My vocational path is not the one my friends will walk. Jesus has called me to become a Religious and to give myself completely to Him...in mind, body, and soul. My vocation will be to love...to love all... as a sister, as a spiritual mother, and as a spiritual friend. I get asked about this choice a lot, and I am always happy to answer questions about the call I have received from the Lord and how I hope to live it out.
However, what I am asked about most is my choice to willingly enter into a vow of celibacy. When people have imbibed a couple of alcoholic beverages, they ask me the things about celibacy they really want to know (but these are often the questions they are too embarrassed to ask when they are sober). The male experience of celibacy and its struggles and sacrifices is written about fairly frequently, but I don't think I have read much about other women's experiences in choosing celibacy and the stages it progresses through as it matures.
It seemed appropriate to write and answer some of the questions so many people seem to have about my choice of celibacy as a woman, to clear up misunderstandings, and to give an authentic account of what my experience has been like thus far, and where I hope it will further lead me.
So, you're never going to, uh, you know...ever??
Really, people say it to me JUST like that...all sheepishly :)
Here's the answer: for the rest of my life, I will never romantically kiss/make out, date, curl up on a couch with a man to cuddle, or spoon. I will not engage in any sexual activity. I will not have sex. Consecrated Virgins, Religious Sisters, and Nuns all choose to refrain from these behaviors and actions. This is the physical commitment and sacrifice in choosing celibacy, but celibacy goes so far beyond the focus on genitalia. To develop a mature celibate heart, is another matter entirely, and I will explain more about that shortly.
|THIS is NOT the fullness of celibacy! It is so much more than 'no sex.'|
On the frequently used 'spiritual gifts' test, celibacy is one of the spiritual gifts. However, not all celibates have this as one of their main gifts. It is not one of my main gifts, and it is a part of my vocation that I have had to mature and grow into.
Aren't you sad you aren't going to have a family, was it hard to make that choice?
When I firmly made the choice to give my life to Jesus in celibate love, it was a painful sacrifice! For about five months I mourned the ideas I had for what I thought my life would be like and how it would unfold. When I was six years old, I told my mother I wanted to be a nun, but it got lost in the shuffle for a couple decades. It was difficult for me to get used to the idea that I would never have biological children or know what it would be like to be pregnant or give birth. There would forevermore exist- this element of womanhood which would remain a mystery to me.
|Mourning is a natural step|
I cried a lot during that time period and I think I had one or two 'ugly,' crying sessions, as all the normal family things I grew up with slipped away from being my future reality. It gutted me for awhile, before I grew into understanding the gift of the sacrifice I was offering to God.
In the middle of a tear fest with a close friend, he gently asked me, 'why are you choosing this Anastasia?' 'Because I love Jesus more than anything else in the entire world, and I only want Him!!,' I wailed. Right as I said that, something changed in my soul. Simultaneously, the person I was with smiled and nodded, 'then love Him. Choose to give this to Him.' After that day, my outlook was different. I let go of what I thought would make me happy and bring about my salvation, and I put my trust and faith in Jesus; in the belief that He knew what was right for me. Then, my prayer life started to change in such a positive way.
You are so amazing with children, how can you not want to be a mother?
This one comes my way a lot. I LOVE children and have spent all of my adult life working with them and caring for them. I do want to be a mother, and I have been a mother- just in a different way than I ever imagined. The thousands of children I have worked with who have been neglected, abused, wounded by the world, angry, and raging have found a home in my heart. My journey as a spiritual mother began before I could name it as such. It is a rare week for me to walk around my town without seeing one of the children I have taught, or woken up every morning for a couple months while they were in the hospital with me, or had in custody when they were wards of the state while I helped to make plans for their lives. My heart will always belong especially to children. I understand them, I am drawn to their imagination, play and simplicity. God made my heart to fiercely protect and care for them, and for those who are particularly vulnerable. We thrive when we have people who believe in us and love us. God created me to be someone who can provide kindness, love, and care to those who rarely receive it. It is my hope the Lord will continue to grow this seed in me that He has planted, and teach me what it means to become a spiritual mother to all who need that love.
|Mother Teresa- one of my models of love and spiritual motherhood|
Blessed Mother Mary, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Mary Magdalene, and St. Gemma are the heavenly women I go to in prayer. They guide me and help me grow in virtue and holiness.
Do you hate sex? Isn't celibacy an excuse for women to escape if they are frigid or hate men? Do you just kill your sexuality and become asexual?
(this would be the point where the liquid courage prompted the questions folks really wanted answers to!)
I certainly do NOT hate sex or think making love is dirty. It is beautiful and amazing, and such a profound gift from God. I do believe and follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, that the proper place for intimate sexual union is in a marriage, between a man and woman who are husband and wife. It seems to me, being able to make love with your best friend, whom you have vowed yourself to, are open to the creation of life with, oriented toward God with...would be one of the freest moments of total self giving and intimacy a person could ever experience. No worrying about a faulty condom, birth control pills and whether or not you took them, (or the potential to end life, if you have been using an abortifacient) boyfriend breaking up with you, potential pregnancy, catching a disease, or the many things which create insecurity and a withholding of the fullness of self. Instead, a pure trust and intimate union, sometimes, "so powerful you need to name it nine months later..." (thanks, Scott Hahn)
Our sexual drive is one of our most basic drives and it is incredibly powerful. We cannot 'kill' our sexuality or become asexual. We can however, be destructive with our sexuality, try to repress it too much, or deny it effects us. If that occurs, often it will then manifest in very unhealthy ways. We can also be deeply wounded by the sins of others in our sexuality, have poor boundaries, a very immature sexuality and understanding of it, or a fear of any kind of physical touch. If a first experience with sexual activity is through coercion or force, it has the capacity to profoundly effect our understanding of a loving God and our personal sense of worth and dignity. When those experiences occur, they need to be worked through before a healthy celibate life can be achieved and lived. This can be applicable to married and single women as well...healthy sexuality is important!
There are some people who enter religious life hoping to escape sexual problems or who have serious issues of sexual woundedness. Subsequent healing needs to happen for someone with a very immature sexuality, or unresolved issues. Ideally, a vocation director is catching any problems during formation and working with a candidate to help them become a more integrated person or judges them unsuitable for continuance and dismisses them from formation.
Those of us who choose this path need to learn how to channel our sexual energy in new ways and in ways which are oriented toward God. There are very practical things which should be a part of one's life- exercise, some good tiring toil, and healthy, happy and life giving friendships. A pet is often great to have (especially a golden retriever named Henry!) to show affection to and care for.
The practice of Chastity is very much tied to healthy Celibacy, but it is also tied to each Christian's life and dignity.
Are you ever tempted to lust? Do you ever have sexual fantasies, sex dreams, get crushes, or fall in love?
I almost didn't include this group of questions, because they are so intimate and generally intensely private. Yet, of course...in our very sexualized society, these were the most pressing questions posed to me.
Hmm, lust. Well, lust was never a sin I have struggled with very much. Perhaps, it's because of experiences in my own life, and working on a rape crisis team, with abused children, with sexually trafficked people, in child abuse prevention, etc. I saw how damaging lust was to individual lives (both the victim and the perpetrator) and how it could shatter a person for a very long time. It has always seemed like such terrible use of another person to me.
A few years ago it was easy for me to look at a man and think he was gorgeous or very handsome, but that's pretty much where it ended. My attraction to men started with intellect and kindness, not the biceps.
The idea of a one night stand has always grossed me out tremendously- because it is using another person for the cheap thrill of the few hours of uncontrolled raw sexual energy. What should be the most intimate moment you can have with another person is turned into letting a stranger go inside of your body. Giving a strange man the power to create life in you, sharing a union that is much too sacred...to be left to the chance that in the morning, the man you had sex with may not remember your name (and who incidentally you are now chemically bonded to!). That is just so awful. Women are worth so much more than that! Authentic love and protection are the deepest desires of a woman's heart, not settling for being used sexually and tossed aside, because it is internally construed by the woman as better than having no attention, and is accepted as a substitute for real love.
A couple days of the month a woman is biologically wired to be more desirous and prone to sexual urges as her hormones are pinging around, while she's a fertile Myrtle. A woman choosing celibacy should be aware of when that period is for her during the month in order that she can be attentive and prayerful during those days if there are any overwhelming sexual temptations.
Some women have intensely strong sex drives and have a very difficult time with lust and need to do a lot of work on mastering and disciplining themselves and growing in chastity if they are called to celibacy for the kingdom of God.
There was one bizarre year in which I did struggle with a specific lust. It wasn't to a person, but every time I saw firemen wearing their firemen pants and suspenders, I felt instantly primal. This is embarrassing to write, but I think it's important to be honest that there were some real struggles in growing into a mature celibacy. It was terrible and I was mortified. Like clockwork, I would be in line for a coffee and the man behind me would start talking to me, I would turn around and it would be a dang fireman in his uniform! I handled it by averting my eyes and blushing every shade of red. I also told my best friends about it so they would pray for me and hold me accountable. They would light heartedly cover my eyes whenever firemen were around (that didn't work very well in traffic ;) ). Now, this doesn't effect me in the slightest. I prayed to the Lord to remove the insane 'Me Tarzan, You, Jane' desire and it eventually went away... after I was on scene with firemen at a homicide. Morbid I know, but seeing them in that capacity broke any other kind of association. It's important to recognize that you can grow through a temptation and receive grace in order that it will no longer be something that is tempting.
The important part is to always invite the Holy Spirit into any temptation before you entertain thoughts you should not or engage in unhealthy actions. The answer as to whether or not I have sexual fantasies, is 'no.' It is 'no,' because I am very careful to make sure I do not put myself in that situation mentally. When I realized I would not be getting married to a man on Earth, and I was called to a different kind of love...my attentiveness to chastity, and where I allowed my mind and imagination to go changed even more. If something like that even begins to take the slightest root, I call the Blessed Mother to mind, or Mother Teresa. That quickly reroutes me into prayer and the authenticity of my call. We cannot always control what pops into our heads, but we can control whether or not we entertain it.
Sexual dreams happen to most people at some point in their lives. They can be very frustrating because of the physical reaction in the body, because of who may be in them, and because it can cause a feeling of 'having sinned,' even though no sin was committed. Several of my celibate friends went through such a phase in the early years of their formation. If a sexually charged dream occurs, don't be overly scrupulous. Offer it back up to the Lord and ask Him for His intercession to continue to move you toward purity of heart and mind. Enrolling in The Angelic Warfare Confraternity is an excellent resource to grow in desired chastity and purity.
It is important to guard your senses and to also be attentive to what you are listening to musically, what you are reading, what kind of movies you are watching...learn what you can handle and what is a challenge to chastity for you. This degree differs among people and some can watch romantic scenes and find them beautiful, some see an embrace and it sets their imagination off in a negative way.
Music can be very powerful in evoking different feelings and desires. How many people would think of Sade or Unchained Melody as music that supports chastity? It is pretty sensual stuff. If something causes a stumbling block to purity of heart, choose not to engage in it. There is great music that is edifying and wonderful to listen to, to evoke feelings of authentic love. The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) soundtrack slays me in blissful happiness every time I listen to it and makes me feel closer to God.
Regarding crushes- I am such a goner for a man playing an acoustic guitar and singing (guaranteed harmless 10 minute crush). In all seriousness, it is good to know your triggers and recognize when you are beginning to become romantically attracted to someone. Being celibate, doesn't mean being dead. Chemistry is still alive and well. There will be people you meet that you feel romantically drawn to, or sexually attracted to in life. Acknowledging that and acting prudently when those people come along is really important. Sometimes, such feelings can be fed inappropriately if they stay in the dark and become mentally aggrandized. Invite Jesus into the situation right away and offer it to Him and ask Him to sanctify the relationship with the person.
One of my dear friends once played and sang The Beatles (my favorite band) in front of me on his guitar. After I melted like a pool of butter, I told him he needed to 'never do that ever again'. :) We have a friendship in which I have the freedom to joke with him about swooning, while simultaneously conveying a very serious request. The point is, don't purposefully put yourself into an occasion of sin. You must discipline yourself to be vigilant in this area.
Also, if you do fall...get up! Don't stay stuck in a mire of shame and guilt! Go to confession. Ask the Lord to strengthen you with His grace. Change behaviors or whatever led you to sin. Get thee to a spiritual director and then discern and learn.
Falling in love...so far my record is about once a decade to get really swept off my feet, and about every five years I find someone 'incredibly interesting.' To be perfectly honest, I don't have any desire to fall into romantic love with any man ever again. It may be unrealistic to think I will go the rest of my life without falling in love, but it seems as though it would just be incredibly painful to desire someone in a way that can never have any kind of consummation. Finding certain men amazing and admirable without any desire for attachment or exclusivity is my goal.
Is it weird to be celibate around your couple friends?
No!! Quite the opposite, actually. My friendships have never been deeper or more authentic. In so many ways my relationships have a depth they did not possess before. People trust me with so much more of the core of themselves and know I will keep their confidences, will their good, and try to always respond to them prayerfully and lovingly. I take the hurts of their lives to Jesus in prayer and I always ask for His grace in how to respond to them.
At first it was an overwhelming change and internal responsibility in my relationships. People, now often tell me very intimate things about themselves in a short amount of time; a much different experience than I had in counseling... because it is often related to their deepest soul wounds, doubts, fears, anxieties, sins etc. There is an implicit trust that I will be a spiritual confidant and prayer companion.
A deep unworthiness overtook my soul as the gravitas of spiritual motherhood began to take root in me and I was afraid I would make a mistake in trying to care for souls. However, fear and anxiety are not fruits of the Holy Spirit and I realized so quickly, none of it was about me at all. It was about me reflecting HIM. People need Christ's love, I am called to love them in His name. Then it became so simple.
The hours of prayer and study I have every day need to be shared. Many of my friends are busy raising families and struggle to find rest time in their days. It is part of my vocation to share what I have learned in the spiritual life and pray with people, ask them questions, challenge them, encourage them to make time for God, and grow in their own faith walk.
While I have always tried to be respectful of my friends marriages, another element is present now. There is such a relaxation and familiar ease with both partners in a couple. My female friends never worry about my presence around their husbands and my male friends know that I (hopefully!) will be a positive influence on their wives and children. It is a great blessing to be invited into the lives of so many of my friends families. My time with them is wonderful and when I return to solitude with the Lord, I bring their many prayer intentions with me.
What if you change your mind and meet your soul mate on the street?
This question was asked of me by my brother in law. I turned it around to him and said, 'what if you met a soul mate on the street, but you are married and vowed to my sister?' My commitment to belong to Jesus is already made, and even if I meet an amazing man, it does not mean I am called to marry him. In fact, I am not, because I have already made my promises to God, and happily so.
My brother in law is agnostic and I think the entire idea of what I am doing with my life is a bit shocking to him. My friends who are atheists have told me honestly, they often believe I am wasting my life with an invisible fake puppet master in the sky. It may sound harsh on their end, but honestly I am utterly unphased by their opinions. My love with God and experiences with Him are so strong, that hearing 'He doesn't exist,' makes me only sad they do not have an active relationship with Him. It never gives me pause to doubt what I know to be true on every level.
Isn't it depressing to watch romantic movies?
Oh my gosh, NO! I am one of the most hopelessly romantic and sappy creatures you will ever meet. I LOVE love stories and songs and poems. For me, these are all reflections of the proto love- the divine love of God. Practically every man in my life has been
Did it take awhile to get used to being celibate?
There were things I had to 'unlearn.' This will perhaps sound odd to hear, but I had to learn how to 'not flirt.' I was used to getting my way a lot by being charming and flirty and a whole reorientation was needed. It was also an adjustment in my relationship with men to not desire romantic attention from them. Often, we as women, want to be found romantically attractive and desirable to a man and switching that off, took a little time. When I stopped wearing makeup and jewelry, heels and fashionable clothing...it became a little bit easier.
Dancing is still tough for me. I'm not sure I have mastered how to dance unprovocatively or in a perfectly chaste manner. Right now, I wouldn't dance with a man I didn't know at an event. With one of my buddies, I wouldn't think twice, but this is a subject I had not thought about until the wedding reception this past weekend. I realized how much I did not want to get out on the dance floor. Cheerleading and dance teach you to be purposefully provocative and attention seeking. I am not sure if I have mastered being free from those long ago ingrained elements. It's been quite awhile since I danced. So, I choose prudence over a potential misstep at this point.
I used to wish I knew my last kiss would be my last kiss, so I could have remembered it or appreciated it more. Now, that thought seems absurd and ridiculous. So much changes as you grow and mature in the grace of celibacy.
Internally, my soul is so fully oriented toward God. I only desire for men to see me as their sister or maternal figure now. Den Mother is a much better fit for me than other roles I have previously had. There is no longer a desire in me to have a romantic connection with any man. No human love has ever been enough for me or been able to fulfill me at all. That isn't said in arrogance or being too grand and haughty. It is meant in such a simple truth. Just closing my eyes and praying and being with God is...enough. That is where my heart is always drawn...to His Sacred Heart. Jesus is always with me and I am never without Him and rarely unaware of His presence.
What it means to have a celibate heart is something I have learned over time. I prayed about this tremendously and I still do frequently- that God will give me the grace to love all who need His love through me, to care for the souls of all, and to intercede for them in prayer and being present to them as needed. The way I see people has changed greatly and has such a depth of dignity.
What is the hardest part of being celibate?
For me, one of the really difficult things was not having any other celibate women to talk to about this formation and journey. It's sort of a difficult subject to talk about the nitty gritty of it, and sometimes among women, is a perception that we make this choice for celibacy and then enter into this 'instantly Marian' disposition of purity. I spent a lot of time comparing myself to female Saints in books and felt such a lack in my own purity of heart in comparison. There are some women who have such a beautiful chastity, celibacy, and purity from such a young age.
When you have dated and had any form of physical intimacy with the opposite sex, that knowledge of what you are missing and sacrificing is amplified. There is some purification that needs to occur. A great hope for me came in the my prayer with and to St. Mary Magdalene asking for her intercession and strengthening me in becoming pure and innocent as a dove in how I view others.
|St. Mary Magdalene Meditating- George de la Tour|
Several of my priest friends were the ones who taught me about the pragmatic and practical aspects of celibacy and ways to grow in it. I am grateful for all their kindness and brotherly care, but still hope the feminine understanding of it will be something I can learn more about with other celibate women.
Isn't celibacy really lonely? Why did you choose this for yourself?
Oh this choice is painfully lonely, but not in the ways you might imagine. I want with the entirety of myself, to see God. The love I have for God seems so unquenchable and when I am in the depth of prayer and solitude, I am emblazoned and fired with divine love in a way I cannot adequately convey. Sometimes, I feel like there are two very separate parts of my life- the outward interactions with others and daily living, and then the retreat to the cell of my heart and the quiet of my room or prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament where I spend my happiest hours with God. I am IN LOVE with Jesus. Some days after I receive the Eucharist, I almost tremble with the magnificence of the gift He gives to us, of Himself.
It is also lonely to not be able to begin my formation. I wish I could enter a religious community tomorrow! My student loan debt is not something I can take with me and so I must wait a few years. Working really hard to make a lot of money, so I can enter poverty! (it's a little funny) Trying to keep my call strong, to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, to live in a very structured way, and to steer clear of distractions, without the support of a religious community is sometimes incredibly challenging and difficult.
Becoming a Saint is not an idea I only believe in for other people to do, it is what I want to strive for in my life...to please God as perfectly as possible and to become a holy and deeply virtuous woman. It feels ironic, having now written an entire blog about myself... to say I want to become little and let Jesus increase in me. It is so true though! Being honest about the journey is very important to me too. This is a growth process and I am not done growing toward a better celibate experience. Slowly, the Lord melds us, molds us, burns and strips away what needs to be removed, so we can focus on Him completely, as His spouses, as imitators of Him, as women uniting ourselves to His cross, willing to sacrifice, and to offer sufferings for others and for the salvation of souls.
My soul is desirous to glorify God in prayer, to bring His light to an often lost and dark world. Nothing on earth fulfills me as God does and no human love can contain my little heart which bursts with love for others. My soul was created for the grand romance of God. My heart was made to serve humanity as a servant, in imitation of the one I love. Jesus is not a consolation prize I chose because I did not want to, or could not get married or have a family. He is not an escape from the chaos of the world. He is pure love that is worth sacrificing for, worth putting aside my own small plans to trust in His plan for me, in His call to me to be His servant, His friend, His daughter, and His bride.
I chose this path because Jesus has whispered to my heart, because He has chosen me first. His love wooed my heart and in the end, there was nothing left for me to say or do, but to echo Mary's fiat, 'Yes, Lord! May it be done unto me according to thy word...'
|How I want to spend my life, united to Jesus in prayer!|
CELIBACY. The state of being unmarried and, in Church usage, of one who has never been married. Catholicism distinguishes between lay and ecclesiastical celibacy, and in both cases a person freely chooses for religious reasons to remain celibate.
Lay celibacy was practiced already in the early Church. The men were called "the continent" (continentes) and women "virgins" (virgines). They were also known as ascetics who were encouraged to follow this form of life by St. Paul. According to the Apostle, "An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord's affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord . . . In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord's affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit" (I Corinthians 7:32, 34). Throughout history the Church has fostered a celibate life in the lay state. Towering among the means of sanctity available to the laity, declared the Second Vatican Council, "is that precious gift of divine grace given to some by the Father to devote themselves to God alone more easily with an undivided heart in virginity or celibacy. This perfect continence for love of the kingdom of heaven has always been held in high esteem by the Church as a sign and stimulus of love, and as a singular source of spiritual fertility in the world" (Constitution on the Church, 42).
Ecclesiastical celibacy was a logical development of Christ's teaching about continence (Matthew 19:10-12). The first beginnings of religious life were seen in the self-imposed practice of celibacy among men and women who wished to devote themselves to a lifetime following Christ in the practice of the evangelical counsels. Celibacy was one of the features of the earliest hermits and a requirement of the first monastic foundations under St. Pachomius (c. 290-346). Over the centuries religious celibacy has been the subject of the Church's frequent legislation. The Second Vatican Council named chastity first among the evangelical counsels to be practiced by religious and said that "it is a special symbol of heavenly benefits, and for religious it is a most effective means of dedicating themselves wholeheartedly to the divine service and the works of the apostolate" (Decree on the Up-to-date Renewal of Religious Life, 12). (Etym. Latin caelibatus, single life, celibacy.)