The Roman Catholic Priesthood is in the news again. That is usually not a good thing. It seems the only time Catholic priests get in the news is when a priest sins, is killed, or when discussion about changing celibacy arise. The secular world hates the priesthood. Yes, there are many priests who give ample ammunition to these entities in their disparagement. There is nothing new in this. Clergy have been a great source of scandal from the very beginning. The scandal comes from their unwillingness to live up to the witness that the priesthood is supposed to give: the witness of a man completely configured to the Kingdom of God... a man whose very life points beyond this world.
Essential Witnesses: the Married
Both the married life and priesthood give witness to the Kingdom of God. They do so in distinct and necessary ways. In marriage, the husband and wife model the union of the Trinity and the union of Christ with His Church. They model the life creating love that flows from the Trinity. They model in their families a microcosm of the Body of Christ, the Church. The witness of a faith infused marriage and the union it represents is a witness is indispensable in this age of free love (which is nothing more than slavery to lust) and disposable and willfully sterile relationships. The married man's vocation is first and foremost as husband and father. While it takes tremendous self-control, self-discipline, and sacrifice, being a husband and father is not a job, but a calling...a vocation. A married man's first priority is always his wife and children. When that first priority becomes a career, an entertainment, or anything other than his family, the marriage suffers for it.
Our culture thinks little of the married life. It has so twisted the idea of marriage and family that the bond represents little more than an emotional entanglement that is to be enjoyed until it quits being enjoyable. That a marriage would reflect the life giving bond of the Trinity is deemed impossible and replaced with a bond racked with the poisons of artificial birth control, cohabitation, abortion, same sex marriage and really anything that would render this life giving bond sterile and godless. For the secular world, marriage is little more than a having a life buddy to do stuff with when one is free from the primary concerns of making money and self pleasure. The dignity of marriage should be so diluted as to not see its specific witness and calling. To the contrary, when Catholics marry, it should point beyond just themselves. This is why matrimony is a sacrament; such a witness is hard enough with the sacramental grace of God, much harder to impossible without it.
Essential Witnesses: the Celibate
As much as our culture hates the married life, it hates the priesthood more. Why? It finds the idea of celibacy loathsome. That a human being should possess the ability to have complete mastery over their sexual impulses stands in complete contradiction to the endless torrent of sexual licentiousness that makes up the overwhelming majority of modern entertainment and morality. The truly celibate man is a radical witness to the Kingdom of God. In Mark12:25 Jesus points out that in the Kingdom to come, that men and women neither marry nor are given in marriage. This is not because there is something wrong with marriage, but the witness is no longer necessary when the absolute union in the Kingdom of Heaven is now the lived reality. The celibate priest lives in such a way so as to point to this reality of the Kingdom of God.
The world sees no worth in this witness, in fact, it sees this witness as dangerous. Why is it the media delights in the sexual sin of a priest that it really doesn't in any other group? For the same reason that a priest giving in to sexual misconduct does such harm...it is a scandal that undermines the powerful witness. The world wants to say that chastity and celibacy are impossible. The world believes that man is just another animal who can be manipulated because they operate only on instinct. A chaste and celibate person stands as a warrior that frightens the devil and his minions.
The Catholic priesthood is supposed to be a bold witness of self-sacrifice and holiness to a world in desperate need of such witness. The Catholic priest is to give of himself to God and the portion of the flock assigned him every bit as totally as a husband and father is to give of himself to his wife and family. The base of both husband and priest is the same; the same virtue, the same strength, the same selflessness and willingness to sacrifice are absolute necessities in both. If this is the case, why should a man not be able to do both? This question is currently being bandied about.
My own worry about the mingling of these two goods is how does one man give himself completely to two vocations. Is his first priority his family (which marriage requires) or his parish (which priesthood requires). Will not suffer to the good of the other? Many will say that protestant, some Orthodox and Eastern Catholic clergy do. My response is that what is expected of these clergy and what is expected of catholic priests are wildly different. The danger becomes reducing a vocation to a job. No more than a married man treats his wife and family as a job does a priest treat his duties to God and His people as a job. Celibacy frees the priest to give himself completely to God and His people. In I Corinthians 7, St Paul makes the case that a married man is concerned ( and should be) about his wife... the celibate man or woman can give themselves over to the service of God completely.
Not Looking for the Easy Way Out
We are indeed in a vocation crisis and shortage. In crisis, there is tendency to panic and look for fixes that lower the standards. The idea of a simplex priest is such a panic move. A simplex priest is ordained to provide sacraments. That we would want greater access to the sacraments is a good thing. Indeed in times when the Church is driven underground by persecution, such an answer might be needed. But when the shortage comes as a result of rebellion against God's will, we are writing a prescription for going further down the rabbit hole. Make no mistake, at the heart of the vocation crisis is a wholesale rebellion against the witness of celibacy. When I fought against the idea of priesthood, it was because I wanted to get married...and not for the most noble of interest. Marriage represented the idea of having a woman who I could legally and morally have sex with. That I would have to control my sexuality for the rest of my life was far too difficult to endure. I was falling for the lies of our culture.
Priests aren't just needed because we need people to give sacraments and run parishes. Priests are needed, and I mean GOOD HOLY priests are needed because the witness that celibacy provides is needed so desperately in this world. In a culture that truly is godless and believes that all there is is in the here and now, that a man would fly in the face of this and live in such a way as to point to the Kingdom of God and the union that awaits for us is bold and brave. This witness is not unneeded and disposable.
Forging Forward in Witness
Each man is called to give witness. The witness of marriage and priesthood are desperately needed...both of them, in their distinct ways. This is not disparage priests who are married...not at all. But when we change the standards , we change the outcome. This can very dangerous. Yes, allowing priests to marry, or trying simplex priests might provide temporary relief. But at what cost? We cannot see the witness of celibacy and its total self giving it shows die. It needs to be greater, not lesser. When man wants to compromise away a standard, it is never to our good.
The culture wants us to move away from this great witness which is probably why we need to move more strongly to it. Young men should know the heroic witness they can give if God calls them to priesthood. While celibacy is one component of priesthood, it is the one under attack right now. Let us pray that this witness of celibacy grow and grow powerfully. Priesthood is not a job of manufacturing holy stuff, but a call to offer oneself completely to the God and His people is the heart of priesthood...it is not a job or career...but a vocation. Pray that our rebellion against this witness dies and we boldly advance to show the world something beyond itself. For married men that is to model union and life giving love. For the priest, it is to give completely to God and His people.