Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"That One More Thing"
by Bishop Blase J. Cupich
(From the April 7, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
On May 26, at 7 p.m., the Catholic Church in Eastern Washington will gather at the Catehdral of Our Lady of Lourdes to celebrate the ordination of new priests for our diocese. These young men have already made a commitment to us. For nearly a decade they have participated in the program of priestly formation. They also have already promised to live a life of celibate chastity “for the sake of the Kingdom and in lifelong service…”
This occasion gives me an opportunity to offer some reflections on this promise, knowing that celibacy is not always well understood or appreciated.
Celibacy is a law that could be changed. Yet, that is not all it is. Its importance resides not so much in its being a law, but in its being a powerful symbol and spiritual ideal, which many men becoming priests chose for themselves centuries before it was a law of the church. It demonstrates that discipleship, if it is authentic, comes at a cost – the cost of imitating the example of Christ himself.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus looks on the rich young man with love because of his sincerity in embracing all that the law demanded of him. But Jesus also sees that “there is one more thing” the young man must do. He must overcome his attachment to his wealth - an attachment which perhaps even he did not know was so strong.
For the priest, celibacy represents this “one more thing” that frees him to be totally dedicated to Christ and to others, after the example of Christ, who came, not to be served, but to serve. It is not something that is asked of everyone, but it is certainly appropriately asked of those of us who must become the least to be the servants of all. The simple, straightforward question asked of a man on the day of his ordination sums up all of this so well: “As a sign of interior dedication to Christ are you resolved to remain celibate for the sake of the Kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind?”
We live in an era when commitment is declining in our society. While some conclude from this that the church’s celibacy requirement is unrealistic, others counter that society can be enriched and ennobled by the witness of celibate commitment. Yet, much more is at stake than witnessing to the human capacity to bind oneself in service for others. The symbolic power of celibacy in the life of the priest lies in its capacity to remind us here and now that it is God who first made a permanent commitment to us fulfilled in Christ, a total gift that continues in our time for the salvation of humanity. The priest who forsakes all to serve God and others keeps fresh in the human consciousness and imagination God’s pledge to forsake all for us. That is a gift, even though a costly one, worth giving in all ages.
Such a God-like commitment cannot be made and kept by one’s own strength. History has shown, through countless dedicated priests who have said “yes” to that “one more thing,” that everything is possible with God’s grace and love.
I encourage your prayers for our priests, asking God’s grace and love to make everything possible as they live out their commitment to do that one more thing.
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