In my first assignment, one of the religious sisters at our school celebrated her 60th anniversary of consecrated life. Sister Mary Gilbert shared how when she was a senior in high school, she asked her dad to take her to visit the convent and get shown around. Her father was adamantly against his lovely young daughter becoming a sister. He thought that she could not live without the intimacy of marriage.
After the mother superior showed them around, the three of them sat down and the father expressed his concern. Very frankly, the mother superior replied, “Sir, your daughter can live without sex, but she cannot live without love. Here she will find love. She will experience God’s love for her, and she will learn how to give that love to others.” Moved by her conviction, he gave his consent for what Sister Mary Gilbert could look back upon as sixty wonderful years of living out the mother superior’s words.
These words apply to all the different states of life. We each experience the single state in the beginning of our lives. This time is a special opportunity to learn to love as God loves. We are called to learn how to be pure of mind and body, respecting the gift of sexuality and seeing others as persons rather than objects. Some people are called to remain single, learning to love as God loves by their sacrificial service to the people around them.
Others are called, like Sister Mary Gilbert, to sacrifice the gift of marriage in a more formal way for the sake of the kingdom of God. This life of celibacy is a beautiful gift for the entire Church. It is a sign that doesn’t make sense unless there is an afterlife. Each celibate is like a neon billboard saying, “We are each meant for eternal life and union with God!”
Celibacy and marriage are both needed in our world. Celibate men and women serve as a witness to married couples that their love for each other should be helping each other toward their eternal goal of union with God. Likewise, the love of married couples serve as an example for priests and religious, inspiring us to give of ourselves to our church family with the same selfless, total gift of self.
So in a nutshell, sexual intimacy is a very beautiful way that God has created for human beings to experience his love, but it is not the only way. A person can live a very complete and joy-filled life without being married or in a sexual relationship. It is not always easy to live out this calling, just as it is not always easy to be married. But whatever our state in life, if we respond to God’s invitation and calling, we can become the saints he is calling us to be!
Some thoughts for prayer and discussion:
- We can look at recent examples like Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa: they were not married, but what lives led to the fullest!
- Who are people in your own life who have impacted you, who were great examples of God’s love as single or celibate individuals?
- Why is it so difficult for our culture to imagine a full and happy life without sexual intimacy?