking at the heart of a priest and chastity. But this still does not answer the question of why. Why do priests have to be celibate?

The Sure Way to Happiness

A few weeks ago I shared a great article explaining, in depth, why priests commit themselves to chastity. Call it laziness, call it using my resources, call it whatever you want, but the author of this article explains this aspect of the priesthood far better than I ever could, so I have have posted it below. Give it a read then come back for a short wrap up.

"I don’t understand why priests have to be celibate."

In one of Saint John Paul the Great’s most influential and important works Love and Responsibility, he writes:

“Chastity is a difficult, long term matter; one must wait patiently for it to bear fruit, for the happiness of loving kindness which it must bring. But at the same time, chastity is the sure way to happiness.”

Indeed, chastity is a profound sacrifice but it is one that, in the end, bears much fruit and brings much joy. To be a priest means to offer up everything on the bronze plated altar of their heart as a sacrifice to God, Who takes all things and makes them holy.