Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Some thoughts on chastity and celibacy.

It takes courage.

“When he found one really valuable pearl, he went back and put up for sale all that he had and bought it.” - Matthew 13:46

Chastity is difficult when our affections are dissipated, inordinate, all over the place.

You can be celibate and remain unchaste.  So celibacy is not the goal.

Chastity frees us, open us, expands all our faculties to love God with our whole being, and our neighbor as our self.

Lust and attraction are not synonymous.

Pier Vittorio Tondelli came to understand chastity as a “a mystic virtue for those who have chosen it and perhaps the most superhuman use of sexuality.”

It seems to me that celibacy is more a condition of single life.  All are called to chastity.  In contemporary understanding, chaste single life pretty much equals celibacy.  Religious life does too - yet ordinarily, religious do not make a vow to be celibate, but to be chaste.  To love God with their entire being, otherwise celibacy is a burden.

Just like love, chastity is misunderstood and 'not loved' in our culture.  It's not a curse.  Tondelli suggests it is chosen - on some level that is true - we can eat of the tree of forbidden fruit, or not.  We have free will.  More deeply, it is a grace, a gift, a valuable pearl, that one needs to sell everything to obtain.  Like love, it requires sacrifice.
"Love is a teacher, but one must know how to acquire it, for it is hard to acquire, it is dearly bought, it is won slowly by long labor. For we must love not occasionally, for a moment, but forever." - Dostoevsky, Fr. Zosima
We have to desire chastity - to love chastity - the Church, the ascetic and mystical life of the Church supports us, fostering our total gift of self to God.  Chaste love - it is the crown of all the saints, it is the life of the Trinity.  The cross is our misery crucified with Christ.  Chaste love unites us and lifts us up, our life hidden with Christ in God.

We fail, fall short, but the sacraments are there to reconcile and sustain us.  Prayer and recollection in the cell of self knowledge anchors us and stabilizes the passions and inordinate affections.  Self love is an even greater suffering than the loneliness we imagine is our lot, convincing ourselves we are condemned to be forever celibate.  Self love is in opposition to the love of God and neighbor.  It is what keeps us from loving chastity.  The desire to be chaste may start out weak - or even just a prayer we hardly understand - but our desire grows as we pray.

When I was younger I thought it was impossible.  It's not.

Prayer obtains all.


  1. Sometimes reading the saints I feel like a fool for being lonely and wanting to have a wife. As if God alone should suffice, and I should not want or ask to have companionship. I have no greater fear than that I will end up alone and single and miss out on this opportunity, and I find little consolation in a lot of stuff like this. I know other people have made peace with it, I know others have embraced it, and learned to cherish it. I haven't, and I don't want to.

    Maybe my desire for companionship, emotional, physical, spiritual, comes from self-love, who knows. I know you were not aiming this at people in my state, either. But I am not happy with where I am -- the fact that I am single. I hate it, I hate it so so much. I am blessed beyond measure in so many other ways, but this one fact of my life is something I find it very hard to be thankful for. And I find it even harder to pray for a way out of it, because I'm always reminded of how I should just be happy that I have God, so why should I need a wife?

    This is all because I'm spiritually naive, and selfish, and young, I guess. But loneliness is mind-numbing, and I'm unable to fill it with joy ... my fault, I'm sure. Chastity it not the problem -- I have no desire for sex apart from marriage and family, It's this life of loneliness that I did not choose, nor that I am any good at.

    1. You are different - you can get married and have kids - and should and will soon I hope. I also hope they canonize a married couple who couldn't keep their hands off each other some day - just for you. Loneliness is another issue. (I owe you an email!)

    2. Loneliness is another issue, yeah. I guess the point is, you can be happy even when you're lonely. Sort of like how a starving man can nonetheless find joy in God. Doesn't mean he doesn't long to eat or isn't grateful when he can.

      I guess it means we shouldn't wallow in loneliness, but turn to God.

    3. Fr. Blake just talked about loneliness. I guess I should keep my mouth shut.

  2. You're the best, Terry :)

  3. I think it's easy for young people to be alone. If you're out of school and you join a parish that's large and impersonal (like I did after college) where you know nobody, it's easy to feel isolated. I think it's important to look for points of connection -- ministries that involve other young, single adults for example. Most dioceses have them. If a person is shy or reserved, it makes it doubly hard to connect. I'm putting you in my rosary journal, Mercury. Life is hard. But I don't think God gives you a good desire (for marriage and family) without wanting to fulfill it. But you may need to make some effort to put yourself in places where you are likely to meet young women who would be good prospects for marriage: a Catholic young adult club, Theology on Tap, Church activities, etc. a local biking or hiking club. I don't think getting married is the total solution to loneliness. Friendship is important as well. A priest once told me that our ministry is to "make a friend, be a friend, and bring a friend to Christ." Looking outward toward the needs of others is the surest way, I think, to combat loneliness. In his autobiography (I think that's where I read it.) Fulton Sheen described a depressed woman whom he helped by telling her to get involved in helping others. She came back later transformed. Gosh, do I sound like Dear Abby? Anyway, I'm praying for you. You too, Terry. Congrats on 300th follower. As you well know, I love your blog. It's one of the few I visit frequently.

    1. Thanks Mary Ann - and very good advice as well.

      I've been thinking of this since the subject came up - it seems to me loneliness is inescapable in any state of life and that it is a sort of call - as you point out - or Archbishop Sheen did - in some cases it is a call to help others. When ones life is dedicated to serve others, the suffering may also be more spiritual. Not sure. It's a fact of life for many people however. Single people, old people, people in dysfunctional families/communities, the elderly, and of course those who are celibate by choice or circumstance. It seems I too easily forget how difficult it is for younger people.

  4. Thanks, Mary Ann. My parish has almost the opposite problem. I work for a university in a college town, and my canonical parish IS the parish on campus. There are LOTS of beautiful devout single girls, but I'm 32. So meeting ones in that late 20s early 30s range is not so easy.

    Part of this is is personal, and brought on by the fact that I just briefly dated a girl who I met here who was anything in could have ever wanted, and even more that I didn't even know I needed. She ended it, though, because sim external circumstances made it extremely hard for her to be comfortable in any serious relationship now, and that's where this was bound to go. I've never left a relationship with such respect for someone, or with so little bitterness, but it's still hard, and hard to understand, as meeting her in particular seemed to be the answer to some very, very specific prayers.

    But who knows? Either God can do something with it yet, or He has someone else in mind for me. But I do plan on getting more involved with some of the charitable efforts of my local KC chapter, as well as checking out the Theology on Tap scene.

  5. I just came across this by Wesley Hill: "We have to resist equating celibacy with loneliness."

    I couldn't agree more. (Talking about the initial thrust of my post Merc.)

  6. "It seems to me that celibacy is more a condition of single life. All are called to chastity. " Married guy agrees. Well said.


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