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At the heart of our celibate sexuality is our love relationship with God, and with all the things that God loves. God is our central commitment. I think of what Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “God is of no importance unless God is of supreme importance.” The skills for intimacy with God are primary for healthy lives of consecrated celibacy.
Kathleen Norris spent some time with Benedictine monks and nuns and wrote about her experience in her book The Cloister Walk. She recalls a comment one of the sister’s made about her celibate sexuality. The sister said, “…My primary relationship is with God. My vows were made to another person, the person of Christ. And all of my decisions about love had to be made in light of that person.” Norris recalls being stunned by that statement. She wrote, “I could not conceive of Christ being so alive for me, or myself being that intimate with Christ” (251).
I cannot say it enough, that at the core of skills for healthy celibate sexuality are skills for intimacy with God. Our spirituality and our sexuality are not at opposite ends of the spectrum. They are intimately interrelated. Our love of God, our love of self, and our love of others are all one love, one energy for relationship.
How do you understand the vow of consecrated celibacy? What would you say are some skills for intimacy with God?
Young women discerning a call to religious life often ask if living a vow of celibacy means giving up their sexuality. I usually begin my response by saying that the vow of consecrated celibacy is a radical way of loving God, self, and others with our whole heart, mind, body, soul, and strength. God’s gift of self to me invites my mutual self-gift in return. In my personal response to God’s call, I commit myself totally to God to the exclusion of any other primary commitment to spouse, family, or projects. By living this vow I desire to embody with my life the profound truth that the multifaceted love of God satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart for a lifetime.
Celibacy clearly requires abstinence from genital sexual activity. In making this commitment to God, I freely and knowingly set limits on my human experience. I will never love and be loved as wife and mother. These important dimensions of my sexual identity I will never experience. Like any major life choice, my choice to live a life of consecrated celibacy involves legitimate suffering and letting go as well as joy and abundance. Anything of value comes at a high cost. My vow of celibacy, however, does not mean giving up my sexuality or my capacity to be creative.
The most fundamental aspect of human sexuality is our need for intimacy, our need to be lovingly related and connected to other human beings and to all of creation. As a celibate lover, my need for intimacy is as great as that of a married person. As Father Clark puts it, “Intimacy is as much a part of my sexuality as it is part of a married person’s. Human sexuality is about intimacy.”* Real intimacy requires a multiplicity of personal skills from self-esteem to compassion, caring presence, appropriate confiding, trust, loyalty, fidelity, as well as a number of skills for personal freedom. We learn to channel our sexuality into a broader way of loving. A celibate does not deny her sexuality; instead, she uses that God-given energy to love and serve generously.
*Keith Clark, Being Sexual…and Celibate, (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1985), 30.
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Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!