Why are priests unable to marry? I am asked this frequently. Let me discuss Mohandas Gandhi, who took a vow of celibacy.

Celibacy is called Brachmacharya in the Hindu custom and it signifies total self-control. Disintegrating qualities, such as anger and vanity, are eliminated in this way of life. From the position of control, the celibate can make a total gift of himself to others. Gandhi sought to give himself entirely to his countrymen, and so at age 37 he renounced marriage and the pleasures of the flesh. He felt his love for others was more available and authentic. It is for a similar reason that he fasted. He wanted to be less self-centered and completely dedicated to others. β€œI fasted,” Gandhi said, β€œto reform those who loved me.”

Now, there are several flaws, I would argue, in the above Hindu rationale. I appreciate the point about self-gift, but it is not the Catholic priest himself who is to be given to others. It is Jesus Christ. The priest is changed at ordination to conform entirely to Christ. The priest represents Jesus and you can know him through us, specifically through our sacramental acts and our preaching. Celibacy allows the priest to be a pure conduit to God, for you. It is thus for a similar reason that priests are forbidden to engage in secular pursuits: politics, business, etc. We need to be entirely free for Jesus.

This is why, as an aside, the Blessed Virgin Mary is so crucial for the priest. She not only provides the feminine love priests need; she serves as a model. She was an open vessel for God and the world came to know Him through her. The world was reformed through her. Perhaps it can also be through priests.

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