Franciscans do not take a vow of Celibacy! We take a vow of Chastity, which is really no different than any other Christian.
Chastity is the virtue of right ordering of your sexuality within the context of your whole person, and your lifestyle. Chastity is the virtue of expressing your sexuality appropriately according to your way of life as a single person, married, or religious. Hence, for Franciscans, the greater virtue of Chastity calls us to live celibately (without marrying and without having sexual relations).
The world will tell you that to live without sex is not natural, and not healthy. In a way the world does have a point! To suppress one’s sexual energy is unhealthy. A healthy religious life calls for a sublimation of our sexual energy; that is expressing it in healthy life giving ways that are faithful to our non-married lifestyle, and to our very public life of freely ministering to all people, many of whom are married. Sexuality is a gift from God, and like all things God created; ‘It is good’ (Genesis). Our sexuality is part of our person, and hence has important role in shaping who we are and what we do. It is a live giving force, helping us live our lives with passion an energy, and it overflows to create new life. That new life need not only be biological, but can be spiritual, as we live the Gospel in the church and beget and nurture children and others spiritually.
A religious person is a sexual person, but that sexual energy is lived celibately and becomes expressed in ways other than the physical. I see three ways it can be expressed; in our ministry, in our relationships, and in our prayer. In ministry, it is expressed especially in the creativity of our ministry. For me I think of the Sunday Homily. This is a very creative act that comes not from me, but is born from God through me. If done well it is conceived with an inspiration (seed) from God early in the week. It gestates in the womb of my prayer and experience throughout the week. It is given birth to and expressed in my Sunday preaching, and I trust that to some anyway, it gives new life, new direction, new hope and produces fruit in the Kingdom of God. A Franciscan’s sexuality is celibately expressed in our many relationships. As a friar, and especially as a priest, we do have a privileged and sacred place because people trust us. People open their personal and spiritual lives to us in very deep, awesome and intimate ways. Our vow of Chastity helps create a safe and sacred place, where all life’s issues can be explored in the presence of God and Christ, and friars instead of reserving that intimate and sacred space for the one person they are faithfully committed to (as a married person must do), we are free to share it with many, when called by God to do so to help another grow. Finally, and most powerfully, our sexuality is also expressed in our prayer, and especially in our Relationship with Jesus. It is a mystery we cannot fully explain, but the practice of chastity deepens our prayer life, and the practice of a healthy celibacy can shape our prayer life in ways that are different, not better, than married persons. This is because, ultimately, the purpose of our sexuality is to drive us to unite with another, to give totally of ourselves to another, and to create life and be fruitful and multiply. However, like all things of this earth, we live in the imperfect and the partial. Our full desire for union, intimacy and procreation is not fully consummated until after death, when we are united to our true spouse, Jesus. So for the celibate in this life, what we seem to lack from not being married, we seek to find in our relationship with our Lord through prayer and the offering of ourselves to Jesus, and as with all things, the Lord does provide!
Married people are united to Christ mainly through loving and serving each other. Religious and single people are united to Christ through faithfully and chastely loving and serving the many. In the end, we all live the virtue of Chastity, just in different ways! Both ways are scriptural, both ways have been practiced well, and not so well, through thousands of years, but to whichever one is called, chastity is not a restriction, but a freedom through discipline. It is not a taking away or a doing without, but a gift to self and others. I pray that God help you find your call and your gift!
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