National Catholic Register


Celibacy: Greater Love Than the World Can Know

BY Cardinal Desmond Connell

May 6-12, 2001 Issue | Posted 5/6/01 at 2:00 PM


“Follow me.” These words are addressed to every Christian. Christ is the way that all must follow: Nobody comes to the Father except through him.

But when he said to the Apostles, “Follow me,” this was the beginning of their formation as leaders of his people.

This call he has addressed to you [the newly ordained deacons of the Dublin archdiocese]. You heard those words in your heart when you detected the first stirrings of your vocation. Throughout the years of formation here you have sought assurance that they are indeed addressed to you.

You have listened attentively in prayer, you have spoken openly to your spiritual guide, you have followed the direction given by those appointed for your formation. The Lord now confirms his call through the voice of his Church.

The call of Christ to follow him as he called the Apostles makes sense only if we see it in the light of his love. A decision to answer that call is an act of trust in the love of Christ. The man who says Yes to Christ surrenders himself to a love that commits itself to sustaining him right to the end.

No man could make that act of trust unless he knew Christ and loved and admired him with all his heart. And so the call makes itself heard through a living faith that inspires the humble confidence with which St. Peter speaks in our first reading.

Listening to his words, we are reminded of the threefold test addressed to him by the Risen Lord: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”(John 21:16). With long years of apostolic labor behind him Peter could again renew his reply: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” I have lived your question in times of struggle, temptation and trial, and you have kept your love fresh in my heart. I have always known that you would sustain me and I thank you for keeping me faithful.

Admiration and love for the person of Christ, a desire to bring others healing and hope in the knowledge of his person, identification with the divine pity for his sheep who have strayed, a longing to share in his mission — all convey the meaning of his call to a priestly vocation.

The horizon of this vision is not confined to this world but endlessly open through the life in which Christ now lives resplendent.

The way along which it beckons is the following of an arduous task in forgetfulness of self and the daily acceptance of the Cross. “That is why you must humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1Peter 5:6-7).

Because we labor with Christ as companion, our journey partakes of the joy that filled his heart and which he promised his disciples on the night he went out to suffer for our salvation.

That was the night on which he gave himself to them in the Eucharist — an unmistakable sign that a firm devotion to his eucharistic presence is the way to deepen a priestly vocation and a constant source of the joy he has promised.

As you approach the day of your priestly ordination, you now commit yourself to lifelong fidelity to the gift of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.

As Pastores dabo vobis tells us, the Church's will to call to the priesthood those men who have received this gift, “finds its ultimate motivation in the link between celibacy and sacred ordination, which configures the priest to Jesus Christ the head and spouse of the Church.

“The Church, as the spouse of Jesus Christ, wishes to be loved by the priest in the total and exclusive manner in which Jesus Christ her head and spouse loved her. Priestly celibacy, then, is the gift of self in and with Christ to his Church and expresses the priest's service of the Church in and with the Lord” (No. 29).

The faithful living of a celibate life is not a matter of submission to a law with an uncertain future.

Apart from the fact that there is nothing uncertain about its future, as the synod of bishops in 1990, confirmed by the Pope's apostolic exhortation, makes clear, what is here at stake is something more fundamental than law. I am referring to the word you give to Christ and his Church in making the gift of yourself in a love unqualified by any reservation.

This shares in the love with which the Father gave his only Son to the world: He did not withdraw the gift of his Son even when the world rejected him and put him to death.

It shares in the love with which Christ loved the Church: He gave himself for her even to the end. It is the love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit in the form of the gift of celibacy: It makes us such as the Church desires of her priests.

It is not a love that the world can inspire or explain: It is the love come down from heaven into our hearts to enable us bear witness to the power of Christ to raise all flesh through love. The very love that sanctifies Christian marriage is the love of the celibate heart of Christ. In reflecting this love, the celibacy of our priests is a sign to the faithful of the permanence and surpassing dignity of their own married love.

Do not allow your heart to be troubled by the spirit of worldliness so opposed to your commitment to celibacy, but place your trust in the love of Christ who calls you to live in his likeness.

Taken from the homily of Dublin's cardinal archbishop at April 16 diaconate ordinations to the diaconate at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth