Mauro Piacenza. Foreword of Married Priests? 30 Crucial Questions About Celibacy by Arturo Cattaneo (ed.) Ignatius Press, 2012, 200 pages.
One of the criteria for evaluating the historical and faith consciousness of a particular epoch consists of the ability to distinguish between true and false, between good and evil and also between what is a gift and what is not. Ecclesiastical celibacy, apostolica vivendi forma [the apostolic way life], should be reckoned as one of the greatest goods and most powerful vehicles of truth, one of the greatest gifts that the Lord left to his Church and continually reaffirms.
These aspects of good, truth and gift must be kept in mind in order to understand the historical- theological and normative-spiritual reality of ecclesiastical celibacy, which is still able to foster a deepening of everyone's faith and to verify its quality and, above all, to encourage thinking as God does and not according to the ways of the world.
The Church, the Bride of the Lord, does not renounce the gifts of her Spouse, and in a continuous authentic renewal she implores the light and power of the Spirit, which enables her members to understand once again, to study and to live with ever greater fidelity the gift of celibacy.
If it is necessary to speak about reform–and personally I have thought for the last thirty years that it is–it must be understood, obviously, in an authentically Catholic sense; in other words, it must embrace the whole life of priests, along the lines of a radical fidelity to their proper identity, which plainly has not changed and cannot be modeled on the transient standards of the world, but rather requires them to conform themselves continuously to the will of God. Authentic reform cannot look solely to the psychological and emotional aspects of the life of a priest, but requires the courage to start again from the roots: a correct Christology, a sound ecclesiology, a robust spirituality and, above all, a correct sacramental theology and a profound sense of the sacred that is capable of shaping all of priestly life around the indispensable center, which is the celebration of the Eucharist. How do priests celebrate? What sense of the sacred do they convey? Are they clearly convinced of the absolute necessity of Christ for salvation? Only by answering these questions will it be possible to understand again sacred celibacy authentically and to be enthusiastically committed to it, whereas without this broad context of genuine faith it could become absolutely incomprehensible.
Over the centuries–and this dynamic has been evident in recent decades as well–there have been plenty of attacks on ecclesiastical celibacy. It is necessary to recognize that not infrequently they come from contexts and mindsets that are completely foreign to the faith, understood both as doctrine and practice, and, unfortunately, are often orchestrated by interest groups that do not even disguise the fact that their goal is the gradual weakening of one of the elements that makes witness to Christ more effective: virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
Celibacy is no more foreign to contemporary culture than marital fidelity or premarital continence might seem to be. We must recognize that we are faced with one of the greatest educational challenges of the modern era; ever since the 1968 revolution, which promised the liberation of man but in reality made him a slave to his own instincts, it is urgently necessary to reeducate the whole emotional sphere, acknowledging its greatness and dignity but at the same time placing it within the framework of objective limitations that theology calls original sin, with the consequences that result from it.
The underlying logic of priestly celibacy is the same one we may encounter in Christian matrimony: the total gift of everything forever in love. Behind the dynamic of self-giving on the part of the priest is the primacy of God and, consequently, also the primacy of his will, which freely calls those whom he wants.
Last but not least, it is necessary to emphasize the connection between difficulties in understanding the value of ecclesiastical celibacy and the widespread semi-Pelagian culture, because of which contemporary man, the victim of his own scientific technology, thinks that he can accomplish something good without the help of grace. The ingenuous optimism about the world found even in some theological and ecclesiastical circles is not immune to that risk and requires deep discernment and a sound, constructively critical mind. In the course of its now bimillennial history, in times of great trial, crisis and scandal, the Church has never lowered her moral and spiritual standards but, on the contrary, has held them high and even raised them, above all in the very delicate task of selecting, educating and appointing her own ministers.
Benedict XVI reminded priests on March 16, 2009, that "no one proclaims himself in the first person, but within and through his own humanity every priest must be well aware that he is bringing to the world Another, God himself. God is the only treasure which ultimately people desire to find in a priest."
The priestly model is that of the witness to the Absolute. The real contradiction today is not to seek superficial originality, which stirs up short-lived interest. Priests will truly be a "sign of contradiction" only insofar as they become holy while fully living out their own specific identity. There is no other way!
Let us look, for example, to Saint John-Mary Vianney, Saint John Bosco, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Saint Josemaría Escrivá and so many others all of them priests, all extremely different in their human personality and personal history and yet all extraordinarily united by their love for and witness to Christ our Lord and by having been, by that very fact, truly prophetic signs.
The fact that celibacy is little understood or appreciated today in many circles must not lead us to speculate about different scenarios, but rather requires an effort to promote more careful, ongoing formation of priests as well as better catechesis of the lay faithful. We pastors must not betray the youth by lowering the requirements but must preserve their aspirations by encouraging them to strive for the heights. In order to do that we cannot fear the world or be influenced by it in any way. We must ardently follow the Spirit of God, act resolutely as though everything depended on us, but with the patience and interior peace of someone who knows that everything depends on God, and place all our efforts into the hands of the Immaculate Virgin, the splendid Icon of fidelity to her Lord and ours!
Therefore I can only hope that this book will find the widest possible readership, thus contributing to an ever greater appreciation of priestly celibacy as a precious gift of the Spirit of Christ to his Church and received by young men who-like Saint Paul and so many saints-allow themselves to be "won over by Christ" (cf. Phil 3:12).
His Eminence Cardinal Mauro Piacenza
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy