Celibacy and the Priesthood

Priests in the Latin Rite forgo their natural right to marry “for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” as Jesus taught His disciples (Mt 19:12). It is a gift from God which opens a man’s heart so that he can embrace all of God’s children in a very powerful way. His healthy and holy inclination to be married and have a family is transformed into a supernatural fatherhood that renders his ministry, if he is faithful, fruitful beyond all expectations.

Imitating the celibacy of Jesus, Whose entire earthly life was devoted to the work of redemption, Catholic priests represent Jesus in a unique way while celebrating the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, and even in their ordinary pastoral work. Celibacy is a declaration that the greatest joys of humanity are not to be found in earthly goods but in union with God in this life and in the next. It is also a statement to the Catholic people that their priest is available to them and at their service in a way that would be precluded by the responsibilities of marriage.

Celibacy does not do away with a priest’s sexuality, but with the help of grace and his own growth in virtue, it can become part of a tremendously joyful and fulfilled human life. Like marriage, it is not always easy to live, but a solid prayer life, healthy lifestyle, good friends, and prudent judgment about persons and situations contribute to a beautiful expression of celibate generosity by the priest for the sake of the Kingdom of God, for his brothers and sisters, and for the Church.

For additional reading on celibacy, please see the book recommendations under more resources.

Discerning Celibacy

“The requirement of celibacy is certainly one of the greatest sources of anxiety and fear in a man who is discerning priesthood. This is especially true because we live in a sex-saturated society and culture… The message we receive from the media and culture is very clear: no person can be happy and fulfilled unless they are having a lot of sex. But this is simply not true.

“The good news is that God’s grace can accomplish all things! With the power of Jesus’ cross, a man can overcome sexual lust and live his life peacefully in his respective vocation, even in the celibate vocations of priesthood and religious life… There are approximately four hundred thousand Catholic priests worldwide. The huge majority of these men at one time said these or similar words: ‘I can never become a priest because I like girls too much’. Well, all four hundred thousand of them are priests now, so obviously something must have happened between the time they first had that thought and the day of ordination. God will never send us where his grace cannot sustain us. Contrary to the message with which we are bombarded, people can be very happy and fulfilled in life without being married or engaging in sexual relations”.

from To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to the Diocesan Priesthood by Fr Brett Brannen (UK edition, pp 214-216).

The Witness of Pope Francis

Celibacy is a top concern for men thinking about the priesthood: “I like girls too much to become a priest.”  But rest a­ssured that every priest had the same thought before he went to seminary. Even Pope Francis himself admitted to having to discern celibacy very carefully as a young seminarian:

“I was dazzled by a girl I met at an uncle’s wedding… I was surprised by her beauty, her intellectual brilliance… and, well, I was bowled over for quite a while. I kept thinking and thinking about her. When I returned to the seminary after the wedding, I could not pray for over a week because when I tried to do so, the girl appeared in my head. I had to rethink what I was doing.”

If even the Pope had second thoughts about celibacy, you should not be surprised that you yourself struggle with the issue. The fact is that it is normal for men and women to find themselves sexually attracted to each other. That’s the way God made us, and it is an indication that a man is psychologically healthy. Celibacy isn’t about repressing your sexuality. Rather, it’s about giving up a single woman—a wife— in order to serve all people. Celibacy means giving one­self wholly to the Bride of Christ, the Church. It’s a radical, supernatural call from God. Even if you struggle with chastity right now, God can give you the grace to become sexually pure. Don’t let a concern about celibacy prevent you from considering the priesthood.

1. Am I allowed to date while in the seminary?
2. What if I have been sexually intimate in my past, does that mean I can’t be a priest?
3. My attraction to women is so strong at times that I fear I wouldn’t be able to remain chaste.
4. It seems unnatural to me to live your whole life without sex.
5. Why can’t priests marry?