Q: Why are priests not allowed to marry?

A: This is a common question. For me to respond, “That’s just how it is” would be an insult to your intelligence. The Catholic priest stands out in our society, and for good reason: He is in the person of Jesus Christ in a very unique way. The short answer is that Jesus is the groom and the Church is his bride. This is the very terminology Jesus used in order for us to understand his exclusive love for us. Jesus is the groom to the Church, his bride. So too are our priests grooms to the Church, as am I. As a bishop I also am a priest (that part can be further explained in another “Ask the Bishop”).

Jesus did not marry, nor do we priests marry. This style of life is not so that we are simply more available to the people of God. That is an inaccurate assumption by much of society. The truth goes much deeper than “functional availability.” For a priest to be exclusively present to the people of God means that the priest lives his life in complete conformity to Jesus’ life. The man wishing to be ordained makes promises, promises which shed light on how much he loves Jesus Christ and the people of God. In his promise to be exclusive to Jesus Christ’s Church and to no one else, especially regarding marriage, the man provides a public intention to conform himself completely to Jesus himself.

Others argue that allowing priests to marry would provide more priests. To overlook or even dismiss the gift of priestly celibacy in order to “increase a quota” loses sight on the reality of what it means to be a priest. A priest lives out his priesthood in exclusive devotion to Jesus Christ and his Church. In doing so, the priest is the celebrant of that great gift of our salvation which Jesus shared with the Church through his Apostles, the holy Eucharist. We priests certainly are a “band of brothers” in Jesus’ name.

What a great joy we have in our diocese that two men will be ordained priests on May 16 at the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Steubenville! Perhaps many of us should ask ourselves when was the last time we thanked a priest or seminarian for saying “yes” to priesthood?

Q: Why do people pray to Mary and the saints? Isn’t that idolatry?

A: This is another good question for many of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, perhaps even some of our Catholic ones as well, mistaken our devotion to the saints as worship of the saints. Of course, idolatry is worshipping something or someone as if it is a god. In our prayerful devotion to the saints we honor the saints, all the while worshipping Jesus Christ. Jesus is God and all saints point to him. Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of Jesus, takes us to Jesus every time we pray the Hail Mary, the rosary, or all Marian devotions.

The members of the Communion of Saints, we mention them in our creed every Sunday, intercede with God on our behalf. Needless to say, the Catholic Church is not simply limited to the 1.2 billion Catholics who live among us in 2014. The Catholic Church includes those members of the Church who have died and gone before us. When we die, we do not lose our Catholic identity. We go to God as citizens of his heavenly kingdom. Yes, our heavenly citizenship exceeds our own national citizenship on earth. A country can forcibly remove one’s national identity, like a Social Security number, but our baptismal gift is impossible to remove.

We pray to Mary and the saints, for all the saints are willing to assist us on our pilgrims way. Life is a journey and we have heavenly guides, if only we take time to look. Isn’t it great that we have “ultimate heroes” not just to imitate, but to know with confidence they are there to help us? I encourage you to look up saints’ names in or at Catholic resources to discover the treasure of divine help we are offered. I’ll leave that to your parents and teachers.

Q: How long does it take for you to become an official saint in the Church?

A: Now, isn’t this question timely? Pope Francis just celebrated the official recognition of two new saints in the Church, St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, and this provides us the opportunity to reflect on just what does it take to make a saint. The cause for sainthood begins with the individual person’s life on earth. How holy was the person? Following the death of the individual, a public “cause” may begin with interviews of those who knew the person and can testify to the holiness of the particular individual. This all comes down to the relationship with Jesus Christ the very person in question demonstrated to others. How did he or she communicate to others a close and personal relationship with our Lord? How did he or she live that relationship out in daily life? What Christ-like qualities set that person apart from so many others? Notice I speak in past tense, for what also is necessary is that the person in question has already died.

I apologize for the following oversimplification, but we could fill the rest of the Register with extensive criteria on “what makes a saint.” If the person in question exemplified heroic virtue in his or her saintly life, then Pope Francis may publicly declare the person venerable. If a miracle is discovered to have happened in the name of this person following his or her death, there are grounds for beatification, or for the individual to be declared blessed. If another miracle is proven following acknowledgement of the prior miracle, we have further foundation for canonization, that is, for the person to be declared a saint. All of this falls under the exclusive authority of the Holy Father, the Pope.

The Catholic Church celebrates the lives of the saints for each saint provides us not just with an exemplary life to imitate, but each saint offers assistance in the “here and now” of our own life journey. As I have mentioned before, we are not alone.

This Easter Season reminds us that Jesus has opened the gates of heaven to us, the final destiny where the saints are and where we plan to join them.

God bless you and your loved ones this month of May, the month of Mary – that may bring another “Ask the Bishop” question.

Youth who want to “Ask the Bishop” should contact the diocesan Office of Christian Formation and Schools. Questions should be addressed to Joseph M. Taylor, catechetical consultant and youth ministry coordinator. Questions can be mailed to Taylor at P.O. Box 969, Steubenville, OH 43952, or emailed to him at jtaylor@diosteub.org. He can be reached via telephone at (740) 282-3631.