Marc Chagall, Life, 1964, oil on canvas © Saint‑Paul‑de‑Vence, Fondation Maeght
I have been living the ‘celibate life’ for 1½ years as of this posting. As the youngest member of the Capuchin Franciscans in our province, I am quite doubtful that I will be able to offer any sage wisdom in regards to this topic. Nonetheless, allow me to entertain you with a little bit of my experience!
Living in a state of celibacy ('being alone') has taught me many lessons about myself as a relational being. When I am committed to being alone with God, I quickly realize how dependent I am on other people's affections for fulfillment in my daily life. In this solitude, I allow myself a little room for liberation from the emotional and spiritual rollercoaster that external voices would like to have me ride. Being celibate has given me the opportunity to practice the art of being myself.
I don't want to deceive anyone: celibacy is also an expression of intimate, interdependent love from and for other people. Celibate living offers a unique energy of presence to the world. Being secure in my intimate relationship with God affords me a certain availability to other people.
We are all sexual beings. This is fact. However, in our culture we often forget that sexuality supersedes merely genital expressions. Sexuality pervades our whole inner life! There are many life-giving ways to use our sexual energies that do not involve sexual intercourse.
Celibate life does not work in opposition to non-celibate life, rather it provides a complementary alternative. A married person offers a space in their heart in which their partner can rest. Celibate people still have this room in their heart, but they leave this place vacant so that many different people can come and rest there. There are a lot of a people in the world who need love and are capable of love. Celibacy opens oneself up to the many possibilities of intimacy with many different types of people.
Celibate life is what it is: it's celibate life! It is a valid and beautiful way of living. It is a special journey of happiness and fulfillment.
But enough with that flowery language, what about celibate death?
I hold the conviction that celibacy is as much a path to life as it is a path to death. There are more than a few unhappy marriages: similarly, there are certainly unhappy celibates. In fact, I can probably name a few off of the top my head!
When we are neglectful of our own need for intimacy, we will be unhappy. If we don't reach outside of ourselves for help when we are lonely, we will be unhappy. We must turn to God when we feel unfulfilled and ask for help. Furthermore, we must turn to each other and ask for help when we feel isolated.
The trouble with people is that they are afraid to be vulnerable. We surround ourselves with beautiful things, important work, and useful people in order to protect ourselves from…ourselves! Whether we are married people, celibate people, single people, and everywhere-in-between people, sometimes we just have to admit that we are weak and need love. In this cry for help, God answers us with love and intimacy through prayer and relationship with other people.
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.
Celibacy entails joy, grief, fulfillment, loneliness, security, and desperation. In short, celibacy is a human experience. Nonetheless, the celibate life offers the world a unique expression of God's love for us feeble humans.
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.
~ Joe Babcock, postulant
You can find more of Joe's reflections on his personal blog: friarbabs.com.
Thoughts, questions, counter-attacks? Please leave a comment below!