A supernatural call to a radical lifestyle
Am I allowed to date while in the seminary?
The seminary is like the engagement period for a couple: you do not date others if you desire to create a true relationship with your intended. Likewise, to truly prepare for and discern the calling to priesthood in the seminary, you should not be dating.
What if I have been sexually intimate in my past, does that mean I can't be a priest?
No. But, you must now be in the process of embracing chastity. St. Augustine led a very wild life as a young man, but he gave up his unchaste, sinful ways when he decided to live a fully Catholic life. There must be a significant period of “sexual sobriety” before entering the seminary, usually at least two years.
My attraction to women is so strong at times that I fear I wouldn't be able to remain chaste.
If you ask God, He gives abundant graces to live a chaste life. You of course, must respond to those graces by using them to make chaste choices. As you grow in chastity, as it becomes a habit of your life, you will experience a strengthening, and an ease to being and remaining chaste. Celibacy is a serious undertaking that must be at the forefront of your discernment; it is not for everyone, but it is possible for those who are called.
It seems unnatural to me to live your whole life without sex.
Most men and women are called naturally to the married life. So, obviously, living a celibate, chaste life goes beyond the ordinary; in fact it is a supernatural call from God to live a life of radical love for the Church. Yes, it is a sacrifice, but the rewards are great. Many great saints, religious, monks, nuns, and priests over the centuries have lived very fulfilled and happy lives.
Why can't priests marry?
Celibacy is a normal requirement for priesthood in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, for several reasons. Practical reasons are often cited—for example, that an unmarried man can more easily dedicate himself to the work of the Church. While this is a valid reason that has roots in scripture (1 Cor 7:32-35), it is not the most important reason. More important are the spiritual realities signified by celibacy:
- Celibacy marks the priest as a man consecrated to the service of Christ and the Church. It shows in a concrete way that he is not merely someone who exercises a set of functions or who holds a certain office but that he has been changed on an ontological level by his reception of the sacrament of Orders.
- Celibacy configures the priest more closely to Christ, the great High Priest, who forsook earthly marriage for the sake of the Kingdom and for the sake of uniting himself more perfectly to his heavenly Bride, the Church.
- It is fitting that the priest who offers this same Jesus in sacrifice to the Father, show in his own person (albeit to an imperfect degree) the purity and holiness of his unspotted Victim.
- Celibacy reminds us of heaven, pointing to the coming of the Kingdom when marriage will no longer exist.
Celibacy is always a top concern for men thinking about the priesthood: “I like girls too much to become a priest.” But rest assured that every priest had the same thought before he went to seminary.
Even the pope himself had to think carefully about celibacy—just like you may be doing now. Recently Pope Benedict recalled his own interior debate in his youth: “Naturally there was the question of whether I would be able to remain celibate, unmarried, my whole life long… I often pondered these questions.”
Here’s the fact: no bishop will ordain a man if he doesn’t have a normal sexual attraction to women. That’s the way God made us, and it is an indication that a man is psychologically healthy.
Celibacy isn’t about repressing your sexuality. Rather, it’s about giving up a single woman—a wife— in order to serve all people. Celibacy means giving oneself wholly to the Bride of Christ, the Church. It’s a radical, supernatural call from God.
The difficulty, of course, is that in American society, celibacy is portrayed as impossible or ridiculous. As Fr. Benedict Groeschel once wrote, “The media trumpets the message that sex brings happiness. If this were true, we would indeed live in an earthly paradise and the world would be ‘happy valley.’” But the truth is that there are over 400,000 celibate priests in the world, and the vast majority report great happiness and fulfillment.
Even if you struggle with chastity right now, God can give you the grace to become sexually pure. Don’t let a concern about celibacy prevent you from considering priesthood.