BY FR. RICHARD MEREDITH, SPECIAL TO THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
From time to time I have asked boys and young men if they have ever thought about the priesthood. Most have admitted that they had. But teens often hesitate when asked and admit that they find girls very attractive. This usually is my response: “Woman is probably God’s most beautiful creation.”
I congratulate them on their being attracted to such beauty and to the possibility of marriage and fatherhood. In my own story I volunteer that, even though I seriously considered priesthood from the second grade all the way through high school, I soon realized that the very talents I would need to be a good priest were the same that I would need to be a good husband and father.
In sorting things out on my own journey I decided that God’s call to me was first built on being a decent human being, employing the talents which God has given me. Second, I should be a sincere Christian and follow Jesus as my Shepherd in the Catholic Church. While I did not pursue the vocation of marriage and family, I voluntarily accepted the vocation of celibate priesthood to be fruitful in the gifts the Lord had given me.
In our fallen world, fallen human nature awakens to sexual attraction usually curious, confused, self-focused and often lustful. When one has learned to respect other people and to have an awareness of their good, the attraction can, thanks be to God, include personal esteem and respect for them. By God’s grace the attraction can be entirely pure and chaste, valuing and honoring the beauty and perceived, admirable qualities of the other person. The attraction can have a strong physical focus without diminishing the personal, social, and spiritual traits which stir admiration and desire.
As Pope St. John Paul II taught in his Theology of the Body, it is growth in chastity which leads to true love and the freedom to love rightly. Our Church offers programs for adults and teens based on the pope’s teaching, e.g., “Theology of the Body for Teens.” To date they are the best presentations I have found to communicate Catholic moral principles and a sound psychology and anthropology in a manner which speaks to the hearts and minds of adults and teens. St. John Paul II offers an understanding of God’s design to the stirring of human sexual values and lights a path of freedom, honor, and responsibility which answers what is in the human heart. His insights help me understand my particular vocation of priestly ministry in a life of celibate chastity.
Our culture is baffled that a man or a woman can be sexually chaste and pure for a whole lifetime and also be happy, psychologically balanced, free, creative, loving, and generous. But that is what the Church proposes for Christian Marriage. Lust is flatly contrary to Christianity. Sexual pleasure as mutual gift for the honor and good of one’s spouse, however, is a cause for thanksgiving to God. The individual Christian may wholly give in love his or her sexuality over to God unused to serve Christ without any loss of happiness. All, without exception, however, are called to the gift of a life of true, self-giving love.
This sounds like insanity in our sweaty, fevered world today. Pornography flourishes. And the more lust is exploited the hungrier it gets. Only true love satisfies. That is why chastity, in or out of marriage, leaves one with peace. My challenge to young and old alike is to ask God for the courage to love chastely. The Church needs true lovers of people in Christ: in marriage, in the priesthood, and in religious life.
In marriage or in celibate ministry, chastity is a life of courage and honor. Would you settle for a life of cowardice and the betrayal of love? Be a Man. Be a Woman. Be a Christian. This is God’s call. Answer it.
A longer version of this article originally ran in the April 15, 2018 bulletin at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Hopkinsville.
For vocations resources in the Diocese of Owensboro, visit owensborodiocese.org/vocations.
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