8 secrets to healthy celibacy

By Carol Schuck Scheiber

How good are you at setting limits and sticking to them or balancing quiet time with an active social life? These are just some of the questions you’ll need to ask yourself if you are seriously considering religious life.

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Image: A well-developed capacity for friendship is an important part of living as a celibate because the human need for intimacy does not disappear by taking vows.

While no quiz can tell you for sure what life choice is right for you, discernment tools, such as quizzes and questionnaires, can help you gain insight into your personal preferences and practices and as they relate to the requirements of religious life. The more you know about yourself, the better chance you have of choosing the path that will bring you the most joy.

Take a moment to complete our celibacy quiz. Then read on for more information on living the vow of celibacy well.

1. Close friends and an ability to love Consecrated life means being willing to love brothers and sisters generously, in ministry and in community life. While becoming a more loving person is a lifelong task, religious communities do expect to see a certain capacity for this in prospective members.

Those who struggle to have and maintain friendships may not be good candidates for living a chaste, celibate life. Why? Celibates will not have a life partner. They must meet their basic human need for intimacy through friendship and relationships with community members. If your capacity for friendship is relatively untested, it may be unwise to take a vow that would require you to rely on friendship to meet the need for intimacy.

Those in religious life have an intimate relationship with Christ but still need human intimacy and friendship in their lives.

2. Having a lifeTo “have a life” means that you are multi-faceted and engaged with people and in activities. Those whose worlds are limited may be unprepared socially for the demands of religious life. A religious community cannot provide a person with a life, but rather the community invites a person to share life with them. A person who has a vibrant life outside of a religious congregation has much to offer and much to gain by joining a religious community.

3. Enjoying time aloneThose who don’t mind being alone and are not anxious about being accepted usually make the best members of religious communities. Religious should be comfortable with solitude. There is a long tradition in religious life of maintaining silence in order to commune with God more readily.

4. Setting limits, postponing gratificationThe ability to establish and maintain boundaries in your personal and professional life is especially important for celibate church ministers. Ministerial relationships, in particular, can sometimes become close and intense. Taking a vow does not stop people from having normal sexual feelings for those they meet.

The ability to set and keep limits will help you to maintain vowed, celibate chastity, just as Catholic singles and married people strive to maintain chastity within their commitments—by adhering to limits and maintaining respect for themselves and others.

5. Personal and prayerful relationship with GodThe theology of vacare Deo—or emptiness for God—sees the sacrifice involved in a celibate lifestyle as an opportunity for God to fill one’s emptiness. The time and energy required by a spouse and family is left open for God to fill. Without a close personal relationship with God, there is little point in consecrating one’s full self to God.

This theology of celibacy is developed in the book Clowning for God, by Henri Nouwen. See the VISION book list (page 11) for other recommended reading. The Catholic concept of consecrated celibacy is definitely counter-cultural, and those entering religious life do well to understand and appreciate this tradition.

6. Comfortable with people of both sexesReligious community members must be comfortable with all types of people. They are seeking new members who can engage comfortably and appropriately with people of all races, genders, economic backgrounds, etc.

If people of the opposite sex tend to make you feel uncomfortable, fearful, or angry, then this may be worth exploring with a close confidante or a professional. Religious life is not an escape from dealing with people of the opposite sex.

7. Comfortable with emotionsThose who are able to live a celibate life happily are generally able to understand and name their emotions. They can cope with strong emotions without resorting to one extreme (overreaction) or another (shutting down, going numb). A person capable of healthy celibate living can find and stay within appropriate types of self-expression for anger, attraction, sorrow, etc.

8. Comfortable with the bodyThose who live celibacy best have the discipline to follow healthy physical habits, such as proper diet, nutrition, and exercise. They do not escape into an overly spiritual and mental life but rather are able to fully experience life physically and mentally. They accept their body while also making an effort to keep it healthy and well-groomed.

Click here for answers to your questions about relationships and religious life.Healthy physical expressions such as appropriate hugs, handshakes, etc. are not a cause of unease for the person who is a mature celibate. Those who live celibacy best understand and accept who they are sexually, even if a vow of celibacy naturally means that they discipline the way they relate to others sexually.

Past sexual behavior is not necessarily an impediment to joining religious life, but religious communities do seek out individuals who have demonstrated—over a number of years—that they can live chastely in a healthy and joyful way.

Like any type of true discipleship, there is a cost to being a religious community member. Day-to-day living of the vow of celibacy is not always easy—just as being a Christian spouse or parent or single person often is very demanding.

Yet for those who are called to consecrated life, the long-term joys and satisfactions make the life what it is meant to be: a gift to those who live it, a gift to the church, and a gift to the world. 

Thank you to members of the HORIZON Editorial Board for contributing insights to this article. 

Related article: vocationnetwork.org, Chastity is for everyone, Vision 2004.

Carol Schuck Scheiber
Carol Schuck Scheiber is the content editor of VISION Vocation Guide and editor of HORIZON, the journal of the National Religious Vocation Conference.
2016 © TrueQuest Communications

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