Pope's Q-and-A at End of Priestly Year (Part 3)

«Celibacy … Is a Great Sign of Faith»

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 17, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the third of five questions from the question-and-answer session Benedict XVI held with priests Friday evening at the prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square. The session was part of the International Meeting of Priests that marked the end of the Year for Priests.
Parts 1 and 2 of the session appeared Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Part 4 will appear Friday.

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Q: Holy Father, I am Karol Mikloski and I come from Europe, specifically from Slovakia, and I am a missionary in Russia. When I celebrate the Holy Mass, I find myself, and I understand that I find my identity there and the root and energy of my ministry. The sacrifice of the cross reveals to me the Good Shepherd who gives everything for the flock, for each sheep, and when I say: «This is by Body … this is my Blood» given and shed in sacrifice for you, then I understand the beauty of celibacy and of obedience, which I freely promised at the moment of ordination.

Although with the natural difficulties, celibacy seems obvious to me, looking at Christ, but I find myself bewildered in reading so many worldly criticisms of this gift. I ask you humbly, Holy Father, to share with us your reflections on the profundity and authentic meaning of ecclesiastical celibacy.
Benedict XVI: Thank you for the two parts of your question: for the first, where you touch upon the permanent and vital foundation of our celibacy, and for the second, which demonstrates the difficulties in which we find ourselves in these times.

The first part is important as the daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist should truly be at the center of our lives. Central here are the words of the consecration — «This is my Body, this is my Blood» — in that we speak «in persona Christi.» Christ allows us to use his «I» — we speak with the «I» of Christ — Christ «draws us into himself» and allows us to unite ourselves, he unites us with his «I.» And thus, through this action, this fact that he «draws» us into himself, so that our «I» becomes united to his, realizes the permanence, the oneness of his priesthood. Thus Christ is truly and always the only priest, and yet very present in the world, because he «draws» us into himself and thus renders present the priestly mission.

This means that we are «drawn» into the God of Christ: It is this union with his «I» that is realized in the words of consecration. Also in the «I absolve you» — because none of us could absolve from sins — it is the «I» of Christ, of God, which alone can absolve. This unification of his «I» with ours implies that we are «drawn» also into his reality of the Risen One, we go forward toward the full life of the resurrection, of which Jesus speaks to the Sadducees in Matthew 22: it is a «new» life, in which we are already beyond marriage (cf. Matthew 22:23-32).

It is important that we always allow ourselves to be penetrated again by this identification of the «I» of Christ with us, by this being «drawn outside» toward the world of the Resurrection. In this sense, celibacy is an anticipation. We transcend this time and go forward, and thus we «draw» ourselves and our time toward the world of the Resurrection, toward the novelty of Christ, toward the new and true life. Hence, celibacy is an anticipation made possible by the grace of the Lord who «draws» us to himself toward the world of the resurrection; he invites us always anew to transcend ourselves, this present, toward the true present of the future, which becomes present today.

And here we are at a very important point. A great problem of Christianity in today’s world is that thought is no longer given to the future of God: the present of this world seems to be enough. We only want to have this world, to live only in this world. Thus we close the doors to the true grandeur of our existence. The meaning of celibacy as anticipation of the future is precisely to open these doors, to render the world greater, to show the reality of the future that is already lived by us as present. To live thus is a witness to the faith: We really believe that God is, that God enters my life, that I can base my life on Christ, on the future life.

And we now know the worldly criticisms of which you have spoken. It is true that for the agnostic world, the world in which God is not considered, celibacy is a great scandal, because it shows precisely that God is considered and lived as reality. With the eschatological life of celibacy, the future world of God enters in the reality of our time. And this should disappear! In a certain sense, this permanent criticism against celibacy can surprise, at a time when it is ever more fashionable not to marry. However, this not marrying is something totally, fundamentally different from celibacy, because not marrying is based on the will to live alone for oneself, not to accept a definitive bond, to have life at every moment in full autonomy, to decide at every moment what to do, what to take from life; and hence, a «no» to the bond, a «no» to definitiveness, a having life only for oneself. Whereas celibacy is precisely the opposite: it is a definitive «yes,» it is letting oneself be taken by God by the hand, giving oneself into the hands of the Lord, into his «I,» and hence it is an act of fidelity and trust, an act that implies also the fidelity of marriage; it is in fact the opposite of this «no,» of this autonomy which does not wish to oblige itself, which does not want to enter a bond; it is in fact the definitive «yes» that implies, that confirms the definitive «yes» of marriage.

And this marriage is the biblical form, the natural form of being man and woman, foundation of the great Christian culture, of the great cultures of the world. And if this disappears, the root of our culture will be destroyed. That is why celibacy confirms the «yes» of marriage with its «yes» to the future world, and thus we wish to go forward and render present this scandal of a faith that places the whole of existence on God. We know that next to this great scandal, which the world does not wish to see, there are also the secondary scandals of our insufficiency, of our sins, which obscure the true and great scandal, and make one think: «But, they don’t really live on the foundation of God!»

However, there is so much fidelity! Celibacy, the criticisms in fact show it, is a great sign of faith, of God’s presence in the world. Let us pray to the Lord to help us to be free of the secondary scandals, to render present the great scandal of our faith: trust, the strength of our life, founded on God and on Christ Jesus!

[Translation by ZENIT]

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On ZENIT’s Web page:

Question 1: www.zenit.org/article-29612?l=english

Question 2: www.zenit.org/article-29623?l=english

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