An open man, Archbishop Alexander Sample gladly talks over the priestly promises of celibacy and obedience.
While he and fellow seminarians discussed celibacy, it was not integrated into the formation, he says. He did not learn to embrace it as an interior value. That came later.
“Over time, I have come to appreciate what I consider to be the gift of the celibate vocation,” he says. “Sometimes people don’t understand the deeper meaning of it. You are ordained and sacramentally configured to Christ, to minister in the figure of Christ. There is something that changes in your soul.
"I am configured to Christ and configured to be the bridegroom to the local church. I am bound to these people. A priest isn’t married to a woman, but I am espoused. Celibacy frees the priest to give himself with an undivided heart to the Lord and to the people.”
Archbishop Sample says he has learned to love his flock in a non-sexual way.
“I haven’t really struggled with the celibate lifestyle,” he says. “I’ve been lonely at times but I have never suffered from real loneliness.”
He does say it’s “naive” to think that holy orders removes a man’s humanity.
Regarding obedience, he has followed advice received years ago from an older priest. The season clergyman enjoined him never to ask for an assignment and never to refuse an assignment. It’s been a liberating path, the archbishop says.
When the form arrived from the diocese each year asking if there was a post he might like, he would simply write, “Whatever the bishop wants me to to.”
The senior priest was spot on. Wherever Archbishop Sample has gone, he’s found the people good and holy.
Like his senior confrere, he doesn’t want to get to the end of his days and realize he’s been carrying out his own will, not God’s.
“It is so freeing,” he explains. “You can just say, ‘Lord it’s in your hands.’”