Earlier this year while I was at a church-related function, I ran into some relatives — a married couple — who are about 20 years older than I am. After we talked for short time, a priest (who is in his 60s and a friend of the couple) walked up to us and joined in the conversation.
While we were talking, the wife asked the priest if he had seen a recently released documentary that provides explicit details about corruption in the Vatican. When the priest answered that he had not seen the documentary, the wife proceeded to talk about how appalled she was by what was revealed in the documentary.
The conversation quickly morphed into a discussion about corruption among priests. The priest launched into a long explanation of how the church needs to change its position concerning marriage. He said that it is his belief that it’s unreasonable for the church to expect priests to remain celibate for their entire lives.
In addition to the marriage issue, the priest said that he believes that priests should not be ordained until they are at least 45 years old. He said that when a man is in his 20s, “he’s not mature or experienced enough to understand the seriousness of the commitment that he’s making.”
It appeared to me that the priest and my relatives were in complete agreement on all the topics that were discussed. I kept quiet during the entire conversation except for one occasion when I challenged the priest to back up one particularly egregious statement that he made about the majority of priests in the diocese of Peoria.
I’m not going to repeat that statement here, but I will tell you that the priest was not able to offer any credible evidence that his statement was true. He quickly changed the subject when I continued to push him to provide us with the evidence he had to support his statement.
While I can’t say that I was surprised by the priest’s belief that he and his fellow priests should be allowed to get married, I was surprised by his belief that a man who is in his 20s is too young to make a vow to our Lord that he will serve as a celibate priest for the rest of his life.
I have three observations I would like to share with you concerning the conversation I had with my relatives and the priest:
OBSERVATION #1: Jesus chose men in their 20s to be His first priests and bishops.
If men in their 20s aren’t mature or experienced enough to understand the seriousness of the commitment they’re making when they receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, why did Jesus choose men in their 20s to become the first priests and bishops in His church?
Although young men may lack maturity and experience, they are generally bold, idealistic, fresh, energetic, enthusiastic, and willing to take risks. In addition, they have not yet established reputations for themselves, locked themselves into lifetime commitments, or allowed themselves to be worn down by the difficulties and trials of life.
I have nothing against older men who are mature and experienced, but if I wanted to build the most capable army of men possible to conquer the forces of evil and lead my new church, I would want the majority of my army to be made up of young men who were committed to my cause.
OBSERVATION #2: Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, our Lord provides the grace that is needed for a priest to remain celibate.
Just as the Sacrament of Marriage provides a man with the grace to remain faithful to his wife (if he is willing to accept and embrace the Sacrament), the Sacrament of Holy Orders provides a man with the grace to remain faithful to Jesus Christ.
Any Catholic who does not believe that a man who has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders is capable of remaining celibate should be ashamed of himself (or herself). By broadcasting his opinion that priests are incapable of keeping their vow of celibacy, the priest displayed his complete lack of faith in our Lord and His church.
While Jesus Christ was on Earth, he altered nature by simply “saying the word.” He commanded the rotting body of Lazarus to come back to life (which was no less significant than the creation of Adam and Eve). He turned water into wine, restored sight to the blind, healed incurable diseases, and rose from the dead.
When a young man makes a vow to our Lord that he will remain celibate, our Lord makes a vow to him that the grace will be provided for him to keep his vow.
OBSERVATION #3: The comments that the wife and priest made were inappropriate and scandalous.
My first thought when I heard the wife start talking about the documentary was: Why would she waste her time watching an anti-Catholic show that was written, produced, and directed by anti-Catholics?
Any time we allow ourselves to be exposed to anti-Catholic discussions, articles, books, or audio or video productions, we are inviting Lucifer and his army of evil agents to plant seeds of doubt in our minds. After viewing the documentary, the wife used the information she learned to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the people she talked to about the documentary. We need to be diligent about what we allow our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and what we share with others.
Rather than sit and watch a two hour anti-Catholic documentary, the wife could have driven to the adoration chapel and spent an hour in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. What would have been a more productive use of her time and energy — watching the anti-Catholic documentary or praying for an hour in the presence of our Lord?
The comments that were made by the priest also served to plant seeds of doubt about his fellow priests, the Catholic Church, and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In addition, his comments were scandalous because they called into question the commitment, holiness, and reputations of his fellow priests.
After hearing what my relatives and the priest had to say, I offered up a holy hour of adoration for them. We need to remember to pray for the Catholics among us who take pleasure in planting seeds of doubt in the minds of others.