After reading their book titled From the Depths of Our Hearts, Bp. Nicolas Brouwet weighed in on its valuable contribution to the right understanding of clerical celibacy. In his remarks published on Monday, Brouwet commented on how the Amazon Synod, clerical sex abuse and the decrease in vocations all make the book on celibacy so necessary today:
[A few] elements have relaunched the question of priestly celibacy. [One is the] synod on the Amazon ... since the fathers of the synod voted a resolution favorable to the priestly ordination of married deacons. The issue of sexual abuse by clerics, on the other hand, [had] some claiming that the marriage of priests could have prevented such abuse [despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary]. The lack of priests in our dioceses is also a recurring argument in favor of the ordination of married men.
Citing a passage that sums up the collective thought in the book, Brouwet wrote, "Priests must live only for God."
The bishop expounded on the book's theme of how priests of the Old Testament lived a life of sacrifice in order to live for God alone.
"Consecrated for the worship of God," said Brouwet, the priest "was set apart to stand before the Lord and serve him, as explained by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI." And this consecration, he continued, results "in a renunciation of the possession of land and in the absence of conjugal relations" while the priest offered liturgical service in Jerusalem.
The bishop elaborated on the very identity of the sacrificial priesthood of Christ as taught by Pope Emeritus Benedict.
"The life of a priest is a self-offering following Jesus," noted Brouwet. It finds its fulfillment, he added, "in the offering that Jesus made of himself on the Cross for the salvation of the world and at the same time [on the] altar [as] priest and victim."
Christ's two-fold offering on the Cross and at the altar is how "our priestly ministry is understood," related the bishop. Only when united to the sacrifice offered by the priest at the altar, do the priest's personal sacrifices gain spiritual value, emphasized the bishop.
"The rest of our mission, of our day, our preaching, our missionary projects, the celebration of the other sacraments, take on meaning only in this fundamental and daily action that is the celebration of Mass, where everything is deposited and handed over between father's hands," he explained.
Citing from the book on how celibacy is relevant today, Brouwet offered the following passage: "'The poor and the simple,' wrote Cdl. Sarah, 'know how to discern with the eyes of faith the presence of Christ the Spouse of the Church in the celibate priest.'"
He then explained that the flock is so receptive to a celibate shepherd because a celibate priest has "a free heart, without attachment" that can reach out to all.
"The heart of a priest is available to everyone, without exclusivity and without preference," observed Brouwet. "And this is also what is appreciated by the faithful: this great availability ... of the deep heart delivered entirely to Christ."
He rejected the false claim that celibacy deprives a priest of the capacity to love and describes how a priest is fulfilled by totally offering himself to his flock.
"A priest's heart is made to love," reflected the bishop. "He does it by following Christ the Bridegroom ... Christ [who is] entirely delivered out of love to humanity. And this gift of self for humanity and in the Church makes sense; it fills the life of a priest."
Brouwet wove together his views on celibacy and the priesthood gleaned in part from the book:
The celibate priest testifies to the presence of Christ who gave himself entirely to the Church, like the husband to the wife. And by his ministry, by his availability, by everything he undertakes for the proclamation of the gospel, by his humble fidelity, he communicates to the community of the faithful all the love and the attention he has for Her in the manner of Jesus.
He ended by thanking his celibate priests for their joyful and serene gift of self that resounds to a fruitful ministry.
"I would like to thank them," he wrote, "encourage them and tell them how much we, as bishops but also as fathers, brothers and friends of our priests, are grateful to them for the witness they offer us. May they be truly blessed by the Lord!"