When I was discerning the priesthood in high school, the most common question I got was, “But don’t you want to have sex?”
To which I would reply: Thanks for the offer. But no, I’m good.
The truth is, celibacy was a big obstacle for me in discernment. The desire for marriage is natural, and in our sex-obsessed culture, saying no to that is one of the most contrarian things you can do. It’s so out of the ordinary, people view priestly celibacy with suspicion. Or at best, they view it as an unnecessary rule.
The opposite is true. Not only is celibacy necessary for the Church to embrace, it’s necessary for lay people as well.
When I was discerning in college, celibacy was no longer an obstacle to the priesthood, but something that attracted me to it. My view of the Church had changed over the past four years. I saw the Church as a family, and I saw it was possible for me to love that family more as a celibate priest.
Even then, the idea of celibacy freed me up to love disinterestedly. A single man in college surrounded by beautiful women often has a tough time loving disinterestedly. It’s hard to not look at a pretty girl and think about asking her out. But for that semester, I didn’t. I was able to invest time into relationships without thinking about that person as a potential date.
(Then one of those people became my girlfriend. So that’s how that discernment story ends.)
The truth is, the family of the church is a celibate family. We are brothers and sisters not because of our physical birth, but because of our spiritual birth in baptism. That’s why we call celibates “Father,” “Brother,” or “Sister” instead of “pastor,” “elder,” etc.
That’s why I say we all need celibate love. We all live in this celibate family and hope to live in it forever in heave, “where none will be married or given in marriage.” Virtuous priests who have promised celibacy show us what it is like to love without self-interest. That kind of love is Christ’s love.
In marrying one person, you must have a celibate love for all other people. Even within marriage, there will be times you can’t express love physically. That’s why it’s important to have examples of how celibate love is lived out in priests and religious.
If married priests were allowed in the roman rite, I’m sure young men would continue to choose celibacy. It allows a freedom to live Christ’s love in a radical way. It’s unavoidable in the Christian life.
You can’t pray with the gospels honestly and avoid Christ’s celibate love for Mary Magdalene. Or Paul’s love for Phoebe. You can’t avoid the lives of the saints without seeing the celibate love between Francis and Clare, Francis de Sales and Philothea, St. Louis and St. Elizabeth. The fraternity of Peter and John or the sisterhood of Felicity and Perpetua.
These loves mark who we are as Christians. We are a people who see the value of the whole person, not just their bodies. We are the true proponents of “free love.” Free love is chaste love. A self-seeking love is a slave to it’s own desires.
Learn from the radical promises of the celibate priests around you and allow it to inspire you to grow in your own chastity, loving others like Christ did: without a drop of self interest.