CYCLE II: HOMILY FOR WEDNESDAY OF THE 23RD WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: WHY A PRIEST SHOULD NOT MARRY!
BY: Fr. Benedict Agbo
HOMILY: * 1 Cor 7: 25 – 31, Lk 6: 20 – 26.
Paul’s argument in favour of celibacy in today’s 1st reading looks porous but reasonable;
1. He presents it as a theological opinion not an ecclesiastical command (or dogmatic statement). 2. His motive for celibacy seems to be more eschatological (ie because the end for him was near) than existentially expedient.
3. It is also escapist in outlook – ‘because those who marry will have worldly troubles and I would spare you that’.
He was not making a specific recommendation for the clerical state but a general prescription for all Christians.
Today, the Church finds more concrete reasons for the celibate priesthood ;
1. It is ontologically expedient for the efficiency of the priestly ministry – It is a quintessential state of life that provides the most fecund ground for the priestly function of preaching the Word of God and offering sacrifices for the people of God, Heb 5 : 1f.
2. It is historically foundational since all the best examples of priests mentioned in the Bible have remained celibates starting from Christ himself, John the Baptist, John the apostle, Stephen, Paul and Barnabas to the present day. Even those that married before like Peter and other apostles had to abandon their wives and children to be able to do the work.
3. It is functionally and spiritually paradigmatic for priests to remain unmarried since the possibility of that state of life intrinsically sanctifies a sensual society like ours today that thinks that sexual continence is impossible. It boosts the morale of married people who for one reason or the other need to abstain from sexual activity in the course of fulfilling their vow of fidelity (for example in moments of sickness of the partner or absence).
The virtue of spiritual poverty is cardinal to all other virtues/ evangelical counsels. Christ says in today’s gospel: ‘Blessed are you that hunger now for you shall be satisfied’. When St Paul says: ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ’, Rom 8: 35, he includes even hunger ; whether from food, sex, clothing, house or any other basic human needs. ‘A life with Jesus’, says John Rose, ‘is a life fraught with material deprivations and physical inconveniences’. The greatest bane of our society today is materialism; In politics, it does not allow politicians to ever want to step down from power. It makes them sell political offices to the highest bidder. Just look at what is happening with party primaries now. In the Church, it makes the entire worship “offertory – oriented” where the focus of the minister is actually on money rather than salvation and the sincere worship of God.
Why priests should not marry is not for them to become “irresponsible – ordained – perpetual – bachelors” who engage in sex without responsibility but for them to be spiritually focused on the work of God. Fulton Sheen saw this when he said: ‘It is not possible for a priest to fall in love with any human being…This is because he has already fallen in love with the most perfect of beings. All other love is dissatisfying and bitter’.But the reality is that the priest is human. So, the fact still remains, according to St Paul that ‘It is better to marry than to be aflame with sexual passions’, 1 Cor 7: 9.
May God bless you today!