Archbishop Defends Celibacy (I do too)
ADELAIDE, Australia, AUG. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Allowing priests to marry is not the answer to the shortage of priestly vocations. Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide, who is also the president of the Australian bishops' conference, wrote a letter for the National Vocations Awareness Week that began in his archdiocese Tuesday.
"You often hear it said," the archbishop started, "that 'the Church should let priests get married and then we would solve the problem of the shortage.' However, he explained, "I think that it is important to reflect on the positive value of celibacy."
"We need to see a vocation as more than just an individual or personal life choice," Archbishop Wilson said. "Each vocation is a call from God in the context of the Christian community and for the service of the community.
"If we only see a vocation from the individual's point of view, we will find it hard to see beyond the thought that priests and religious are missing out on something if they are not married. John Paul II reminded us that 'No one is called to walk alone.'" The 56-year-old archbishop continued: "The context of a loving, supportive Christian community is important. At the heart of the ministry of Jesus was the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. In fact in his very person he made the Kingdom of God present in human time and history.
"The Kingdom of God is among us and includes our human endeavors, we know that its fulfillment lies beyond us and only in the mystery of God and in the next life."
"Celibate priests and religious are clear signs of this mystery. They continually challenge us to look beyond," the archbishop explained.
Archbishop Wilson continued: "You hear it said 'how can priests be helpful to married people and for families if they haven't experienced it themselves?'
"However, there's a deeper way that priests and religious share in the human experiences of others and so can relate to them. It is in the experience of loss and letting go."
Archbishop Wilson underlined the "deep wisdom in the Church continuing to ask priests to be celibate and in upholding the enduring religious vow of chastity." "Of their very natures," he concluded, "these vows only exist and are possible because of God's grace. Let us not lose faith and confidence in the gift of this grace. Let us confidently pray for it."
This is a short but very powerful letter. It proposes some thoughts that had not yet occurred to me. The intimate connection with the rest of the community that celibacy gives to priests through the "loss and the letting go." This brings us to the feet of Jesus who told the rich man: "There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Luke, 18; 22) This is the foundation of the Archbishop's teaching, "these vows only exist and are possible because of God's grace." This grace is given not only to the individual but to the whole community. It is in the community that the priest lives his vows. It is the spiritual priesthood of the community that provides the spiritual support to the priest so that the practice of his vows will have fruit. By the same token, the practice of celibacy is a lived martyrdom and a heaven-on-earth witness to the dynamic presence of God. Martyrdom does not always end in death. "Martyr" is an old Greek word which means "witness".
Witness is only given while we are alive. Sometimes it ends in death, but it is always public and it takes as much strength to live it out over time as it does to die for it. We all know that this kind of courage is required of a good priest, a strong missionary.
I will now say that I think that having married priests in the Latin Church is a good idea. I think that the Greek churches have a good method. I think that there is room in the Latin Church for the same system. But I do not, I repeat, I do not think that the Latin Church should, nor would, go the married priest system to solve the priest shortage reality. For those of you who do not know what I mean, a short and quick explanation.
In the Eastern churches, it is acceptable for a married man to be ordained to the priesthood. However, it is not possible for an ordained priest to get married.
This is a very important practice to be kept in mind.
Just because I think that there is room in the Latin Church for such a system, I am leaving it up to the Church to determine if and when this practice should be accepted and encouraged. I am with the Church and the Archbishop from Adelaide on this one. The Church needs signs. The Church needs holy and living martyrdom to place before the World. St. Paul himself shouted that out to his people. He wanted them to understand him, and by the same token he wanted them to understand how the grace of God works in us. The celibate person is a sign
from God to all of us.
Martyrs are not easy to find. But the efficatiousness of martyrdom doesn't depend on numbers. Just as Faith is not a numbers game just as it is not an intellectual exercise, so martyrdom is the same. It is an exercise of carrying the light of the Word through the highways and byways of the World. Martyrdom is a highly spiritual exercise of righteousness for the good of the community. The priesthood therefore is a calling to witness to the presence of God through the sacrifice of HiS Son, Jesus Christ, founder of the Church. This is not impossible
for a married man to accomplish but look around you. How many celibate priests are there who are living a true martyrdom? How many of them are more dedicated to the administrative tasks of the parish than they are to a life of witness? You're right. Too many. So the Church's position is that it is not a question of numbers, but a question of quality. It is the Church's opinion, and mine, that the solution to the mediocrity problem is not by taking away the challenge of celibacy, but by keeping it in front of everybody as God's challenge to both, priest
and faithful as human community's martyrdom for His sake.
That's my story and I am going to live and die with it. Love it or hate it, you won't have to cry at my funeral because of it.