Deep in his heart: a Bride to Defend
The meaning of the priest’s renunciation of marriage through his acceptance of celibacy is to be discovered in the nature of his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The man who becomes a priest acquires a new identity by which his entire personality is utterly focused on all that Jesus Christ is and loves.
Since his redemption of mankind, Christ is inseparable from his Mystical Body, the Church. For Christ is “the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its savior” (Eph. 5:23) having brought it into existence by his heroic love unto death on Calvary. His love for the Church has all the intensity of a man’s love for his own body or a bridegroom’s love for his bride: “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her” (Eph 5:25-26).
The priest, mystically configured by his ordination to Jesus Christ the head and spouse of the Church, is therefore called to prolong in history Christ’s relationship to souls, both as a corporate reality in the Church and as individuals. His love must therefore be that of a husband, a total and exclusive self-giving for the feminine reality of the Church.
Therefore the priest as alter Christus (another Christ) sacrifices himself in imitation of Christ Crucified by making the gift of his own body exclusively to his bride through his vow of chastity. Just as Christ in instituting the Sacrifice of the Mass, the memorial of his sacrificial death on Calvary, declared “This is my body which will be given up for you” likewise the priest at the moment of vowing celibacy can say “This is my body given up for you, my bride, the Church”. In that moment he stands alongside Jesus Christ, Savior of mankind, and can say with him “Greater love has no man than this” (Jn. 15: 13). For by dedicating his body in sacred chastity he makes a sacrifice close to that of laying down one’s life in martyrdom since this sacrifice is so linked to the deepest drives in man that it is a supremely costly renunciation. By living it out the priest’s life becomes an intense expression of ardent spousal love for the Mystical Body of the Church.
This implies that as the priest looks on the corporate reality of the Church, so he looks on his relationship with each individual particularly women. In the light of the bridegroom’s love of the Warrior-Hero of Calvary, he relates to each person whose eternal destiny has been entrusted to his care as a priest as a spiritual son or daughter. He must be the man who loves them by leading them to the greatest realities ‒ God, truth, hope, love, and salvation. In this way the priest’s love mirrors that of a true husband’s love for his spouse and of Christ’s love for the Church: it is a love that procreates, protects and provides; heart, intelligence, and energies are consumed for the sake of the beloved ( 1 Cor 1: 16; 1 Cor 3: 23).