Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Celibacy: Conversion, Conversation

It's been a month since I promised to write more about celibacy. I reminded myself of this today while preparing to share an experience of conversion during morning instruction.

The theme of our classes this week is Christian initiation, and among other things, we have explored patterns of conversion from an anthropological perspective, along with some premises about religious conversion. Each of the postulants was asked to single out an event or experience that signalled a crisis and a transition, a form of passage into a new set of relationships with God, the world, and ourselves.

I chose to talk about my "conversion," over a year and half in 2009 and 2010, to celibacy -- that is, my acceptance of celibacy, long the fact of my life, as the law and Gospel of my life, after a lifetime of struggle to achieve true intimacy with others, especially women. Looking backward, we named our strongly held feelings; we described the questions that came from this experience and the related feelings; we named the people we turned to, to deal with our feelings; we identified figures in Scripture who felt and questioned as we have; and we talked about what we have done about the way we felt or the questions that were raised.

Looking back at those tumultuous times, I can say that choosing celibacy and accepting it as God's way for me to live has made me healthier, holier, and, most of all (I hope), more loving. Life ought to be a celebration of love that sets free; of love that makes and does not take; of love that draws near but does not draw and quarter; of love that draws others into itself without destroying them; of love that delights in its freedom, and delights in the love others find.

It would better for me to leave the intimate things I shared this morning between me and the brothers. However, I have left a record of my spiritual struggles with God's love and human love on the dormant blog, Letters Along the Way. Peruse the poems, prayers, and songs I wrote in 2009 and 2010, if you wish.

In the interest of keeping the conversation about celibacy going, I will let you in on the more general conversation I have carried on with my friends. I see any opportunity to talk about celibacy as evangelization: a way of connecting the Gospel story with our own stories.

From an e-mail of a few weeks ago to a pastor friend and seminary classmate:

Peace be with you and with all the people of God you serve and who serve you.

You touch my mind and heart with your own thoughts about celibacy and friendship. I may be wrong, but the fact is, everybody is far more experienced in the extensive love of celibacy than the intensive love that characterizes relationships with sexual activity. Celibacy is the de facto condition of our embodied sexual humanity and its most common expression. In that light, it is far easier to remain what one is by default -- easier, too, to ratify that state as chosen and definitive -- than to assay the intensive love experienced between two partners committed to a mutual, equal, fruitful, but exclusive relationship. This is not to say that couples in committed long-term partnerships are less capable of extensive intimacy with many people, any more than it is to say that a celibate person is less capable of the intimate love for one alone which he or she has categorically forsworn. It is a matter of priority, not potentiality. The potentialities are always there because they come from God. We must determine the priorities, guided by our discernment of God's will.

To be a sexual human is to be endowed with the ability to know and to practice each of the two loves. To be a Christian is to recognize the way God has made you, you personally, most fit to love, and to go and do accordingly....

As one of my very intelligent and well-educated Capuchin brothers would describe it, if love is the axis of the reign of God, then intensive love is found at the "already" pole while extensive love is found at the "not yet" pole. Married persons are a sacramental sign of God's love fruitful here and now in the world, in creation, and in families. It is a love that neither dominates nor deprives but gives life. Celibate persons love widely and generously, without possessiveness, with availability, and with vulnerability. They point out the places where love does not yet rule and spend themselves in passion for the increase of God's love in our world. Married persons and celibate persons are each uniquely consecrated for the love they are meant to show. Together they work and witness to the reign of God breaking into our world, and drawing us into the everlasting love of God....

From a recent e-mail to a friend now living in the Midwest:

Greetings on this quiet Saturday night in Brooklyn. Peace and all good things to you, your husband, your friends, and your family. Congratulations on all the good things that you speak of -- your job, your plans for continuing education, and your rootedness in family and community. In these ordinary things we can be good and do good. And when we put love into these things, there we find mystery, wonder, and even greatness....

As you are growing into the habits that make for a healthy marriage, so I am growing into the habits that make for healthy celibacy in community. I remember our conversations about relationships now with a positive feeling. You were correct, indeed, that we do not enter relationships, romantic or otherwise, to complete one another or fill an emptiness. Rather, we enter relationships, as friends, colleagues, or life partners, to share intimacy. With this intimacy we help one another discover the work each of us must do to achieve personal wholeness. This is true for celibates and for married persons. We all need intimacy. I pray each of us has taken the turn most fulfilling for ourselves and most pleasing to God.

Thank you for your kind words about my vocation and the blog. I hope you stop by the diary from time to time. I confess that I do miss the connections Facebook makes, but on the whole I am glad to be off the network, because it no longer serves well enough as a vehicle for community. So let us keep writing each other from time to time, as people used to do ... and will keep doing as long as they seek the "something more" that reveals itself when heart speaks to heart. 

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