(Blogpost is adapted from my blog on discernment, CoAuthorYourLifewithGod.com)
“Celibacy is too hard.”
I think this is one of the comments I hear the most when someone is considering religious life. And celibacy is hard. I don’t deny it. Every human being is created for the intimacy of spousal love, and celibacy is giving up that physical expression of spousal love. Renouncing all that is entailed in a spousal relationship for the sake of Christ and his kingdom is a real sacrifice. Vowed celibacy also includes giving up the unconditional support of a spouse and having that special someone in your life who is always there for you. Celibacy (or consecrated chastity as it is usually called for religious) means accepting that times of loneliness will be part of our lives.
However, celibacy doesn’t mean giving up all relationships or emotions. Rather, it means that our exclusive relationship is with God. The “Someone” who is always there for us, whom we give ourselves to completely, is God. His love is what every human being longs for, and it is his love that completes us.
Our Spouse Is Christ Himself
For women religious, our spouse is Christ himself. Priests and men religious often speak of their “spouse” as the Church. For both men and women religious, spousal love is expressed primarily in loving Christ in his members, the Church.
One key aspect of spousal love is fruitfulness. Just as married love is to be open to the creation of new life, so the love of religious and priestly life is to be fruitful, as spiritual fathers and mothers of God’s People. This spiritual parenthood is expressed in countless ways. And the wise celibate is attentive to nurturing important relationships in his or her life—with family, community, and friends—so that they remain emotionally healthy and can rely on a certain level of healthy companionship.
The Only Problem with Having a Perfect Spouse
I was recently at a faith sharing with a number of other Catholic women who were talking about the joys and challenges of being married. Throughout their conversation, I quietly listened, but I decided to add my comment in the end—a comment that I borrowed from a sister in my community, Sr. Helena. “My Spouse is perfect. The only problem is that, when we disagree about something, he’s always right.” All of the women nodded and laughed with me.
The Greatest Love
Our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, called consecrated chastity the greatest love. Part of what he meant is that chastity is a self-sacrificing love, with less “payback” or tangible rewards here on earth, but with great rewards in heaven. But I think he also meant that when we give our hearts to the Lord in that exclusive, spousal way, we are opening ourselves to a love that is beyond words, beyond anything we can imagine. Christ’s sacrificial love for us enables our love for God’s People to become more self-sacrificing. And ultimately, it is in that full giving of self that we reach our full human potential, and respond most fully to our call to holiness.