He would have seen his uncles and father and older brothers who had chosen marriage. Perhaps they lived in a little row house with a wife and half a dozen kids. The man would work long hours to support his large family. He and his wife had a joyful but hard life of self sacrifice.
The young man might be considering the priesthood, and for him the celibate life was not so bad. He got an education. Maybe he had the chance to travel. He lived in a big rectory with three or four other priests with a nice Italian grandma to cook for them and look after them. In the extended family in his part of the city he had mom and pop and brothers and sister and uncles and aunts and nieces and nephews. He served them as “father” in the way his brothers served their own kids. It was also a way of self sacrifice, and compared to his brother’s big family it has equal joys and sorrows of its own.
The choice between celibacy and fatherhood was between one way of total sacrifice and another way of total self sacrifice. Self sacrifice as a father and husband or self sacrifice as a father-priest.
Now think of the choices facing a young man who is thinking about priesthood: the models he has for fatherhood are mostly men who have used contraception to have two or maybe three children. The wife works. Double income. Trophy house. A good retirement plan. Kids in private school. Not much suffering or difficulty at all. It seems to him like the modern American Dad has it all because contraception has allowed him to.
The poor guy who wants to be a priest is likely to face a life living alone in a big rectory, being suspected of being a pedophile and working long hours for little reward or recognition. His celibacy seems like a curse not only of loneliness, but a reminder that he has given up everything the suburban man takes for granted. Contraception has not only given the suburban man endless child-free sex. It has given him unimagined wealth. It has enabled him to live not only for free sex, but to live a life of unrestrained acquisition of wealth for himself.
No wonder the celibate may think from time to time that it is all very unfair. Not only does he give all, but the very meaning of what he is giving is pulled out from under him because the meaning of marriage (in which the meaning of celibacy is rooted) has been destroyed. Conversely, while marriage gives celibacy meaning, it may be now that celibacy may begin to give meaning back to marriage.
What I am suggesting is that the self giving and service of the celibate priest may start to remind people of the true meaning of marriage. The true meaning of marriage is that it is a sacrament of self sacrifice and service. Married people may observe the self sacrificial sacrifice of the priest and be reminded that as the priest is “married to the church” in loving service, so too, they are to be married to their spouses in a life long commitment of loving service.
This is why the Catholic church will soon become the sole defender of marriage: because it has continued to be the sole defender of celibacy