success stories

Posted September 30, 2003

Plumbing The Depths of Celibacy

By Father Eugene Hemrick

"How I wish our teachers would have addressed these ideas when I was in the seminary!"

That thought coursed through my mind as I listened to Father William Jarema of the Mercy Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., speak at the annual J.S. Paluch Seminar for Vocation Directors on the topic of celibacy and personal wholeness.

Three thought-provoking statements of his had me thinking about celibacy in ways I never thought of it before.

1. "Healthy and conscious celibacy is a matter of life and/or death for clergy, religious and professional helpers. There is little room or no room in the eyes of the public for error in one's practice and application of celibacy."

Hearing this, it struck me that as much as some people would like to do away with celibacy and have married priests, the public still has certain fixed ideas about how a celibate person should conduct himself or herself. There may be forgiveness when a celibate breaks his or her promise or vow of celibacy, but the person is also stigmatized because celibacy is still considered a sacred undertaking.

2. "Celibacy breeds creativity. It is a powerful force in our life that can be used to either enhance our life or hinder our spirit. The personal meaning and value of celibacy must outweigh the law of celibacy. If not, the experience of celibacy will be labored and burdensome."

Here I thought: Celibacy can never end up as just a condition for ordination, it must be a state of life one embraces as a way of complementing one's personality. Without this personalization, it is a meaningless rule, not the wholesome spirit it is intended to be.

3. "Celibacy can either be a choice or a consequence. If celibacy is reduced to a consequence, then there is less chance for personal growth and happiness. Remember that today there are millions of men and women who have been forced into celibacy because of separation, divorce, widowhood, health or personal trauma. Whether you have a choice for celibacy or have been forced into it by consequence you will need to learn how to manage the biological, psychological and social dimensions of this powerful discipline called celibacy."

We heard during the seminar that the best way to manage these dimensions of celibacy is to better know our thoughts, ideas, feelings, emotions, imagination and inner world. We need also to understand how family background, culture and religion relate to our celibacy.

To achieve this understanding, it is valuable to raise questions such as: Who best represents the beauty of celibacy for me? How exactly does this person fit my idea of it? How does celibacy lend character to my ministry? Do I ever thank God for the gift of celibacy, and exactly what is it in celibacy that I thank God for? What influence did my family background, culture and religious upbringing have on my choice of the celibate life?

Questions such as these are thought-provoking and help to drive a celibate deeper into his or her inner self, and it is only there that the gift and mystery of celibacy can truly be understood.