I recently came across the work of Richard Sipe, a former Catholic priest who released an extensive longitudinal study of the sexual practices of Catholic clergy in 1990. Though the book largely focuses on failures to live out celibacy, Sipe points out what he found to be four essential elements of a “mature adjustment to celibacy”:
- Productive work;
- A well-defined prayer life;
- A deep sense of community;
- And a dedication to service.
These four elements strike me as important for a mature adjustment to Christian life, but they are particularly important for those living out committed celibacy. In a married life, these four elements often come out naturally in the care for one’s spouse and children. What Sipe’s study shows, however, is that celibacy is not a life that just comes easily and naturally to most. Rather, it requires attention to the order and rhythm of our daily lives.
For those of you committed to celibacy, what have you found helpful in ordering your lives and maturing in your commitment?
Chris Damian recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing degrees in Law and Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. He can be found on Twitter @UniversityIdeas.
Thanks for sharing this, Chris. From at my own experiences, I would have to agree with Sipe that celibacy becomes more natural and less something I have to force upon myself when I have some balance in these 4 elements. Particularly relevant to me is the deep sense of community. In those times where I’ve found myself at odds with my church over various issues, it disrupts my sense of community and belonging and things become noticeable more difficult in general.
Amen. I think this is one of the reasons why the current polarization on the issue of sexuality has been so hurtful to Christians who are trying to live godly lives. I recently read a letter from a church pastor who was attempting to explain why his church had cancelled a conference with our own Dr. Hill. In the end, it came off sounding extremely uncaring to (and ignorant of) those inside his own church who may deal with same-sex attraction, though in his ignorance I don’t think he knew what he was communicating: “don’t talk, don’t share, don’t be vulnerable”. In the end, this culture which pushes the sexual struggles (and here I would say straight or gay) of its congregants into the closet only guarantees that they will not be able to live pure lives.
Hey Chris D., and many thanks for sharing this. Just one nuance that I would like to offer from the married side of the aisle. You wrote “In a married life, these four elements often come out naturally in the care for one’s spouse and children,” but I’m not so sure about “naturally” if that is supposed to imply it being somehow more straightforward or easy for families. For example, back when I was single, it was in some ways easier to maintain a daily prayer discipline because I had more time/energy for myself. Nowadays, taking care of children, personally I find it more tempting to make excuses for letting my own prayer rule slip, or to lose focus on serving the community/parish and turn inward to the family fortress. Watching my own family, families in our parish and school, and in several homeschool networks, I would say that no matter how you live family life, deliberate discipline on these four issues is important. While the way celibate people and married people may practice these disciplines surely differs, I guess all I’m saying is to be wary of comparisons about it coming more easily to one group of people or the other. Not sure that’s what you meant, but hope this footnote is a helpful qualification.
Sipe is rather critical of the Roman Catholic Church and of its understanding of human sexuality. I wish his view would be more considered in the future
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