When I first approached making this vow, I saw it as a case of giving up certain ‘rights.’ I give up marriage, a significant other, children and so on, and this for the sake of the Gospel and the Church. Perhaps I saw it as almost a penitential thing? I looked for things that I could do in the Church with my newfound freedom, and found little. There were no “Celibates Wanted” signs, not that I could find? Over the past 12 months I have found my views changing, the emphasis on giving up had shifted. The need, if you like, to find a role, a place as a celibate changed too.
“It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper for him.” Gen 2:18 NASB. From the outset, God wished the man to find his completion in Eve, and she in him. “A man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.” Eph. 5:18. A human being by nature seeks completion in another; this is the norm for the majority of people.
As an intentional celibate I acknowledge this and profoundly respect it, however, somewhere deep inside me there is a call, no, a yearning, to find my completion only in God.
I am also conscious that this is not of me. Yes, I give consent, but the call does not originate with me and in some mysterious way neither does the response, which if I am right says more about God than I, for without the Spirit dwelling within me by the unmerited grace of God, no appropriate response would be possible, “ For without me you can do nothing.” John 15:5. Therefore, I feel myself a part of a mystery, a mystery where God calls and at the same time answers within a person such as I.
I am, to repeat myself, so conscious of being unworthy of anything in this mystery, unworthy even of the grace that is common to all mankind. Yet, I sometimes feel that my own unworthiness is the key, that because I can truly do nothing of myself that God is able to act, to love himself in my heart where the Spirit cries out “Abba, Father” Gal 4:6. The American, Sister Sandra Schneiders, writing on celibacy in “New Wine Skins, Re-imagining Religious Life Today,” pp47, says the vow is not so much the “making of a promise but in the declaration of one’s desire and intention to undertake a new form of life.”
The celibate’s gift to the Church, I have learnt, is his/her celibacy, is the participation in the mystery that is God himself.
The celibate being aware of his/her own unworthiness becomes a lamp to all as God loves through him and as the Spirit moves, so others see that lamp. There never was a need to look for a sign that said “Celibate Wanted” as I quipped earlier, the intentional celibate creates his/her own vacancy to fill, this s/he does where s/he is, where God placed him/her.
I have become more and more aware of the depth of prayer that is possible when one lets God be God. What do I mean by this? The prayer that I live is the prayer of Jesus to the Father. The prayer? Jesus is our intercessor before God, but this does not mean that he necessarily mentions us all by name. “I intercede for Audrey, for Paul, etc.” He does not need to, for his actual life is that of intercessor, his life before the Father is that of intercessor and there is not one soul in our world for whom he is not interceding at all times. Just as the one sacrifice on the cross was for all, so do I see his intercession as one continuous prayer that is his life before the Father. It must be the goal of all Christians to live the life that Jesus lives, where our individual lives become one constant prayer to the Father. “Pray without ceasing.” 1Thess 5:17
I have also come to understand more about the High Priestly prayer of Jesus, which deserves to be read far more regularly than it is!
Verse 24 of John 17 is especially poignant, “Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love me before the foundation of the world.” (NASB). It is the vocation common to all Christians to be with Jesus beholding the glory of God; it is the desire of Jesus that we miss not a moment of this experience, he wants us with him, to behold this wonder, and if this is true for all Christians then it is especially true for all Contemplatives. The more I have learnt to let go, to forget myself the more I have glimpsed this wonder though through a glass darkly. The more I understood my personal need for God’s grace, the more that grace was able to work in me, so that as I have said before, it is never “me,” it is always God, without exception.
I suppose the most important thing that I have learnt so far in living this life is this: “Not I, but God!
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