DISCERNMENT ARTICLES

Celibacy and fatherhood

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Celibacy isn’t just about “not having sex.” There’s an aspect of celibacy that is more important for a man to consider when discerning the priesthood: the inclination to natural fatherhood.

Healthy men usually have a natural inclination to want children. They are, after all, one of God’s greatest gifts, and a family can bring great joy to a man’s life. From the miracle of participating in the creation of life, to the education and formation of his children, watching them grow and mature, fulfill their own vocations, and even potentially start their own families, natural fatherhood can be a source of great happiness for the man whom God calls to that vocation.

It’s no wonder, then, that the sacrifice of foregoing natural fatherhood might put many men off from considering the priesthood! But it would be a mistake for any man to avoid considering the priesthood simply based on the fact that he has an inclination to be a father. It may well be that his inclination to fatherhood can only really be fulfilled by supernatural fatherhood!

Consider what St. John Chrysostom says: “The priest is the common father of the whole world.” You’ve probably heard this many times before: a priest’s fatherhood is not limited to several natural children. Rather, his fatherhood encompasses every human soul. He is, in a very real way, the father of every soul he baptizes, every soul he cleanses in confession, who receives communion from his hands, whose marriage he witnesses, whom he confirms, whose broken or dying body he anoints, and (if a bishop) who receives holy orders from him. In effecting the rebirth of these people into the heavenly life, he is truly a father in a much more real way than he could ever be to some as a natural father!

Even apart from the sacraments, there are many whom he consoles, comforts, teaches, and aids in countless ways for whom he is a spiritual father – whether they are Catholic or not. To the superficial ear, it may sound like a platitude, but if we truly believe with the Church, we know that the priesthood is a very real fatherhood.

While this may offer some intellectual consolation, what can it do for the heart which longs for the love of a natural family? Father John F. O’Neil offers this:

“Giving up the consolation of human love won for me a thousand loves more enduring than anything human. Giving up a home of my own has not made of me a selfish bachelor, but has expanded my powers of loving so that now, as a priest, I have a place in the hundreds of homes that are grouped around the altar where I say Mass.”

Don’t be put off by your inclination to be a good father to your own children. If God is calling you to the priesthood, you will most certainly have the reward of many children, and the great consolations which come with the love which is shared between fathers and their children.

Photo: Priests are fathers to all people, and find great joy in their spiritual families. (Stephen Golder)