"Put your hand
in Mary’s hand
and ask her to
lead you to Jesus "
Saint Teresa of Calcutta
A Supernatural Call to a radical lifestyle
Celibacy is always a top concern for men thinking about the priesthood: “I like girls too much to become a priest.” But rest assured that every priest had the same thought before he went to seminary.
Even Pope Francis himself admitted to having to discern celibacy very carefully as a young seminarian: “I was dazzled by a girl I met at an uncle’s wedding… I was surprised by her beauty, her intellectual brilliance… and, well, I was bowled over for quite a while. I kept thinking and thinking about her. When I returned to the seminary after the wedding, I could not pray for over a week because when I tried to do so, the girl appeared in my head. I had to rethink what I was doing.”
If even the pope had second thoughts about celibacy, you should not be surprised that you yourself struggle with the issue!
Celibacy isn’t about repressing your sexuality. Rather, it’s about giving up a single woman—a wife—in order to serve all people. Celibacy means giving oneself wholly to the Bride of Christ, the Church. It’s a radical, supernatural call from God.
The difficulty, of course, is that in secular society, celibacy is portrayed as impossible or ridiculous. As Fr. Benedict Groeschel once wrote, “The media trumpets the message that sex brings happiness. If this were true, we would indeed live in an earthly paradise and the world would be ‘happy valley.’” But the truth is that there are over 400,000 celibate priests in the world, and the vast majority report great happiness and fulfillment.
Even if you struggle with chastity right now, God can give you the grace to become sexually pure. Don’t let a concern about celibacy prevent you from considering the priesthood.
Am I allowed to date while in the seminary?
The seminary is like the engagement period for a couple: you do not date others if you desire to create a true relationship with your fiance. Likewise, to truly prepare for and discern the calling to priesthood in the seminary, you should not be dating.
What if I have been sexually intimate in my past, does that mean I can’t be a priest?
No. But, you must now be in the process of embracing chastity. St. Augustine led a very wild life as a young man, but he gave up his unchaste, sinful ways when he decided to live a fully Catholic life. There must be a significant period of “sexual sobriety” before entering the seminary, usually at least two years.
My attraction to women is so strong at times that I fear I wouldn’t be able to remain chaste.
If you ask God, He gives abundant graces to live a chaste life. You of course, must respond to those graces by using them to make chaste choices. As you grow in chastity, as it becomes a habit of your life, you will experience a strengthening, and an ease to being and remaining chaste. Celibacy is a serious undertaking that must be at the forefront of your discernment; it is not for everyone, but it is possible for those who are called.
It seems unnatural to me to live your whole life without sex.
Most men and women are called naturally to the married life. So, obviously, living a celibate, chaste life goes beyond the ordinary; in fact it is a supernatural call from God to live a life of radical love for the Church. Yes, it is a sacrifice, but the rewards are great. Many great saints, religious, monks, nuns, and priests over the centuries have lived very fulfilled and happy lives.
Why can’t priests marry?
“I’m very impatient with some of the pragmatic arguments for celibacy—that it frees up your time and allows you to focus your energy in different ways. I’d rather see celibacy as a kind of irrational, over-the-top, poetic, symbolic expression of the soul in love.” – Bishop Robert Barron
Celibacy is a normal requirement for priesthood in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, for several reasons. Practical reasons are often cited—for example, that an unmarried man can more easily dedicate himself to the work of the Church. While this is a valid reason that has roots in scripture (1 Cor 7:32-35), it is not the most important reason. More important are the spiritual realities signified by celibacy: