Why does Pope Benedict XVI reinforce and defend celibacy? Our Pope is a wise man and he certainly has good reasons for that. According to him, "The true foundation of the priest's life, the ground of his existence, the ground of his life, is God himself. Celibacy is a great sign of faith, of the presence of God in this world. When God is no longer central to a priest's life, he loses his zeal. In a world where the 'now' of the present and tangible seems good enough, celibacy is a great scandal. Celibacy seems difficult to understand in an agnostic world in which God doesn't enter the picture," in which "we no longer think of a future with God, because the presence of this world seems sufficient. Celibacy is an anticipation. To live the celibate life is to acknowledge the presence of God, the certainty of the next life, and the value of both. A priest is drawn into the life of Christ, including Christ's condition after the resurrection, so celibacy is an anticipation of this new world ... in which we are beyond matrimony. Through the priestly life of celibacy, the future breaks into today. Celibacy opens the door to this great truth of faith by living the future as if it is already in the present." We certainly cannot deny the fact that there is truth in every word that he says. However, in this materialistic world not many could accept this great truth of faith.
On the first day of Chinese New Year this year, I saw someone giving an angpow (a red packet containing money) to a priest. Without even looking at its contents, this priest put the angpow into the donation box. What does this mean? Money and material things have no importance to this celibate priest. He does not have to go for expensive holidays with his wife nor does he need money to pay for his children's college fees. His whole life is filled with God and this we can see by the way he lives his life. As what Pope Benedict says, "With the eschatological life of celibacy, the future world of God enters into the realities of our time." A priest who is living in the future world of God as though it is already in the present is more interested in living a holy life than gathering earthly wealth and indulging in carnal pleasures. And of course this is the kind of priest that our Pope would like to have in the Catholic Church - a priest who makes us feel proud of the Catholic Church and makes us want to be Catholic.
On the other hand, there is this married Indian pastor who keeps saying to everyone that "Pastors serve God by serving people." Well, this sounds good but is it really as good as it sounds? You should have seen how he polishes the shoes of the rich men in his church. But lo and behold! When a poor lady came to him to seek help (albeit a very minor one) he ignored her and purposely did not take her calls. What do I mean by "purposely"? This lady told me she called him countless times but he did not answer her calls. Don't tell me that this pastor did not use his mobile phone for weeks. Why is it so? The rich businessmen can give him big angpows and provide good employment for his children in their companies whilst the poor lady has nothing to offer him. He needs money to give his family a comfortable life. With his children growing up, he needs money to send them to college. When his children have graduated from college, he needs to seek the help of the rich men in his church who can provide good job opportunities for his children. Who is this pastor serving? God or his family?
I know of a retired Chinese primary school headmaster who during his days as the headmaster of the school got to know many company directors in the Parents and Teachers Association. What kind of man is he? Well, it depends on whom he is dealing with. If you are rich and famous, he would polish your shoes but if you are poor and lowly, he would look down on you. After his retirement he worked for one of the directors and bought the most luxurious car he ever had in his life. And of course his children had good job offers from these directors too after they graduated. We cannot blame the pastor and the headmaster though as what they are doing is to be expected of every married man . Family firstlah. This is human nature. In Malaysia, we have politicians who leap from one political party to another. Why is it so? Because the pasture on the other side is greener. Well, there is nothing wrong with that. It is only natural that people should think of themselves and their families first. A priest, however, should be different from all the Toms, Dicks and Harrys on the streets. If he is as selfish as the pastor, headmaster or politicians aforementioned then what is so special about him?
When the 'now' of the present seems good enough and the presence of this world seems sufficient and when people no longer think of a future with God, carnal pleasures and material things become very important to them. In fact, this is what the world is all about today. According to Pope Benedict, "The great problem of the West is the forgetfulness of God and this forgetfulness is spreading." In actual fact, not only the West but almost the whole world is infected with this forgetfulness disease. Those who have forgotten about God tend to live only for themselves and only for the present as there is no future without God. Sad to say, sex has become more important than God in the world of today. This clearly explains why not many men can become celibate priests today. That's why Pope Benedict is having a tough time defending celibacy!
People tend to create their own values and pass their own judgment to accommodate their own selfish purposes. Values change with time and in a way our world has changed a great deal since the time of Jesus. If that was too ancient, let's not talk about the time of Jesus but Father Damien's time instead. During those days, the priests did not pester the Pope to allow them to get married. They serve God and His people faithfully. Father Damien was ready to die for the lepers just as Jesus has died for us. But nowadays, we have priests who want the best of all worlds - a wife, children, and a respectable 'job'. These are their conditions for joining the priesthood. They cannot take up the cross and follow Jesus as long as they cannot benefit from it. The cross is too heavy for them. Just because they cannot live the life of Christ, celibacy has become a scandal to them and they keep pestering our Pope to change the rules of the Church for them and allow them to get married. When they found that the Church couldn't satisfy their selfish desires, they left the Church to get married. Of course there are those ex-Catholic priests who go to the extreme of writing books trying to justify themselves portraying themselves as victims as though the Church has wronged them. But are they really victims? In actual fact, it is the Church that is being victimized by them for they have betrayed the Church by their hypocrisy. Why take the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience when they cannot keep them? No one forces them to do it. As what Pope Benedict XVI says, "Celibacy is not a matter of compulsion. Someone is accepted as a priest only when he does it of his own accord."
To say that they have to make a choice between faith and love is rubbish. If a priest really loves Jesus and intends to serve the Church faithfully just as our Lord has done, this question does not arise. If he is determined to follow Christ and has sincerely chosen the way of the cross nothing could make him change his mind. To say that the woman that he has fallen in love with shares the same passion for Jesus as much as he does is also rubbish. If the woman has a strong passion for Jesus she would not tempt a priest to jump into bed with her. Just imagine how much time and money the Church has wasted on these ungrateful priests who later become traitors?
Father Damien has lived in my heart since I was a young child. I become Catholic because of him and I model every priest after him. Each time I look at a celibate priest, I feel so proud of him because his life is a reflection of the life of Christ. But then values change with time. We now have priests who enjoy premarital sex and behave like sexually obssessed teenagers on the beach whilst the paparazzis are busy taking photos.
A priest is supposed to set a good example to the world but what if he himself is not much better than a sexually obssessed teenager? What is he preaching then? What kind of example is he setting to the world? Is he trying to prove that premarital sex is fine and that caressing and kissing a woman vigorously on the beach is a good thing to do? What does the Bible say about premarital sex? Is it okay for a priest to do it? Maybe he has really "lost his zeal" as what Pope Benedict says and therefore the presence of this world seems sufficient to him. Be it rain or shine, sex must come first. But then, he must also have a good job or how is he going to survive? This is his 'dilemma'. He must be given the best of all worlds or he wouldn't become a priest. Pope Benedict XVI is right. This kind of priest is only living for the present thus forgetting about his future with God. That's why he is so concerned with carnal pleasures and tangible things and lives for the "now" of the present.
There is a malay "gurindam" which sounds something like this: "Jika guru kencing berdiri, anak murid kencing berlari. Jika guru kencing dalam keretapi, murid kencing dalam LRT." Let me translate it. It means that if the teacher pisses while standing, the students piss while running. If the teachers pisses in the train, the students piss in the Light Rail Transit." Priests are supposed to be more important than teachers as they have greater influences on our lives than the teachers. But what if the priest enjoys premarital sex on the beach (or perhaps elsewhere)? Of course many people would emulate him assuming that since a priest can do it then it's the right thing to do and this would only worsen the situation in our already morally decadent world. Can such a priest be a good Church leader? No, I cannot let him lead me. Better stay at home and preach to myself. I cannot tolerate the ugly things that he does. What a shame! It's a good thing Pope Benedict XVI doesn't allow this kind of priest to remain in the Church as he would only bring dishonour to the Church.
During the time of Jesus, premarital sex is almost unheard of. An unmarried woman found pregnant would be stoned to death. But values change with time and when everyone is doing something even though it is wrong, it becomes right. It seems that it is okay for a priest to have premarital sex today. Many people say that he is right and that Pope Benedict XVI is wrong and that the Pope should change the rules of the Church to accommodate his sexual desires. But our beloved Pope knows what is best for our Catholic Church. He doesn't want the priesthood to become an occupation and a money making channel for the family men priests. He doesn't want to have priests who are busy serving their wives and children at the expense of the Church. He doesn't want sexually obssessed priests who after enjoying premarital sex on the beach preach about Jesus and holiness in the Church. The Church is a holy place and not a sexual cult. A priest must walk his talk. He doesn't want priests who cannot live the life of Christ. He doesn't want materialistic priests who only believe in the present and who have forgotten about God. He doesn't want priests who treat the parishioners like their stepchildren because they have already had their own biological children.
What does our beloved Pope Benedict want? Holy priests like Father Damien, Father OC Lim and Father Slavko Barbaric just to mention three examples. Priests who can devote their entire lives selflessly serving God and His people. Priests who can set good examples to the world. Priests who are not keen in accumulating wealth for the sake of their families. Priests whose lives are filled with God and not carnal pleasures or material things. The Catholic priesthood is a vocation and not an occupation for the jobless men on the streets. Having a married priesthood would mean that every Tom, Dick and Harry on the streets can become a priest. What is so unique about the Catholic priesthood then? The fact that the Church only chooses bishops from among their celibate, unmarried priests clearly indicates that there is an inherent value in the nature of celibacy. To those young men who can live holy lives and travel the path that Jesus has travelled more than 2000 years ago, why not join the priesthood and save our Catholic Church? Remember, a good priest does not ask himself what benefits he can get as a priest. He will ask himself what he can do for the Church.
If I were born a man I would have become a priest a long time ago. The celibate priesthood is a beautiful journey with the Lord. There are lots of things that I could have done for the Church if I were a priest! (Those who like this article may also want to read "Should Catholic Priests be Allowed to Marry" and "Taxi Driver Wanted to Become a Married Catholic Priest").