As Christians, our ultimate goal is to one day reach the kingdom of heaven. Each one of us has individual and unique talents that can and should be used to help others and glorify God. Not all are called to same vocation. Most men and women are called to married life, but some are called to priesthood or religious sisterhood. Both of these vocations are necessary and equally valuable in an effort for us to reach heaven. Of course, both vocations must be lived out according to their unique purpose. Both vocations require living a virtuous lifestyle and a life of service.
With this in mind, I reflect on the recent scandal surrounding Fr. Cutie and also on the wise words of the late Pope John Paul II in his work Theology of the Body. First, I would like to address the controversy surrounding Fr. Cutie. In case you have not already heard about this story, I will give a brief summary of the scandal surrounding Fr. Cutie. Last month Fr. Cutie, former Catholic priest from Miami, was seen kissing a girl on the beach. He spoke to the archbishop of Miami and requested and was granted a temporary leave. Last week, Fr. Cutie announced that he was leaving the Catholic Church and joining the Episcopal Church. He also plans on marrying the woman he was seen kissing on the beach.
This story is very disappointing to me on many different levels. First of all, Fr. Cutie made a vow of celibacy when he entered the priesthood. His actions are no different than a husband or wife breaking their marital vows. While a husband is married to his wife, a priest is similarly married to the Church. Secondly, his decision to leave the Catholic Church because of what appears to be based primarily on a disagreement over the discipline of priestly celibacy is very sad. Changing churches and faith is not like changing shirts. It should not be something you do frequently and without much discernment and thought. His decision appears to be a rash decision based on the disagreement of a discipline of the Church he once accepted and vowed to follow. He is willing to leave the Catholic Church and lose out on ministering and receiving the Eucharist all because he may have feelings for a girl? I am not responsible to offer final judgment on anyone, but is it worth it to be with any human being if it could severely damage your chances for salvation? His mind is certainly troubled. The decision to join the priesthood is not one that can be made without serious discernment and full commitment. Seminarians must go through many years of schooling and preparation before they can become priests unless there is an extraordinary circumstance. We should also not neglect the fact that Fr. Cutie abandoned his parish. His selfish actions, both in breaking his vow of celibacy and in leaving the Church, left his parishioners without a priest. He did not inform the archbishop of Miami of his decision to leave the church; he found out through the media. So without even getting into whether priestly celibacy is right or wrong, we should all be able to agree that by breaking his vow of celibacy as well as his abandonment of his Catholic faith and faithful, Fr. Cutie was very much in the wrong.
Priestly celibacy is a Catholic discipline that can be justified by several different biblical texts as well as common sense. The vocation of the priesthood requires a complete commitment to serving God and the Church. How can one commit himself fully to the Church when he must also commit himself to a wife and family? A priest is an imitation of Christ, who lived the celibate life Himself. If our Lord and savior lived a life of celibacy, why do we as a society believe that priest should marry? Why do we as a society look down on those who chose to live a celibate life? Why do we think that bodily pleasure is the equivalent of happiness? Our fulfillment of our bodily desires is only temporary, while our spiritual fulfillment lasts a lifetime. The priests that I've had the pleasure to get to know are some of the happiest and most pleasant people I've ever met. Love leads to happiness. Celibacy is not a denial of happiness, but a mastery of oneself and a sacrifice for the kingdom. Even married couples must learn to become masters of their body. Just because a couple marries does not give them the freedom to do whatever they want whenever they want. Married couples must also practice abstinence for periods of time. Many people believe, erroneously, that priestly celibacy is the main reason for much of the scandal in the priesthood. Ironically, married ministers are 5 times more likely to leave their church because of morality issues. Jesus taught that while married life is good but the celibate life is just as admirable if not more so. Don't believe me? Below is a biblical defense for priestly celibacy, many quotes of which John Paul II referenced in his work Theology of the Body.
Found on www.cathlicapologetics.org
The Roman Catholic Church demands celibacy--no voluntary sexual pleasure, hence, no marriage--as a prerequisite to the order of presbyter.
The primary basis for the requirement of celibacy is clearly the lifestyle example of Jesus himself.
The Church notes that the practice is sanctioned by the New Testament.
Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.
1 Cor 7:6-7
This I say by way of concession, however, not as a command. Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am (single? widowed?), but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
1 Cor 7:25-26
Now in regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is.
1 Cor 7:32-34
I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
The law of celibacy has no doctrinal bearing in the Catholic Church--it is a mere disciplinary law. Even today, there are married Catholic priests in the United States. Each is a former Episcopalian priest who joined the Catholic Church. There are Uniate Churches, churches in union with Rome, e.g., the Greek Byzantine Church, who have a married clergy.
Priestly celibacy became law in the Roman Church in the 6th century.
In Theology of the Body, JPII discusses celibacy and marriage and each vocation in how each is uniquely designed to help us reach the kingdom of heaven. He repeatedly defends the importance of marriage and acknowledges the sacredness of the body. Marriage is necessary for the advancement and creation of life. While the married life is the calling of most, some are called to the exceptional calling of the priesthood or religious sisterhood. JPII described priestly celibacy as becoming a eunuch for the kingdom. What does this mean? I had never heard of the word eunuch before, but while watching an EWTN program called Theology of the Body for Teens, an excellent show that every teen should watch in preparation for confirmation, the analogy of eunuch for the kingdom was explained. Apparently, a eunuch is an Old Testament word for men incapable of having intercourse and whose job it was to protect the king's bride. Jesus is the king and the king's bride is the Church. I just think this is an awesome analogy. Marriage on earth is a sign of the perfect union with God. Priests' free choice to be dedicated to God and the Church is an Eschatological sign pointing us to heaven. It points us toward the marriage we're all called to, the marriage of Christ and the Church. Celibacy skips the earthly sign to more perfectly embrace the marriage in heaven. There is so much more that can be discussed about this issue. If you want to learn more about this, I suggest reading Theology of the Body or watch Theology of the Body for Teens on EWTN.