Priestly Celibacy
Christ's Gift to the World

Chapter 6: Christ Appropriately Chose Not To Marry

God launched our human race by creative action in heaven, making man to live on earth as male and female. When the Son of God descended from heaven and was born in Bethlehem, He felt no need to begin the work of creation all over again. He came for a different purpose, namely to lead our race back to God. Thus, Christ's celibacy belongs to the divine logic of the Incarnation.

Those who become priests, and by virtue of this ordination personify Christ on this earth, participate in that divine logic of celibacy. Every priest should logically be as He is: celibate.

Christ's awesome figure as the God-man is utterly beyond human powers of comprehension. The Book of Revelations employs daring symbols to impress upon us how overwhelming is the majesty of the Word-made-man:

"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

I (John) saw ... one like the son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength (Rev 1:8,13-16).

Christ, while with us on earth, judiciously put a veil over His breathtaking majesty, to whom every power in heaven and on earth must bow. But His thoughts were ever eternal, not imprisoned in secular designs. And in somewhat the same manner, an ordained priest is most at home when he is plucked out of the secular world to participate fully in other-world mission of Christ.

From of old, the Son of God had done the work of creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made (Jn 1:1-3).

True, there are pious stories about Christ creating live birds and animals as play things during His childhood at Nazareth. But there is no inspired Scripture to prove such a thing. Even more foreign to the Gospel is any notion that Christ was interested in having a family and procreating children. Rather, He came to lead us all back to the Father, as one spiritual family:

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father... When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything in every one (1 Cor 15:24,28).

Christ logically remained celibate and concentrated on the mission of His priesthood. Priests today correctly impersonate Him by following His pattern of celibacy.

Although there is considerable overlap, by and large God commissions the laity to participate with Him in the works of the six days of creation; but priests He commissions to join Him on the seventh day to rest from all the work which He had done (cf. Gen 2:1-4). God asks the faithful in general to "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth" (Gen 1:28). Families collaborate with God to complete the six days of creation. Whereas priests are already in God's Rest, and draw creation back to God, upwards into the Rest of the seventh day.

Parents have the privilege of joining God in doing His works ad extra; those works which exit from His overflowing love; the chore of fashioning with Him the cosmos as it moves outward from Himself. After God has Himself created light, raised the firmament, gathered the oceans, and made the dry land appear, family people now take over much of the rest of the management of the cosmos; they plant the fields and orchards, exploit the life-giving powers of the sun, gaze in wonder at the moon and the stars, manage fisheries and aviaries, keep livestock and hunt game, and catalogue the fauna and flora of all the earth. Most of all, they marry, beget children, populate the earth, and administer the environment as its appointed stewards (cf. Gen 1).

Priests don't ordinarily have to do what others already do well enough. God appoints them to concentrate on sacerdotal tasks. They are invited to rest with God and to see that all things He had made are very good; to sing His praises. And they are to exert themselves in things spiritual; they are commissioned to reverse the current of the cosmos issuing outward from God, to divert its flow back to its Source. They must orchestrate the dramatic cosmic U turn: to render the cosmos into a spiritual echo singing God's glory. God joins priests to Christ for the task of reining in creation, of re-capitulating it into a parade of captives behind Christ, and to march forthrightly in pilgrim columns back to the Father. As Paul says, Christ will lead this procession of the re-capitulated cosmos back to the Father: "After that will come the end, when, after having destroyed every sovereignty, authority, and power, he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father" (1 Cor 15:24). Priests are co-workers with Christ who arrange this pilgrimage of the cosmos back to God.

God invites married couples to join Him in doing the stupendous work of the six days of creation; with shirt sleeves rolled up they are allowed to assist Him to populate the earth, to be responsible and judicious stewards of all things created, to fashion governments and economies, to sustain human life, to support its dignity, and to write God's thoughts into human affairs with cultures framed by the ten commandments and the message of the Gospel. As companions with Eternal Wisdom in these tasks, they co-experience with Him an ineffable joy of accomplishment as they watch creation take shape before their eyes:

When he established the heavens I was there,
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep; When he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
Then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was delighted day by day,
Playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the sons of men (Prov 8:27-31).

God invites parents and lay people to sustain and complete with Him the work of the six days of creation. But to priests He gives the mission to affirm for humans the Sacred Rest of the seventh day. With Christ, the priest takes upon himself the task of announcing the Kingdom of God, of chaperoning the things already created back toward God. Christ did not come to marry and bring forth new children, for this was part of the work of the six days of creation. He came rather to consecrate the already established cosmos, to recapitulate it under His power, and so to deliver it escatologically into God's hands. The priest, an alter Christus, is likewise ordained for this special purpose.

Herein lies also the tremendous privilege of those whom Christ calls to Himself to serve as co-priests. He calls them to assist Him not primarily in works of creation, but in works of sanctification. They are to be in the world as He Himself was during His mortal life, but they should not establish their posterity in this world, nor seek its possessions. They are to be priests of the Order of Melchizedek: "Without father, mother or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever" (Heb 7:3). Actually Christ, in a hyperbolic figure of speech, did claim to be independent of ancestry in the flesh: "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" Then, extending his hand toward his disciples, he said, "There are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is brother and sister and mother to me" (Mt 12:48-50).

To encapture the cosmos into obedience to the will of the Father, that is the mission of Christ's Incarnation. He calls priests to participate in a special manner in this distinctive task, and to do so as His legates; indeed, to act with authority and power in His Person. They are those specially called, who then freely renounce marriage for the sake of God's reign (cf. Mt 19:12). They are to model, for all people to behold clearly, that pattern of life which is to be ours in eternity, on the seventh day, the day of Rest from works of creation; the day of the resurrection, when humans will live like angels, neither marrying nor being given in marriage (cf. Mt 22:30).

Christ's Priesthood Not Founded On Family Lines

All this must have been in Christ's mind when He instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper. He did away with the inflexible system of the Old Testament which designated priests by Levitical parentage and bloodlines. He calls whom He wills. The Gospel relates that, before He chose the Twelve, He spent the night in prayer. And the next morning He called by name the twelve whom He personally selected from among the disciples who were following Him (see Luke 6:12-16).

When Christ called the apostles they were enthralled; they experienced a God-given inner joy which made them forget about home life and to leave it behind. Most of the 400,000 celibate priests in the world are similarly carefree, satisfied that they have found the pearl of great price. The world never caught on to the kind of secret joy which enraptured the apostles. And it will never grasp why priests, of their own volition, renounce marriage. "If you belonged to the world," Christ told His newly ordained priests at the Last Supper, "it would love you as its own... But I chose you out of the world" (Jn 15:18,19). We need not wonder, then, that the world does not understand the hidden treasure of priestly celibacy.

Next Page: Chapter 7: The Clergy - Guardians of Chastity
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