“Ask a Priest: Any Advice on Living as a Celibate?”

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Q: I broke up with my girlfriend over several serious issues. Principally, it had to deal with differences of views surrounding homosexuality as well as the fact I could not shake off the desire for the priesthood, which I had been discerning previously and am currently back to doing so. My heart is divided, but Jesus seems to always point me to the priesthood, despite my reluctance from time to time, yet I have found great peace of soul when pursuing such a path. The struggle lies in remaining committed to being celibate as I am at an age when most people are contemplating married life. My spiritual director has advised me, among many things, to strive to live as a celibate. As you are celibate, what are some practical pointers to be live this out and firmly stay the course? Your advice will be greatly appreciated. – C.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: On balance it seems good that you broke off that relationship. If you and your friend didn’t see eye to eye on a key moral issue such as homosexuality, that is a sign of deep divisions that wouldn’t make for an easy marriage.

On the positive side, you feel drawn to the priesthood and find solace when you are pursuing that path. That should tell you a lot. Paradoxically, your attraction to marriage shows that you are normal; that in itself is a crucial trait for a priest.

As for the matter of celibacy: This doesn’t come naturally for most people. Indeed, it could almost be considered impossible. But “for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

And that leads to a crucial point: If Christ calls someone to the priesthood, he will give that man the grace to live the demands of celibacy.

We have to do our part, however. That means a solid life of prayer, the sacraments (especially regular confession), spiritual direction, mortification, and a demanding use of time.

The word mortification comes from the Latin mors and mortis and translates as “death.” In the spiritual life, mortification refers to voluntary act by which we aim to “put to death” our vices, sinful habits and self-centered tendencies. Similar terms include abnegation, sacrifice, self-sacrifice and self-denial. Acts of mortification include taking cooler showers, doing hard physical work, fasting, and eating less or less-appealing food.

“A demanding use of time” means avoiding idleness and a disordered attachment to leisure or comfort that could lead to laziness or constant pleasure-seeking. These vices can cripple someone’s spiritual life.

Moreover, we have to be on guard constantly. Hence, it helps not to get too familiar with women. Learn to deal with them respectfully, succinctly, and in the open. In our day, be especially careful about the use of media and smartphones and the Internet.

Never assume that you have reached the age or stage where you are beyond temptation. For “the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Whenever you feel wary or misunderstood or unappreciated, learn to go to the tabernacle. Take problems to Our Lord in the Eucharist. Resist the temptation to seek out human consolations, especially with the women with whom you might deal.

On a positive note, try to see celibacy as the gift it is. It frees a priest to focus exclusively on the things of God.

And the priesthood doesn’t stifle one’s desire to love others. A priest shows his love for others, including women, by working for their holiness, through his prayers, sacrifices and ministry.

Above all, it’s crucial that we have a deep union with Christ. He is the one we want to imitate. He is the reason why we are celibate; we do so in imitation of him.

Priestly celibacy also reflects our “marriage” to the Church, so to speak, just as Christ’s celibacy reflected his fidelity to his bride the Church (see Ephesians 5:31-32). And if we need a feminine element personified, we have the Blessed Virgin Mary in whom we can find support.

For related reading, see From the Depths of Our Hearts and Pope St. Paul VI’s Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.

I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.

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