Father Carter Griffin sent me a copy of his latest book, Why Celibacy? As a religious sister with a vow of chastity, I knew I could benefit from reflections on the gift of celibacy. My uncle, Father John Morse, was a priest in love with his vocation. On the occasion of my first vows, he wrote a brief note saying he hoped I was as happy as he was in his vocation. His was a fatherly presence in the parishes he served. I didn’t think of him as my unmarried uncle. I thought of him as my uncle with a very large extended family and a multitude of friends. His parish was also the gathering place for our biological family, his brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. We mingled in with parishioners as if we were their much loved cousins. My visits to his parish taught me much about the love of God.
Scott Hahn writes in the forward to Fr. Griffin’s book: Why Celibacy? offers the Church and her priests a renewed vision of the priesthood and a path forward for all men to become spiritual fathers in the order of grace.
As you read this book you will find yourself pausing to reflect on and reread insightful quotes. The subtitle, Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest, includes reclaiming fatherhood in general. When fatherhood is reclaimed, motherhood and family are reclaimed. Sts. Augustine and Chrysostom identified the family as the “domestic church.” Father Carter points out that Augustine once referred to the fathers in his congregation as “my fellow bishops” and told them to be faithful to the duties of their ministry, taking the lead in providing children with opportunities for nourishment in the sacramental life of the Church. Guiding children to a healthy autonomy and mature freedom is what a good father is about.
There are so many insights here about priestly celibacy as a gift for the priest and the faithful. My personal favorite: “The life-giving sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist finds and echo in the generative, personal sacrifice of celibacy.” Fr. Griffin, who is presently engaged in the formation of seminarians, includes a chapter on the challenges of celibacy. Natural fathers can benefit from the same insights.
He also poses the question of married priests, optional celibacy and the notion that marriage will solve the sex abuse crises. This is a “rather dim view of marriage as well as a certain naiveté about the rate of sexual abuse committed by those who are married,” he says. Celibacy is not an unearthly, angelic, or spiritualized way of living. It is important that a man be certain of his own masculinity and comfortable in his manhood, “capable of cultivating an authentic spiritual paternity” (Pope Benedict XVI). The virtues of natural and spiritual fatherhood are to be present in candidates for the priesthood. “Priestly holiness means, first and foremost, that a seminarian must gain a deep appreciation for his own divine sonship,” something that all Christians strive to deepen.
Why Celibacy? speaks about celibacy as freedom; celibacy harnessing the power of love, chastity, and authentic friendship; a way that points to marital happiness, fostering chastity in children, natural and supernatural means to grow in chastity, the graces of celibacy, and the repercussions of the sexual revolution. In a chapter entitled “Further Benefits of Celibacy,” Fr. Carter outlines the witness of celibacy to supernatural paternity, genuine human love, and the dignity and beauty of marriage. This chapter includes natural family planning, the affirmation of fatherhood and the virtue of virginity that “liberates marriage and each of the partners from the unbearable weight of having to be ‘everything’ for the other, of taking the place of God.”
It should not be surprising that “Catholic celibacy is the backbone of Catholic marriage,” as Pope Benedict XVI said. What might we learn from the celibate witness of priests? Every person is called to give life, says Fr. Griffin, whether biologically of note, radical love is possible and joy flows from this love. This book presents an urgent and encouraging message to men and women, single, celibate or married, who live in this time of anthropological confusion and division.
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Copyright 2019 Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp