A Life to Share

Celibacy can be a bit of a deal breaker. Ask any young Catholic man or woman, active in their faith, why they are not considering some form of consecrated life, and I can almost guarantee that celibacy is one of the reasons. “I really want to get married,” you might hear. From my own experience, this was the largest hurtle to jump.

But despite what many may think, including even those going through the discernment process, I don’t believe that the problem is abstinence from sex (at least not entirely). Believe it or not, there are still many young people in this world who have not discarded chastity for the loose sexuality embraced by popular culture. (It’s not what you hear on t.v. or see in the movies, but it’s still out there, trust me!) And yet, of those who have held on to or readopted this unpopular virtue, there is an even smaller minority of people wishing to do so in the form of consecrated life. Why is this?

The reason has everything to do with intimacy, or rather, the perceived lack of intimacy in religious life. When I look back to the time when I used “I really wanted to get married” as an excuse, I believe what I was really saying was, “I really want someone to share my life with.” For much of my life, I saw marriage as the only way to do this. When I looked at the priests and religious I knew (which was only a few), all I saw were people growing in age, living alone, and frankly, looking either miserable or lonely. From this narrow experience I concluded that it must take the type of holy person that is willing to sacrifice any chance of intimacy for the sake of a worthwhile ministry, and I knew that I was not that holy person.

The first step in my transformative move toward religious life was a painful, yet inevitable one: I matured. As I grew older and developed emotionally, I began to form relationships that were much more meaningful than being “just friends” while being wholly different from my romantic partners. I had begun to realize that intimacy was much more than just romance. For an adult, this is painstakingly obvious. But for me, the realization that I could be fulfilled and sustained emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and even physically (in a different way of course) from something other than an exclusive, romantic relationship, meant that I didn’t need to get married to have all of my needs met. It was not until this realization did the prospect of entering religious life even deserve my attention.

At some point, however, it did, and I was forced on an excruciating journey of heart and soul that tore me into pieces for many months.  Can I do that sort of work? What about my girlfriend? Do I want children? Which community? Have I lived enough to know? Little by little I grew more comfortable with idea, developed a fondess for St. Francis and became to accept almost every aspect of Franciscan life. I could do that.

There remained one final question: were these specific guys, the members of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Name Province, guys that I wanted to share my life with? It’s one thing to understand and to like the idea of fraternity in the way St. Francis instituted it, but another thing entirely to live it with actual people. I was convinced that religious life could fulfill me in the way I sought. But would it?

The long and short of it is a resounding yes. As I’ve come to know many of the men in this province over the past five years, I have felt a distinct growth in many of them from mere acquaintances, to familiar friends, to something potentially much more. While I’m growing to understand each member as a brother owed my unconditional love and respect, I have nonetheless grown close to a few in a very spectacular way. I find myself catching glimpses of an intimacy with my brothers that is to come, fulfilling and sustaining me for whatever lies in the road ahead.

It may be true that I will never be fulfilled in such a physical way that a wife could provide: I am never going to have sex. Frankly, I’ll survive without it. But when I begin to look at celibacy through the lens I’ve described above, the abstinence from sex no longer appears to me as a restriction to be followed or a sacrifice to be endured; rather, it is the freedom, and the call to love more broadly than would ever be possible while vowed to just one person. I know that I feel called to this life, and that it is a life to share.

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19 Comments on “A Life to Share

  1. You write with such beauty and insight, Casey. It is clear the Lord has found a home in your heart. May you continue to be blessed in your ministry.

    • Thank you very much Barbara! I think you capture it perfectly: God has found a home in my heart. Because of this, my best posts are the ones that come out of thoughtful listening and allowing God to work through me, not my own ability.

  2. I am very happy for you Casey! I am glad to know you as my friend. May God continue to bless the path you walk, and may you rejoice in it forever.

  3. Quite possibly the best worded reflection on the subject I have read yet. Of course I may write a better one tomorrow. hah hah. You are receiving much from God these days. I am very glad.
    Fr.P

  4. Here’s another excellent Franciscan post on celibacy, one which I return to often: http://friarminor.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/celibacy-and-redemption.html

    It’s especially useful for me, as a celibate outside religious life, because he talks about the loneliness that comes with celibacy being part of the vocation, and a necessary one: “That’s the thing: if you want to be celibate you have to consent to that searing and disorienting feeling of being terribly lonely…It is the only way that loneliness gets turned into the solitude where God speaks to the heart and gives you anything you might have to say the suffering world.”

    That said, I also found your post helpful, and it’s how I found your blog, which I’ve just read through from the beginning. (I’m in a vocations discernment group at the moment myself.) I’ve subscribed, and look forward to reading more! Blessings on you!

    • Cole,

      Thanks for the link to that post, I’ll check that out when I’m back in Wilmington. I can tell you that the fear of loneliness was the biggest factor in postponing my discernment early on, and that it has been completely unfounded so far in my life as a friar. I’m around a group of men that makes me laugh, fulfills me spiritually, is open to deep/personal discussions, and so on, giving me anything but loneliness.

      I hope that my reflections are helpful in your own discernment, and that you feel a clear calling, whichever way that may be. Feel free to comment or ask any questions that I may be of help with.

      Casey

      • Casey,

        Thanks for the comment. My question would be, what advice would you give to someone who is celibate, but does not live in community and is not a member of a religious congregation? I learned during my discernment that I have an impediment to entering religious life, yet I still feel a strong call to vow the evangelical counsels. I looked at secular institutes (which in any case don’t generally involve living in community), and none were a good fit, so my vocations directors and I have agreed that private vows look like the way to go, at least for now. (They can always be “upgraded” if I were to find an institute that both fit and could accept me.) I will be living in Christian community with another Christian postgraduate theology student next year, for our mutual support and encouragement, but that’s a temporary living situation, not a permanent community (other than the community of our mutual brotherhood in Christ, which of course is primary).

        So basically, how would you advise someone on how to deal with loneliness who is a solitary celibate (and in one way, an involuntary one, since the same circumstance that is an impediment to religious life is also an impediment to marriage)?

      • Cole, no matter what one’s living situation is like, may it be with others or alone, there is the possibility and the NECESSITY for intimacy if one is to remain healthy. This can be genital, emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, creative, recreational, work, crisis, conflict, commitment, spiritual, or communication. In my humble, unprofessional opinion, I would suggest focusing on each individual type of intimacy so as to find someone with which you can connect on one, not all levels. From this relationships will grow. I would also suggest making contacts with other celibates outside of community, such as parish priests or some apostolic sisters for advice and direction. Hope this helps!

      • Casey,

        Thanks for the advice. My parish priest has been helpful. We go out for lunch once a month. (I think he’s also appreciative of the chance to “hang out” with someone instead of constantly being in a pastoral role!) And I do have a good community of friends, colleagues, family, etc.

        One of the things I’m finding difficult, really, is dealing with the little old ladies from church who keep asking me when I’m going to the seminary (or friends who ask me about getting married or entering a religious order). It’s difficult to say you’re not going after any of those options, because then sometimes they look at you as if there’s something wrong with you, or ask awkward follow-up questions that are hard to deflect. (And I even had one friend state that she didn’t believe the single life was a legitimate vocation – everyone should either be married, a priest, or a religious/consecrated, because otherwise you haven’t made any vows recognised by the Church, and therefore haven’t “given yourself away”.)

        That’s one of the things I just have to cowboy up and deal with, of course, but I think it does point to a tendency to see single people as uncommitted, possibly even selfish – or at the very least incomplete. As if baptism wasn’t itself a complete vocation and consecration.

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  6. Hi Casey,
    This was so beautifully spoken – what a gift you have! I am praying that you can continue to be open to all that God has in store for you. I also feel He wants to teach others through your writings. Keep writing, Casey! It’s important to someone out there who needs to hear your words of love and encouragement.
    Love and Prayers,
    Aunt Mary

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