What Does a Celibate Priest Know about Marriage?

December 15, 2009 09:00 AM

By Rev. James Farfaglia

 “What does he know about married life?” is a frequently voiced criticism of priests when they speak about the intricacies of married life. These same critics do not realize that a celibate priest is married … but in a different way.

Why do our people call us “Father”? We are married to the Church. The Church is our bride. The priest is another Christ (alter Christus), who gives his life as a gift to the bride.

Celibacy is a special gift from the Holy Spirit, a charism. It is a beautiful gift for the Church. When he is faithful to his calling, the celibate priest, in and through his body; i.e., through his very physical reality, is a sign or a witness not only of his total gift of himself to his bride, the Church, but he is also physically, through his body, pointing the way to the eschatological reality of eternal life: “For when they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12: 25).

Eternity is not only perfect communion with God; it is also perfect communion with all men and women in the communion of saints. The charism of celibacy is a sign or an anticipation of this eschatological reality. Through the gift of celibacy, the human person is able to immerse himself in a fulfilling communion with God and with humanity here on earth.

The priest gives his entire being to God in the covenant of spiritual marriage. When a celibate priest develops a profound life of contemplative prayer and reaches the heights of mystical prayer, the joys of the spirit become much greater than the joys of the flesh.

Thus the sacraments of holy matrimony and holy orders complement each other in the mystery of divine love. The priest gives his entire being to God in the covenant of spiritual marriage. He then takes bread and wine, and pronounces the words of Jesus: “This is My body and this is My blood given for you.” A man and a woman called to the covenant of marriage stand before the altar of sacrifice and give themselves to each other as a gift: This is my body and this is my blood given for you.

As I wrote in my new book, Man to Man: A Real Priest Speaks to Real Men about Marriage, Sexuality and Family Life, “The faithful celibate reminds married couples that love is eternal. Faithful married couples remind celibates that love is tender. “

At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II spent a long time speaking about marriage and sexuality. His discourses, (129 teachings from September 5, 1979 through November 28, 1984), comprise a monumental teaching called the theology of the body. Without a doubt, John Paul’s theology of the body will be considered the most profound and most complete teaching on the subject in the years to come.

In the arrangement of discourses by the Holy Father, we find that before the pontiff treats the sacrament of marriage, he first discusses celibacy for the kingdom of heaven. Why is this so? According to John Paul II’s amazing insight, we can only understand marriage by understanding celibacy. Maybe you never thought of celibacy in this way!

In heaven, we will participate in the awesome mystery of the marriage of the Lamb. This reality is the fulfillment of both the charism of celibacy and the vocation of matrimony. The sacrament of marriage is an image or a reflection of this mystery lived out here on earth. The charism of celibacy is an anticipation of the heavenly marriage lived out here on earth as a charismatic sign. Celibacy is lived as an anticipation of the world to come. It is celibacy that witnesses to married people that their marriage here on earth is an image of a heavenly reality, because the celibate makes present to them the eschatological reality in which all will live in heaven.

This is not a rejection of the good of the priest’s bodily masculine existence! Far from it—it is instead a fulfillment of all it means to be a man. Always remember the awesome reality that heaven is not just for the soul. The resurrection of the body is going to be really amazing. At the Second Coming, heaven is going to become for us an eternal physical reality.

These were the thoughts I had in mind when I wrote Man to Man—a helpful and practical book with a very inspirational message. You all know that as men—priests and laymen alike—we are constantly being challenged by a crazy and dysfunctional world. Now, more than ever, the Church and the world need men who are willing to be faithful, authentic, mature, coherent and heroic. Al Hughes, age 69 and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel—a real man’s man—had this to say about my book: “If I had read this book 50 years ago, I would be levitating and bilocating by now.”

I’m not promising that if you read my book, you will be floating above ground, but I do promise that if you read it and apply what I have to say to you—man to man—you will be rising far above the culture that surrounds us. And you will conclude that, yes, a priest does know something about marriage.

The Reverend James Farfaglia is pastor of Saint Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Originally from Ridgefield, Connecticut, he has founded and developed apostolates for the Catholic Church in Spain, Italy, Mexico, Canada and throughout the United States. He may be reached by e-mail at "> . This article was published by Catholic Exchange on December 7, 2009 and is featured here as a guest commentary with Rev.  Farfaglia’s kind permission. Click here to learn more about his book. 

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