I BLANCH WHEN I hear people say to me almost breathlessly, "Oh, Father, you priests make such sacrifices!" I matter-of-factly respond, "Yes, but no more than other people who make a serious commitment with their lives."
That a healthy man with options chooses to live his life without sex, a wife and children and can live a happy, full life that way seems unthinkable to many.
But, do you know what? Jesus did.
And, Jesus invited his disciples to give up marriage for the sake of God’s reign (Mt 19:12). Moreover, he promised a hundredfold return in happiness and fullness for those who do (Mt 19:29, Lk 18:29-30). In my experience and in that of many celibate brothers and sisters, he’s right.
Before going on to the positive aspects of celibate loving, I’d like to clarify my statement that all people who make serious commitments with their lives make sacrifices. With a 50 percent divorce rate in this country, I think we all know that a successful marriage involves a lot of work, not a little pain and suffering, and much sacrifice.
I was a high school chaplain and counsellor for 19 years, and I’m in awe of the sacrifices parents make for their children – from changing diapers in the middle of the night to financial sacrifices which often entail giving up many things they might like to have for themselves, to putting up with rebellious teenagers who think they know it all and think their parents know nothing.
When I look at the sacrifices married couples and parents have to make, the sacrifices I’ve made can seem almost easy in comparison. This is not to say, of course, that marriage and parenthood don’t also involve many rewards and satisfactions, but so do religious life and priesthood, and the joys and freedom of loving in a celibate fashion.
Marriage is one particular way of loving. Some people feel called to love in a more universal way that is particularly suited to a life of ministry. Celibacy is a way of loving.
I did my theology studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in California, which is part of an ecumenical consortium of theological schools. Quite a few of the Protestant seminarians there were what they sympathetically referred to as "Preachers’ Kids". Many lamented that their father, who was a minister, often seemed to be there for everyone but them.
This should not be too surprising; there is an inherent tension between ministry and the commitment of marriage.
Loving celibately frees one to love more broadly without worrying about neglecting one’s spouse and children.It’s hard to imagine Jesus with a wife and children saying he can’t go to preach the good news in the next town because he has to take the children to soccer practice and his wife has a job in Bethsaida so they can’t move right now. Ministry calls us to a more universal, free form of loving than marriage readily allows.
What is the "hundredfold" that Jesus promises in return for sacrificing family, sex and marriage for the sake of God’s reign?
Probably the easiest way is to answer from my personal experience. I cannot imagine a more meaningful life. By the grace of God, I’ve been able to make a significant difference in many people’s lives. People experience that they have a claim on me – that I’m theirs – because of my celibate form of loving.
My former students often come back for advice, the celebration of special moments in their lives, support in difficult times, and not infrequently they become adult friends. The joy of experiencing God working through me and using me to help someone grow closer to God and experience the liberation of the Gospel is the ultimate high for me that never seems to lessen over the years.
Being celibate gives me a special relationship with God as my spouse. My celibate way of loving frees me to love so many more around the world than I otherwise could imagine. As a member of a religious community, I have been gifted with many wonderful older brothers and spiritual fathers to learn from and be inspired by, younger brothers to mentor and receive energy from, and life-long friends and companions.
Is celibacy for everyone?
Obviously not. It is a special calling. As a vocation director, I talk to young people who feel called to love in this more free, expansive way. I experience it in myself. But others feel called by God to love as a married person, and this clearly is also a wonderful way of loving that the church blesses with a special sacrament.
But for those called to a celibate way of loving, this can be, if lived well, a joyful, rich, very meaningful way to live life in union with God and in the giving of oneself to others to help build the reign of God on earth. - By Father Warren Sazama, SJ