BAYSIDE – The recently at-issue requirement in the Roman Catholic Church of an unmarried, celibate, and all-male priesthood is argued by many in our modern world as an overly difficult and an excessively unfair demand on the person to give up sex, marriage, and family life. Those who take this position misunderstand the source of the dogma or rule. Let me take a little trip through Holy Scripture on this matter in order to counter the glib criticisms of the church’s stance on this matter.
First, Jesus in his life is presented in the gospels, as unmarried, born of a virgin, and did not engage in sexual activity, much to the defiance and chagrin of our modern world and society, which seems to allow if not approve of a widespread variety of types and kinds of sexual practices and activity. I make no criticism or judgment on our modern world in this respect but merely take truthful note of these developments.
Jesus, being unmarried and not engaging in sexual activity, is the beginning point of the discussion. Let me take a walk through Holy Scripture on this issue, In Matthew 19, verses 10-12, Jesus states there are eunuchs who have been so from birth; there are eunuchs who have been made so by men; and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says or means to tell us that a eunuch or unmarried celibate who has given up sex, family, and marriage is able to fully and completely devote himself in this sacrificial act to God, Christ, the church, and the world more fully and completely than the married man whose thoughts and concerns are rightly focused on this family and providing for his wife and children.
This unmarried celibate eunuch is able to do a great deal of immeasurable good that the married man because of family responsibilities cannot. In Matthew 22:30, Jesus says in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. Again in Mark 12:25, Jesus says the same, essentially that when they rise from the dead they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. Finally, in Luke 20, 34, and 35, Jesus says the sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are accounted worthy to attain that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage because they cannot die anymore and are equal to the angels.
What are we to make of these sayings of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? He tells us that the fully developed humanity in the world to come will not engage in sex and marry and that marriage and sex are temporary accidents and occasions of this temporary earthly life. St. Paul speaks of the unmarried celibate as the preferred option to serve Christ and the church. St. Paul says he wishes people could be like him, celibate and unmarried. He says later the unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord but the married man is anxious about wordly affairs and how to please his wife. Again, the apostle says the unmarried girl or woman is anxious about the affairs of the Lord and how to be holy but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs and how to please her husband. Finally, the apostle states that if a woman’s husband dies, she should remain single.
What are we to make of these statements and recommendations of the apostle to the gentiles? One can only say that St. Paul rightly concludes and recommends that the unmarried man or woman can and is fully able to devote themselves to God, Christ, and his Kingdom, which the married man or women cannot. This view and position has great truth and validity and so it must be said that the celibacy requirement of its clergy by the Roman Catholic church can be fully grasped and understood not as a rejection of sex and marriage, and not as anti-woman, but a rule based on wholehearted and complete devotion to Christ and his church, something unmarried clergy are not able to accomplish.
I hope and desire that this little literary excursus has brought some light and truth to a subject perhaps immersed in political jargon and hype.