In the Heart of the Church

“the paternal dimension of the priesthood"
Bishop Agustín Román

Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Miami
February, 1992

The following is excerpted from a reflection written by Bishop Román while he was hospitalized for his first heart surgery
at Mercy Hospital, in February 1992.His words remain as valid today as when he first wrote them.


When I was young, feeling the call of Christ, I did not cease to feel also the call to form a family. I think that every priest has been at the same juncture. Today . at a time when celibacy is strongly questioned, I believe that I can give a serene testimony to the manifestation of the grace of God in this option of consecrated life . and at the same time, witness to the tremendous gift that such an option represents, both for the priest who assumes it and for the people he serves.

Celibacy is a gift of the Holy Spirit and is not for all since, as St. Matthew said, "Let him who can do it accept this teaching" (Matt. 19:12). This is why, within the universal priesthood of all the sons of God, only the few chosen to the ministerial priesthood can make that total gift of self. Doing so they place themselves at the service of all as pastors, and in this fashion they "give their life for their sheep". In this way, the priest places himself at the service of the whole Church, assuming another paternity. "For your life in Christ Jesus I have become your father" (1 Cor. 4:15).
Our Holy Father John Paul II, speaking to the priests at the Ivory Coast in Africa, told them, referring to celibacy: "Live this evangelical renouncement of carnal paternity in the constant perspective of the spiritual paternity that fills the heart of the priests, fully integrated in their people."

Is there anyone in these times who can speak with greater conviction than I of the tremendous joy of that spiritual paternity? When I renounced a family so that the world might call me "father", I did not imagine the abundance of sons and daughters that the Lord would give me. Certainly, He gives a hundred fold, and I have been able to confirm it now in my sickness - thousands and thousands of letters, cards and telephone calls coming from very different places, all moved with the spirit of prayer and all impregnated with a filial love which I humbly appreciate.
This generous recompense, which is an anticipation of the heavenly reward, is fruit of that donation of self that is celibacy. Contrary to what some believe, it is not a yoke but a sign of the most absolute freedom of the heart, which provides at the same time a constant disposition to serve. That liberating power unites the soul evermore intimately with its Lord and makes clearer the imperfections that we may have when we present ourselves before His mercy.

Because priests have that freedom to serve the faithful, the people of God have the right to expect of their shepherds that witness. I am sure that the gift of celibacy would be much more appreciated if all understood how much joy is derived from it. But even when it is not understood, the priest is under the obligation of always remembering the call to be a "sign of contradiction", to live the beatitudes which are not understandable in the eyes of the world, and to live them with happiness.

That happiness is in proportion to the capacity to love. One has to love much to be able to renounce much. In light of the capacity of loving, the value of celibacy can be better assessed when we observe its fruits in lives which are enlightening, such as that of the Cure of Ars St. John Marie Vianney and that of the Servant of God, Father Felix Varela.

I leave the hospital with the most profound gratitude to those thousands of sons and daughters who have allowed me to appreciate in all its magnitude the paternal dimension of the priesthood. The love manifested towards me can only be explained due to that condition of paternity because it is given to a sick man, close to death, one who has nothing material to give them, because I have neither riches nor power. I have never had them and never will.

But that which I have, the excess of the love of God and the happiness of my priesthood, I want to share with all, and this is why I especially call upon young people to participate in this marvel, to consider the priesthood as a preferred life option, and to have a well disposed heart to listen to the voice of Christ, who needs workers for the vineyard, shepherds for the flock, men capable of renouncing all things to gain all. Do not be afraid, the burden is light and the prize is the richest paternity.

Thanks to the Lord for having permitted me to respond to His call. I have simply tried to follow Him and, as long as He wants me here on earth, I want to continue trying to respond to the call. This call is beautifully described in the Liturgy of the Hours and I invite all who believe to listen to his voice:

Lord, you called me
to be an instrument of your grace,
to announce the good news,
to heal the souls.
Instrument of peace and of justice,
herald of all your words,
water to calm the piercing thirst,
hand that blesses and loves.
Lord, you called me
to heal the wounded hearts,
to cry out in the marketplace,
that Love is alive,
awaken those who slumber
and liberate the captured.
I am soft wax between your fingers,
do with me according to your will.
Lord you called me
to save a tired world,
to love the people
that you, Father, gave me as brothers,
to alleviate misery and sin;
to make the stones tremble
and to chase the wolves from the flock.


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