Dear sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus,
The NABRE translation we use for this Sunday’s second Reading leaves much to be desired. Here it is as we hear it at Mass: “I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” Missing entirely is the sense of “unmarried man” implying celibate chastity, not mere bachelorhood, as well as the implied “ought to be” to go along with the verb “is.” We all ought to be free of useless anxieties, but there is a level of concern proper to each vocation. Parents should be concerned with caring for their children, spouses with serving each other, clerics with prayer and sacrifice for the people whom they serve, and vowed religious with the proper execution of their duties. Vocations are not passive, but active calls to holiness.
Read St. Paul’s words this way instead: “I should like you to be free of anxieties. A celibate man is to be concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” Read this way, his celibacy is no mere accident of circumstances, as if he would prefer to be married if he could. Nor is it license to serve himself or isolate himself in perpetual bachelorhood. Instead, this reading reveals the purpose of celibacy: total dedication to the service of God and the people of God. It is not a freedom from married life, but a freedom for service. Just as a celibate single person is free to pursue married, ordained, or vowed religious life, so the celibate cleric or vowed religious is free from the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing so that he or she may be more fully dedicated to the responsibilities of their specific callings.
For Saint Paul, this way of life meant less anxiety. This is not a judgement against married life, but his experience of the freedom of celibacy lived well. I do not doubt that if he had been called to married life instead, that version of Saint Paul would have been just as joyous in favor of the married vocation. Celibate vocations are not better or worse than the vocation of marriage, yet they do more closely resemble how we will be in heaven. One of the blessings of having celibate vocations among us is that they remind us of the total dedication to God that is our common goal. The sacrifice that we make in giving up the specific joys of married life will bear a different kind of fruit as our celibate vocations enhance and complement the lives of the married people around us. The fatherhood I exercise as a priest and pastor should, if I am doing it right, complement the fatherhood of God incarnated in every good dad. While I am not specifically focused on recruiting other men to become priests like me, I do pray that my witness may stir the hearts of young men to pursue this blessed vocation.
May God grant that all of our vocations enrich and strengthen the vocations of our brothers and sisters and inspire the next generation to pursue their vocations with joy.
Peace in Christ,
Father Matthew Kuhn