At the 10:45 Mass on Sunday, Fr. Gerber, the associate pastor at St. Joseph parish, rhetorically asked me in his homily “why I would want to sign up for living a life of celibacy.” The truth is on May 3rd, 2014 I stood before the Archbishop and promised to live a celibate life. Since Fr. Gerber publicly asked me the question, so following the command of St. Peter to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15) I feel it my duty to answer his question, in as public as a forum as I can. (While a more refined answer could certainly be given I have simply decided to answer off the cuff in the same manner that the question was asked.)
The answer to Fr. Gerber’s question is actually very simple; God made me for celibacy. God made each and every one of us in love and for love. He created every one of us for a purpose and He has a plan for each and every one of our lives. Ultimately we will be most fulfilled in this life if we live out His plan for us. God is truly generous and can fulfill our lives in many different ways. Both celibacy and marital chastity are goods in and of themselves but are ordered towards different ends.
While I can easily say I am celibate because that was God’s plan for my life, that simple answer misses the point. You see, when I give that simple answer I am often asked by people “but what about all the things you are missing.” The truth is I am missing many goods, like a wife and a family, but that is still the wrong question to ask. Can’t we just as easily ask married couples what they are missing? Are they not missing many of the goods that I receive in my life of celibacy? Rather than ask what I am missing, perhaps we should ask what God is giving me in my promise of celibacy.
In my 8 years in the seminary, I have discerned that I can love best as a celibate. In living out a life of celibacy I find fulfillment both by turning inward to my personal relationship with the Holy Trinity and drawing on that relationship to turn outward to serve God’s people, just as Christ did. Through living out my promise of celibacy I am freed to love and serve in ways that give me great joy.
In my life of celibacy, God has given me countless opportunities to form a deep relationship with Him in prayer and has given me the ability to give myself completely to God’s people wherever He decides to place me. While it is true I will not have a biological family, God makes up for that by giving me, countless spiritual children. I am called to be a father to every single one of my parishioners, and in a particular way I am blessed to “father” new children into the Church through administering the sacrament of baptism (yes I do keep a list and I pray daily in a special way for all 19 children I have been blessed to baptize to date.) God called me to the gift of celibacy so that I can be of service to His Church and I am privileged to meet people at their most intimate times: at joyful occasions like births, marriages and moments of great success as well as at life’s most difficult moments, death, breakups, after grave sins and moments of great failure. This truth humbles me, for I know that I am charged with a sacred trust. I am charged to be Christ to those who come to me seeking Him.
Living a celibate life, like living a married life, is not always easy, but God has given me the gift of many good priest friends and many others from all different walks of life to help support me in God’s plan for my life. All vows, married or celibate, are acts of faith, hope, and love, and no one said these struggles are easy, but it is those struggles that help make me more compassionate to the struggles of others.
While living a celibate life appears so radically different, in many ways it is perfectly analogous to marriage. In fact, much of what we can say about celibacy can properly be said about a couple presenting them for marriage. In a spiritual sense, I can say I am married to the Church because she is the entire focus of my life.
I simply can’t imagine trying to love both a biological family and my parish family at the same time without failing both of them. My heart is filled to capacity and there simply is not room for a biological family because I have so many people in there right now. My life of celibacy is a full and free life, and I can’t imagine it any other way.