But what if you fall in love?
As I have spent time reflecting on the vows I hope to eventually take, I have found one more difficult to incorporate into my life than the rest—the vow of celibacy. Although I am very sure in my call to religious life, I sometimes feel that choosing celibacy in my 20s is a tough choice to make.
When I first began to listen to my “call,” I spent a great deal of time talking to a sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame who worked on my college campus. I can still clearly hear one of the first things she said to me, “Just because you are a nun doesn’t mean that you are never going to fall in love. It means bringing that love to another level.” Well, that all sounded fine on an intellectual level; that was something I could definitely handle. I did not realize that the meaning of this would be tested before I knew it.
I spent a year working at a school in South Dakota. As a graduate of a college in New York, I did a lot of letter writing, and too much phone calling to friends back home. A great deal of my correspondence was with a good, male friend with whom I graduated. We laughed together, cried together, and shared almost everything. It was not unusual for me to receive 15 page letters from him on a regular basis and I looked forward to them eagerly.
I found that if I knew that he was going to call, I would stay in and wait for the phone to ring. If something wonderful happened during the day, he was the first person that I wanted to share it with. Finally it could not be denied any longer, I had feelings for him that went beyond friendship, and I was very sure that those feelings were reciprocated. I had been in love before, but something was different this time. Not wanting to confront the issue, I began to ponder the situation. The words of that first sister from college (who is now a good friend) played over and over in my head; I knew that this was my test of taking love to “the next level.”
This is absurd!
In desperation I called my sister friend, who shared an idea with me that I found absurd. She called this my “situation of abundance.” She spent an hour trying to show me the beauty of the situation I was in; the beauty of falling in love, of being in love, and of finding a soul-mate.
To me this was ridiculous. I did not feel the abundance; I felt distressed. I finally realized that there was a major part of my life that I was not sharing with my friend—my feelings for him and my internal struggle. I also realized that this was not a mountain that the two of us could go around. We needed to go through it.
So I called one night and told him what I was feeling. His reaction was what I expected, but one that I was unprepared to hear. He sounded relieved that I had brought it up, and shared that he was feeling the same way. We talked for half an hour, and when we got off the phone we left each other in an “I love you,” exchange. As soon as I got off the phone, I realized that I had not been prepared to hear or say that. But as often happens in life, the Spirit took over my speech and the words came out; it was what I was feeling.
The next day was one of the hardest I ever experienced. I was so confused that I had become devoid of emotion, and that scared me more than anything. As I tried to evaluate the conversation from the night before, I could come up with nothing. It felt as if my insides had become a black hole. I spent a good part of that day in tears, and then the phone rang. This time we really talked, not only about our feelings, but about what we were going to do with them. I told him straight out that I loved him, but that I was still going to be a nun. So we agreed that we would just be open with each other and talk about the things that were bothering us. We talked often during the next month, and usually the subject was we and how we were doing, but not always.
I know that this was just as hard on him as it was on me. Imagine finding someone you truly love, and who loves you back, but that you cannot be with. I made no secret of my concern about his feelings in this situation. Another good friend pointed out a very important fact to me—that I was the one calling the shots in this situation. I was the one with all the control. Basically I was dictating the type of relationship that we were going to have. This was something I was uncomfortable with, but that I realized was true. I had said ‘I love you, but I am going to be a nun, and you have to live with that.” He had merely said, “I Love you.”
Arguing with God
Another difficult part for me was understanding how I could be in love with someone and yet still feel very strongly called to religious life. I was really angry, and during those first weeks God and I had some heated arguments. In my mind I had been tested enough in making the decision to enter religious life, and I was not prepared for this new curve ball. I had struggled to realize that I was called to religious life and had struggled even more in trying to make a decision about the community to which I felt called.
At this stage I was comfortable with life. As often happens when a situation of comfort is reached, it was quickly taken away, and I was angry. I sat in prayer every morning and asked “Why?”, and for a while there was no answer. Part of me felt that God had abandoned me, but thankfully another part could not believe that was possible. It is that part that kept me in prayer, that kept me looking for the reason—the lesson.
As I took time to step out of the situation I realized that our openness had moved our friendship to another level. The awkwardness that had once been between us was no longer present. One night we talked about how we both wanted different things from life—religious life for me, and life as a husband and father for him—and how whatever we had would just fall in the middle. That night was the turning point for me: I knew that things were going to work out.
It was true, I was experiencing a “situation of abundance,” and it was a beautiful experience that was offering me many opportunities that until now, I was unable to see. Most important I had been given a chance to reevaluate my life decisions. Of course, I had known that marriage was another way to go in life, and since I had made my decision to enter religious life, I had not been forced to really look at it. Now it was staring me in the face, and I had to reverbalize why I had chosen another vocation.
Better to have loved
I never expected to see the day where I would be thankful for the many tears and sleepless nights, but I am. The greatest thing that has come out of this experience is my wonderful friendship with this man. We now do share everything, and still love each other as wonderful friends. I thank God often for the gift of this person in my life!
Aside from that, I am also very thankful for the chance God has given me to learn about myself. I want to give my life to God, as a sister and celibate lover. There is no longer any doubt about this fact. This realization has freed me to be a more loving person.
Don’t misunderstand and think that I have this celibacy thing all figured out, because I know this will be an ongoing process. I know that I am a person led by feelings and therefore will probably fall in love again, but now I see it as a special gift. This struggle has also helped me to see the gift of emptiness that is present in a life of celibacy. No matter what I am doing, I have a sacred part of myself that is only for God. That emptiness is at the core of my being, and it is where I can be intimate with God. It is in that place that God and I experience what I call our “hand-holding moments”—times when I am physically moved by the Spirit filling the emptiness.
I also know that it is because of this intimacy that I can share my love with others. And not only am I sharing my love, but I am sharing God’s love as well. By bringing the love of God to others, I am able to share a great part of myself—the best of myself.
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