12 September 2013

Ways Not to Talk About Celibacy

This past week, I happened to engage in a few conversations regarding the charism of celibacy in the context of religious life and how it played itself out both in terms of those who embrace this charism and live it successfully, as well as those who do not possess this charism and, as one may guess, fail in its practical application.

These conversations helped me to reflect upon one of the more frustrating responses to celibate life.

"What a sacrifice.  Why doesn't the Church let you get married?"

This is, in a word, unhelpful to everyone involved.

But, in slightly more words:

Certainly the decision to embrace what one believes is a call from God to enter into the celibate state of life is a sacrifice.  By doing so, one sacrifices the possibility to have a spouse, children and grandchildren, as well as the reasonable assumption of blessed companionship and complementarity for a significant portion of one's life.  One also exposes one's self to an entire series of temptations regarding these noble goals, as well as the bargain-basement varieties of these goods: the hook-up culture, etc.

Yet, my response to such comments always wants (and now here does) follow along two tracks:

1) Yes.  I know I am sacrificing something.  Anything worthwhile in this life requires sacrifice and the rejection of some goods in pursuit of others, so that one may arrive at the final, one and true Good.


2) Have you, or would you, have said that to a married person in recent days?  They've sacrificed a lot too, haven't they?

If the above comments appear to be borne out of snark or frustration, my apologies.  My sole intention is to raise up an alternative perspective for consideration.

In other words: celibacy is a sacrifice.  So is marriage.

So is being a Christian.


A Country Priest said...

I like your alternative replies much more than the stock standard! Well done.

Anonymous said...

Great article! I think that the idea of sacrifice has been lost on our society/culture. Even in some of our seminaries, celibacy is lifted up almost too much and the fact that it is a sacrifice in this life is ignored so that when young men become priests and are suddenly faced with the realities of that sacrifice, they're unprepared. Question: For someone considering celibacy, how does one know the difference between sacrificing the desires for a spouse, children, grandchildren, etc. and actually being called to that life and not celibacy. Basically, at what point is the "pain" of that sacrifice actually an indication that you're not called to make it?

Ramil said...


To follow Christ is every Christian's vocation to begin with, a radical call, as soon as one begins to recognize that call, at the age when one can discern Truth with their reason.

The usual path of radical Christian discipleship for the majority of men and women is in the companionship of the marital covenant.

Human companionship is the norm, constitutive and fundamental in the heart of every human being, we are social creatures. The total giving of self for the procreation and upbringing of children, and for the good of the spouse, is instinctual in the human person.

Our loving God has allowed humankind to savor on earth a sort of intimacy and closeness, the oneness, one-in-being that we truly long for in our souls, to be intimately and fully 'known'. This is possibly found and expressed in that spousal unity of man and woman. A prefiguring and human expression of the unity and oneness of, in, and with, God.

But another path of radical Christian discipleship for a man or woman here on earth is found in the companionship of others in a state of exclusive service to others, with others, in a lived super-natural state, i.e., publicly stated chastity and chaste celibacy.

But most cannot or refuse to accept that a man or woman who publicly accepts and wills the surrender of that good and right, and intimate sexual consortium for the sake of the Kingdom here, right now, on earth, is already a footstep into the heavenly kingdom while still on earth, a prefiguring and public statement of our ultimate destiny: to be united and in oneness solely with God, to be happy with God forever in heaven, since He has made us for Himself. And that - if we were truly aware and honest - our hearts (unacknowledged, perhaps) are restless until they - ultimately - rest exclusively in Him.

"Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thes 5:16

Thanks for the wonderful post.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. In short, true love requires self-giving sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

Not snarky at all. Clear-sighted, honest, mature talk about sexual appropriateness in all the states of life is astonishingly hard to come by. As my moral theology professor liked to say, "life is full of trade-offs". We decide certain things are worth the sacrifices.

Remind me at some point to tell you about the worst homily I ever heard on this topic.

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