The Celibate Secular Life
“I should like you to have your minds free from all worry. The unmarried man gives his mind to the Lord’s affairs and to how he can please the Lord; but the man who is married gives his mind to the affairs of this world and to how he can please his wife, and he is divided in mind. So, too, the unmarried woman, and the virgin, gives her mind to the Lord’s affairs and to being holy in body and spirit; but the married woman gives her mind to the affairs of this world and to how she can please her husband. I am saying this only to help you, not to put a bridle on you, but so that everything is as it should be, and you are able to give your undivided attention to the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 7:29-35
Celibacy is a word that often causes confusion and fear in some people. For those unfortunate souls, they see celibacy merely as an impossible and onerous task of avoiding sex, a task that only an insane person, or someone who is jaded and dislikes members of the opposite sex, can accomplish. Even more unfortunate is the current secular view that celibacy is the “cause” behind the current sex scandals that wracked the Catholic Church, for they see celibacy as a forced repression and avoidance of all sexual feelings. These views are indeed unfortunate in that they are skewed.
First of all, it must be noted that celibacy is not a “forced repression” of one’s feelings. If someone is using celibacy to run away from one’s own self, or to repress their sexuality, this is something that WILL indeed harm them and cause major problems for them in life. The celibate person understands and wholly embraces their entire self with all of its flaws and imperfections as well as their gifts and perfections. He or she knows themselves and accepts their sexuality, embracing themselves for who they are. As such, the celibate man, instead of offering himself as a total self gift to another woman in marriage, now offers himself as a total self gift consecrated to God. In doing so, the consecrated celibate person sees himself in a total and radical new way, joyfully embracing the challenges in his life just as a married couple embraces the challenges in their permanently joined lives. The lack of sex to the celibate is no longer an onerous burden, but rather is a liberating freedom, a sacrifice that is fully embraced and offered up as a gift in his dedication to God and service to his fellow men and women.
One could say that it was Jesus Christ who instituted the truly chaste celibate life, when the Sadducees placed their question on the Levirate law to Jesus in Mt 22:23-33. The Levirate law was a Mosaic provision (Dt 25:5-10) that ensured the continuation of the family line in case a man who was married died without children. In such an instance, a man’s brother is compelled to take his brother’s widow as a wife and beget offspring for his dead brother. The resulting children would not treated as his own, but as his dead brother’s. Furthermore if the surviving brother did not do this, he would bring great shame upon his family. The reasons for this is because in that day and age of Judaic culture, there was a compulsion to marry, for a man was continued through his offspring. The application of the Levirate law also ensured the survival of the family and tribal units of the ancient Israelites, thus preserving a family’s heritage and preventing disgrace on a widow who did not beget her husband children. Jesus’s answer in stating that at the resurrection, we become “like the angels in heaven,” there is no longer a compulsion to marry solely to carry on one’s family line. Instead, people are now free to marry out of a sense of pure, unconditional love for one another. The desperate need to survive and continue one’s family line is gone because God ensures our survival out of His infinite and steadfast love for all of us. Jesus’s own celibacy is a profound image of God’s love for all of us, living His own life as an anticipation of His resurrection, for He knew that God loves Him and that God the Father would continue the Son’s own survival. In the same way, God preserves the celibate man or woman’s survival, providing them with spiritual children of the community through His love for all mankind.
Many other examples of celibacy can be found in the New Testament. In the Parables of the Treasure in the Field and of the Pearl, listed in Mt 13:44-46, one can see stories of finding and discerning one’s gifts in the world. This can be linked to the vocation and gift of celibacy. Celibacy is a discipline, but it is a discipline from the gift of grace, the grace of a calling or vocation. The celibate is called to a discipline that is so profound, so pure, that he or she sacrifices their carnal desires for sex and gives up the gift and fruits of marriage for the equally profound and pure treasure of the celibate life.
Unfortunately, one sees celibacy as something applied to only bishops, priests, monks, and nuns. However this is very limited, for there are a great deal of people who live celibate lives who are not consecrated religious or ordained ministers. There are those who are celibate who live their lives dedicated to God within the world, keeping themselves wholly and purely chaste while living working in the world. Some are celibate due to unfortunate circumstances in life, but nonetheless, freely dedicate themselves to God and live out their lives in chastity, conforming themselves to the Word of Christ and placing themselves as servants to God and fellow men in the world. The chaste celibate is not a strange person who is shunning members of the opposite sex, but is in fact, embracing not only themselves, but God and all people in a free act of total love.