VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A priest who lives his celibacy with joy, fidelity and a positive spirit is a testimony that cannot be ignored in today’s world, says Cardinal Francis Arinze.
The cardinal, who just retired last week from his post as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, affirmed this today when he presented on Vatican Radio his book “Riflessioni sul sacerdozio. Lettera a un giovane sacerdote” (Reflections on the Priesthood: Letter to a Young Priest). Excerpts from the volume were published by L’Osservatore Romano.
“The Church has always had great esteem for the celibacy of priests,” the cardinal wrote. “Christ lived a virginal life, taught chastity to his disciples, and proposed virginity to those who are willing and able to follow a similar call.”
“In priestly life, perpetual celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven expresses and stimulates pastoral charity,” he added. “It is a special fount of spiritual fruitfulness in the world. […] It is a testimony that stands out before the world as an efficacious way to follow Christ.”
The cardinal said that in today’s world, “immersed in an exaggerated preoccupation with sex and the violation of its sacredness […] a presbyter who lives his vow of chastity with joy, fidelity and a positive spirit is a testimony that cannot be ignored.”
Through priestly celibacy, the prelate continued, “the presbyter consecrates himself more directly to Christ in the exercise of spiritual paternity.” He is more available “as a minister of Christ, spouse of the Church,” and he can “truly present himself as a living sign of the future world, which is already present through faith and charity.”
The priest “should not doubt about the value or the possibility of celibacy because of the threat of loneliness,” Cardinal Arinze contended, because solitude is also present to a certain degree in every state of life, also in matrimony.
Thus, he affirmed, it would be erroneous to try to avoid loneliness, “diving more and more into activities and continuously organizing new meetings, trips or visits.” Instead, what the priest needs “is silence, tranquility and recollection to be in the presence of God, to give greater attention to God and to encounter Christ in personal prayer before the tabernacle.”
“Only then will he be able to see Christ in every person that he encounters during his ministry,” the prelate stated.
The retired Vatican official acknowledged that fraternity is also important in living celibacy. “The ideal is that the bishop makes it so that priests live in pairs or trios by parish, instead of alone,” because “they need each other to make their potential grow to the maximum.”
The priest’s master and teacher is Christ, the cardinal recalled, and even if it is not possible to imitate him in the tiniest detail, “this does not exempt us from following him in the closest way possible.”
Cardinal Arinze also mentioned the other two evangelical counsels in the life of the priest: obedience and poverty.
Obedience to the Pope, the bishop and their representatives is based in faith, he said, “and it is the instrument by which the priest gives God the opportunity to avail entirely of himself so as to fulfill the mission of the Church.”
“God protects the priest who respects and obeys his bishop with firm fidelity and nobility of character,” the cardinal said.
And the virtue of poverty, he continued, involves the priest’s use of his money, avoiding anything that could lead to attachment to earthly goods or be an inclination to excessive spending. The priest, he said, should remember the poor, the sick, the elderly and all those with needs. His means of transportation, his house and furnishings, his way of dressing — all should avoid being like the rich and powerful.
The cardinal suggested that a test of priestly generosity is to ask himself how well he lives charity, and how many poor people — needy seminarians or consecrated persons — will mourn his death as the loss of a father in Christ and a benefactor.