This last weekend, down here at the seminary, we had the chance to take part in what are called the John Vianney Conferences, which are two and half days worth of workshops and sessions geared to a different topic for each class year of Theology. Being in First Year Theology here, my class has been looking at the charism of celibacy. There was laughing, there were serious moments, but most importantly of all, there were some pretty honest reflections on what it means to accept this call from our Church and from God.
And I wanted to share with you some great systematic reflection, some great summation of the weekend, but it fought against me. So here are the much simpler words I took into and received from prayer. May they be words of consolation for those of you considering the celibate life in priesthood or as religious brothers or sisters. And may they lead all of you to prayer for those who live the life of celibate lovers “for the sake of the Kingdom” (Matthew 19:12):
I am a celibate man.
There, I said it. Does it make me less of a man? More of a man? Holier than married people? Lonelier than married people? Is this some last resort because I couldn’t find someone to love and to be loved by? Is it some great sacrifice I’m making to the Lord to show that I am worthy to be a priest? The answer to all of these questions is with all likelihood an emphatic no.
So what does it mean?
I believe that it means that I will have the daily chance to live out the meaning of who I am: God did not create me, or any of us, to be alone. Celibacy is indeed not something that can be done by one’s self. We can try by ourselves, but we would be miserable and make ourselves alone. We must rely on God’s grace to allow His love to overflow from our lives, so that we can love intimately, even though not sexually, those hearts that reach out most desperately and those that reach out in the greatest joy to God. And if God has indeed loved us into being, then are we not created to express that very Act of Love. What joy to think that celibacy is not about being alone, but about sharing my very being and meaning with all of those I can open myself up to!
Celibacy is not bitterness, it is not isolation. Yes there will be frustration and yes there will be loneliness, but it is truly about saying yes! to a genuine gift from God. It is not about what I am giving up for God, but about what I am receiving from God. We can get so stuck in thinking that celibacy is about saying no. No to family, to intimacy, to children, to marriage. That cannot be further from the truth! It is not about not being tied down, but actually about saying yes to and being bound to God and to God’s people.
And no, it is not easy, as right as it feels to my life right now. My eyes wander, my heart yearns, and my love burns. Yet God lets us be ourselves, meeting us where we are at, as we are. I am finding that God works with my imperfections, with my wandering heart, and with that passion He has put to burn inside of me, that may not have been set aside for any one person, but for all people.
If marriage is the great sign of Christ’s love of His Church, then celibacy is another great sign of our having been loved into being. And if we truly believe and know with our hearts that we are made to not be alone, then we can better and more truly understand that when we love, whether it be in marriage or in celibacy, we are never alone.