This article was previously published by The Lepanto Institute
Often people ask why the Catholic Church still requires priests to remain celibate. Some question the discipline of priestly celibacy because it apparently exacerbates the burden of concupiscence. We usually respond that priests must imitate Christ in everything. Christ is our High Priest and a model for every priest that will ever be. Rarely anyone elaborates beyond that. Let’s see if we can dig a little further. Check the words of St Peter:
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?
But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should carefully imitate him. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. — 1 Peter 2:18-25.
You may notice that St Peter talks about the careful imitation of Christ. Some translations render that as “carefully following his steps.” Our first Pope also mentions the healing quality of Christ’s injuries. We all know about the five wounds of Christ but we rarely think about all the other things he sacrificed.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. — Philippians 2:5-11
He earned the right to adopt us as sons and daughters
First of all, Christ denied himself by becoming a man. He chose to be a lowly carpenter in a poor frontier town of the Roman Empire. While he was among us he did not take a wife, he gave up the pleasures of married life and the joys of raising children. How is this connected to our salvation? He explains:
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” — John 10:17-18.
We hear that explanation in the context of the parable of the Good Shepherd. Christ voluntarily gives his life to save us. Included in that sacrifice is the fruitfulness of his own humanity. When he presents his perfect sacrifice to the Almighty Judge, Christ earns the legal right to redeem us by adopting us.
Because, according to the Law he is blameless, God the Father grants him the glory he had before becoming a mere man. Christ uses his sovereign right to fatherhood: He freely claims the sons and daughters of Adam as his own. He renounced to having a family on earth so he could adopt mankind as his family. By denying himself all the way to the Cross, Christ earned the right to own us, giving us the same kind of life he lives.
If you look carefully in Scripture, you will find that principle represented prophetically in many ways: in the story of Judah and Tamar, of Ruth and Boaz, and in many other places. According to the Law of Moses Christ has the right to raise the progeny of Adam. Christ’s perfect purity is instrumental to achieve that purpose.
Our priests must be like Christ in everything
The Church is Christ’s precious possession. Our priests received from Christ the sacred responsibility to dispense the Holy Sacrament to us. In every Mass, or every time we go to Confession, the priest is acting in persona Christi. He is standing there in lieu of Christ. When Popes, Bishops, and Priests teach the Doctrine of the Holy Apostles, they are spiritually seeding the Church with Christ’s words of life. Their words help create new life in us in the same manner that the Logos created all life by his Word. The teaching of the doctrine suffers when the priest does not imitate Christ faithfully, failing to hold on to perfect virginity. Spiritual fruitfulness consists in burying the impulses of the flesh to allow the growth of the spirit for the benefit of others. That is the very essence of fatherhood.
It is God’s will to choose virginal souls to reign over creation so they can be kings and priests along with Christ and dispense the generous benevolence of the Father to all living souls. Not surprisingly St John reveals that those kings are completely loyal to Christ, following him perfectly in everything, including his perfect virginity:
Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. — Revelation 14:1-5.
A parallel with human marriage
But what about those of us who are no longer virgins due to sin, weakness, or ignorance of God’s good laws? Can we ever imitate Christ perfectly? Even when we lose physical virginity, chastity can rebuild it spiritually through patient wait in chasteness. In the sacrament of matrimony, that final “Yes, I do” requires a previous pondering of the whole weight of our final commitment: “I love you forever; I will never look back; here is the whole inventory of my soul before you, for your inspection and possession. Before I even know you, I kept myself pure for you.” That is the precious sacrifice of chaste love.
Our priests and bishops should offer that same sacrifice when they spiritually “marry” the Church. Many of those who have lost their way in this long crisis of faithlessness, could return to spiritual virginity through penance and prayer. The Groom is worth waiting and sacrificing for his approval.
The Church first, our priests, and then the world, need to return to chastity and purity. If we want the grace of eternal life in this impure age, we all have to learn to be virgins anxiously waiting for the Divine Groom to arrive. All our bishops and priests should be men with the courage to be virgins until the last day. May God give us the grace of chastity and send us many chaste, saintly priests.