in spirituality

Dear Anna-Teresa

This is one of those topics that I didn’t foresee myself wanting to write about when I created this blog. But nonetheless, here goes: celibacy.

I’ll preface this post by stating that I recommend skimming BBC’s article before delving into my ramblings.

Yesterday, BBC One aired a 30-minute documentary on some recently-publicized correspondence between Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (an American academic & phenomenologist) and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). I was privileged to wake up from my sickness-induced nap just in time to catch the live broadcast of the brief exposé.

Setting aside the media’s sensationalism, we’re left with this basic outline:

  1. Correspondence between Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka & Pope John Paul II began after Anna-Teresa contacted then-Archbishop Karol Wojtyla with comments regarding a book of philosophy that he had written.
  2. Their shared love of phenomenological philosophy (say that twice backwards!) propelled them into a professional collaboration on an expanded edition of the aforementioned book of philosophy.
  3. Soon enough, their relationship blossomed into a beautiful friendship.
  4. Romantic feelings?
Cardinal Karol with Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka on a skiing trip.

Cardinal Karol with Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka on a skiing trip.

Yes, that’s right! There’s no evidence to suggest that John Paul ever broke his vow of celibacy, but we are left with the vague impression that there was a real struggle with mutual attraction between Anna-Teresa, a married woman, and the archbishop. It would be superfluous for me to illustrate the whole breadth of their correspondence, as the previously-mentioned BBC article does an excellent job of sorting out the emotional high points of the letters. However, I will leave here a brief segment of one of Karol’s letters to Anna-Teresa:

I am thinking about you, and in my thoughts I come to Pomfret every day. Our mutual homeland; so many places where we met, where we had conversations which were so important to us, where we experienced the beauty of God’s presence.

In fairness, we can only speculate. But for the sake of this little reflection, let’s make an assumption:

Let’s assume that they were in love.

First off, I want to re-frame the question, “can celibate people fall in love?” as “can celibate people not fall in love?”. The fact of the matter is that everybody falls in love at some point or another. James Martin, a Catholic priest and former chaplain of Colbert Nation, puts it best when he states in an article on vows:

If you didn’t fall in love, there would probably be something wrong with you. Falling in love and being in love are both gifts from God.

If the unique goal of celibacy is to love many people intimately, how can one expect that the celibate would never fall in love? James Martin continues:

It’s a question of what you do when you fall in love as a celibate. Do you deny or repress the feelings and become twisted and frustrated, or do you try to integrate them into your chaste life?

I am grateful for the unveiling of these new letters, because it reveals a beautifully human aspect of the late Pontiff’s life. To what degree, if any, John Paul struggled with the romantic undercurrents of his relationship with Anna-Teresa we may never know. The grace in this situation lies in both of the persons’ ability to ultimately remain faithful to their own vocations in life.

This plot-line is reproduced in the generously cheesy rom-com 'Keeping the Faith' (2000).

This plot-line is reproduced in the generously cheesy Edward Norton / Ben Stiller rom-com “Keeping the Faith” (2000).

As for me, I have been living the ‘celibate life’ for 1½ years as of this posting. During this time, I have been discerning (thinking strongly about) making a life-long commitment to poverty, celibacy, and obedience. It has most definitely been a trip. Certainly, being voluntarily ‘alone’ has taught me a few lessons about being ‘lonely’. At the same time, being alone has taught me many more lessons about being fulfilled and comfortable with myself. Regardless of our status as married people, celibate people, single people, and everywhere-in-between people, there is a human certainty: we all need intimate relationships in our lives.

So then, let us all be thankful for the gift of people who love us. May you, I, & all people love each other with meaningful passion.

Special thanks to my wonderful friend Will Pfrang for providing some of the inspiration for this post in a recent conversation. Through his great love for people, he runs an excellent on-hire music therapy program in Southeastern Wisconsin called HEALING MUSICIANS. He can be reached at Treat yourself by giving his musician page a ‘like’ on FacebookI cannot give any higher praise for his service to nursing homes, group homes, rehabilitation programs, schools, and much more!

Thoughts, questions, counter-attacks? Leave a comment below!