Father Ignatius’ policy with the people he met was to be as open and honest as possible when discussing matters or when giving advice or guidance. This included the youngsters he met at both Catholic schools, who, more often than not, asked direct personal questions and expected a straight answer. They were astute enough to know when someone was avoiding the question or giving them flannel.
The discussion during Catechism class was about vocations and the celibacy of priests and nuns.
Father Ignatius had been asked by a young pupil why priests and nuns are celibate.
“Let me see if I can answer this honestly and in personal terms,” said Father Ignatius. “There is, as you know a physical life which we all live right now, and a spiritual life which some people choose to follow at the same time.
“God wants us to enjoy our physical life and for us to live it in service of others so that He may be glorified by what we do. This can be done by being married and raising families and also indeed by remaining single in life.
“People who choose to follow a spiritual life, like Catholic priests and nuns, promise to remain chaste and not get married.”
“Like Jesus …” interrupted one of the 15 year-old students, “why did Jesus never marry?”
“That’s a good question,” replied Father Ignatius, “in my opinion, I believe that Christ’s mission on earth was so important that He could not allow anything else to detract Him from His main objective.
“As you know, Jesus came to teach us about His Father’s Word; but more important than that; He came to offer Himself in sacrifice by dying on the Cross so that we may be reconciled with God.
“If, as you suggest, He would have married, and perhaps have children, this would have in many ways sidetracked His main mission on earth. But that’s only my opinion.”
“Do you think He ever wanted to get married?” asked another student innocently.
“Being human, I suspect He was not immune to the many feelings and emotions we experience. Yet, being God at the same time, His job on earth was to obey His Father and take on the ultimate sacrifice for us on the Cross.
“He always knew what His mission on earth was and how He would die on the Cross. And although He was tempted before His arrest, and He prayed to God that His ordeal may pass Him by, He knew and accepted that ultimately He had to obey His Father’s will; and that nothing should deflect Him from it.”
“Is it the same with priests,” asked Rose, “is their mission to teach about God and not get married. And to obey the Pope?”
“Father John got married,” corrected Paul, “he left the church and got married. Should he have done that Father?”
“It is not for me to judge what Father John did. Jesus told us never to judge each other,” replied Father Ignatius.
“Father John decided to leave the priesthood and to get married. I’m certain that he did not make this decision lightly. He must have agonized and soul-searched for a long time before deciding to leave his vocation as a priest. Which, I must add, he undertook in an exemplary manner in his time as a priest. Yet, eventually he decided to do what he felt was right for him at the time.”
“Have you ever wanted to get married and have children?” asked directly a pupil sitting up front.
The rest of the class gasped at what they felt was an impertinent question. Father Ignatius smiled and responded calmly.
“It would be a lie to deny it. Many people would like to have a family and raise children, especially if they are as well turned out as you.”
They smiled almost in unison.
“But when I decided to become a priest, I knew full well what I was giving up. Sharing my life with and loving another person, and raising a family, is a great privilege.
“Matrimony is a Sacrament which Christ taught about several times. It is a mission and a full commitment which married couples undertake throughout their lives together.
“However, by becoming a priest I promised and accepted that I would not get married.
“Having made that decision, God has rewarded me by making me a member of all your families here in this Parish.
“You and your parents have welcomed me in your homes as one of your family. I have been privileged to have been invited for meals with many of you at home. I have shared with your families moments of happiness and moments of sorrows too. I have seen many of you grow from little babies whom I have baptized many years ago, to who you are now.
“I am grateful to God and to you for welcoming me in your families.”
“Should everybody get married then,” asked Mark, “except for priests and nuns?”
“Married life is a Sacrament which we should take seriously and it is the best foundation in which to raise a family. But no, not everyone has to get married.
“Remember that God’s wish for you in this life is for you to be happy.
“Some people find happiness in marriage, others prefer to remain single. Celibacy can be a vocation too. Just like marriage.
“I have found that being single allows many people the time to do more for their communities and for the church. Things they would not have been able to do if married; when their main commitments should be to their families first.
“I have just returned from America as you know. I met there a young priest from Houston in Texas. He was brought up in a loving Catholic family and something he said to me still sticks in my mind,
“He said, ‘the way my parents brought me up, it was inevitable I’d become a priest!’
“His sister is a nun, whilst his other sisters are married and raising their families.
“So you see … his lovely parents created the conditions whilst raising their family that two of their children chose a vocation in the Church whilst the others are raising their children in the same Christian tradition their parents taught them.
“Whether you are married or not, a priest or a nun or not; the important thing that really matters is to live your life in the service of others and to glorify God at every opportunity.”
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