Celibacy, sexuality and the search for Love

Having lived many years as a Claretian, do you experience that your consecrated celibacy is against your “nature”, as it is often depicted in a secular world? Contrary to the expectations of the world, perhaps, you may be enjoying the tremendous opportunity and possibility which your consecrated life is opening up for you to be in communion with God and others and to serve them more freely. Does your vocational life attest to a “hundredfold” (Mt 19.29) in terms of fraternal love, friendships, relationships and fruitfulness in ministry, as promised by Jesus?

Of course, you must have also lived through moments of “crisis” and inner conflicts along the journey of the integration of the various passions and desires that have surged within you at different moments of your life. It is also possible that you may be struggling with a wounded sexuality and consequent wounded relationships that cry for healing and forgiveness. Perhaps, you have had different feelings and questions in your heart when missionaries whom you had loved and esteemed backed out of religious life due to affective entanglements. How was it for you to hear the news of pedophilia and sexual abuse by certain priests and religious whose sins ravaged the lives of many people and betrayed the trust of the catholic community?

Perhaps, you may have also felt the cost of living celibacy in the context of a highly sexualized society which hails the human body as an idol while at the same time trivializing it as a consumer product. In certain cultural contexts, a celibate choice is ridiculed and held in disdain as something impractical and hypocritical. You may have seen with surprise how Catholic teaching on sexual ethics is often portrayed as inimical to sex and pleasure.

What have you felt when scandals of clergy sexual abuse are highlighted in the media to support such views? With a pseudo scientific approach, many tend to doubt people’s ability to live chastely and even perceive it as an unattainable ideal or a life “against human nature”. How does it affect you when wide spread permissive ethics and an hedonistic world view propagated by mass media and business interests corrupt the minds of people with regard to the values and meaning of sex and sexuality? Much more than living “against nature” you may find yourself living your celibate choice against a prevalent “social current”!

“Living of Chastity has laws of growth which progresses through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin. “Man.. . day by day build himself up through his many free decisions: an so he knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth” (Catechism, 2343).

Perhaps, you are living in a context that places priesthood and consecrated life on a pedestal and consider the religious and priests as impeccable. In such a situation you may feel obliged to resort to pretenses of a holy life rather than making a honest effort to internalize those ideals in your actual life. It is also possible that in some contexts a celibate form of life is not supported by the cultural messages that define manliness and fullness of personhood in terms of sexual prowess, physical paternity and marital status.

Deep down you may know that Love is your fundamental and innate vocation (cf. Catechism 2392). Sexuality affects all aspects of your person in the unity of your body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2332). naturally, the ordering of your sexual life towards the chosen form of life touches upon your longings and urges at your physical, mental and spiritual levels. It is also intimately related to the ordering of your sexual impulses, emotions, value system, interpersonal relationships, friendships and ministerial commitment.

When you know that the core dynamism of your sexuality is the mystery of love, you will discover its fullness in the life of Jesus. Your option to follow the Jesus of the Gospels flows from your search for love: to love and to be loved. It calls for orienting, elevating and integrating your sexuality by the love which the Spirit of Jesus has poured into your heart. You may have gone through joys of friendship and self-mastery as well as feelings of agony, hurt, guilt and rejection in times of failures and loss of self-control in your journey towards sexual integration and intimacy.

“Since the observance of Chastity touches upon some of our deepest natural inclinations and places several renunciations upon us, we should put our trust in the Lord and humbly ask his help in prayer. We should likewise foster community life since true fraternal love preserves and perfects chastity.” (CC 22).

Leaving one’s parents (natural relationship) to become one flesh with the life-partner (a matter of choice but a powerful natural inclination) speaks for itself the force of its inner dynamism. Consecrated celibacy which transcends that inclination requires a more compelling motivational dynamic. It can be a beautiful prayer to retrace before the Lord your sexual history and the process of your sexual integration as a celibate. Loves in your life Taking all our loves into account one may exclaim with St. Augustine, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee”. The search of the human heart for the Other and others has different expressions in our lives as we encounter many wonderful persons in the course of our history. Your early adolescent infatuations, love affairs, and friendships especially with the complementary sex may have trained the capacity of your heart to love and care. Your life is enriched by the love of hundreds of persons, many of them unacknowledged, who entered into your life story through the doors of many loves: affection, friendship, eros and charity (cf. CS Lewis, The four loves).

These natural need-loves train your heart in the school of love to graduate into gift-loves, when touched by God’s own self gift. Without this transformation, as C.S Lewis says, “love begins to be a demon the moment it begins to be a god”. But “when God enters, half-gods can remain” or “the highest does not stand without the lowest”. Perhaps, your experience has taught you the truth of the above affirmations.

You may find that some of your relationships have enriched and empowered you very much, while others have hurt you and blocked your freedom to relate freely with people. Others also may have had similar experiences from your mode of relating with them. At times some of your loves may have assumed first place in your life and even questioned you about your vocational commitment. It is also possible that one hide the aspect of affectivity under the mask of hatred or devaluation of women. You may also have had moments of failing to be true to yourself and to others in your relationships which might have caused hurt and pain to you and to others. But they are moments of search of the restless heart that raise the question, “what does it profit to live and love like this?”.

When you introspect, You may find that you have grown to greater authenticity and integrity in and through the struggles of your heart’s search for love. Perhaps you may find yourself still struggling with a limping heart and wounded sexuality groping for wholeness and healing. Both the experience of mutually enriching friendships as well as that of delimiting wounds in interpersonal relationships could be Quid Prodest to receive God’s gift of Love which heals and empowers human hearts. It could be life-affirming if you take courage to share your “love story” with your mentor or a trusted person, if you have not so far done so.

-From Forge in Everyday Life, Quid prodest, Book 8