aesthetics celibacy

On the Relevance of Celibacy to the Modern Culture

6:00:00 AMLiz Stein

The question is really not whether the celibate life is relevant – or of importance – to the current culture (it is), but rather why such an issue – namely, the upsurge of celibate and religious vocations within the last decade alone – is rarely discussed or acknowledged at all. If one were to witness mention of the Catholic Church and/or celibacy at all, they may see some commentary within mainstream news outlets which are sure to admonish the Catholic Church as a backwards institution which fears human sexuality, diminishes the role of Her women, and abides by long-forsaken sexist ideals. Unfortunately, this stigma in the modern media which attempts to shame those who live the celibate life truly does exist.
Such a stigma, however, is ill founded. Celibacy has nothing to do with faulty or eerie traditions. The lifestyle of celibacy is thoroughly philosophically and reasonably founded. Even those who claim no religion are undoubtedly affected by the religiosity displayed by those who live the celibate life.

     So - why celibacy? The concept of “self gift” to one’s Creator and a full human gift of oneself to one’s community is a lofty and intriguing one – particularly, I would argue, to young people. Existing in a culture which is generally self-centric in nature provides the urge for self-discovery which I mentioned above. A selfish disposition was never known to bring about any lasting fulfillment – and thus, young people came to recognize that they are living in the midst of a world where the majority (and their own selves) are prone to look out primarily for their own self-interests. It is no surprise that we become dissatisfied with this – and often wish to distinguish ourselves from the crowd.

I believe that this non-conformist mentality stems directly from that lack of fulfillment which is the fruit of a self-centered culture. However, whatever we attempt to fill our subsequent emptiness with – be it mind-altering substances, losing ourselves in our professions - or even - human relationships, service, charitable works, philanthropy, etc.  – If our attempts remain at their core to be self-involved, focusing on how we can live with ourselves and “feel” fulfilled, our efforts are still self-serving and in essence “selfish”. This is precisely why, I believe, the religious life - something so rich in self-denial that it is an entire emptying of all our sentimental, physical, temporal desires – is so attractive. It is an entire ‘forgetting’ of one’s very self.  Indeed, only through the untainted, unselfish, lofty ‘idealist’ forgetfulness of one’s very self (a free, total, faithful, and fruitful 'self gift') can one truly find himself.

Within a culture where “The horizon of existence seems to be completely filled by the world and temporal progress” (1), it is natural that the youth experience the longing of something that is more transcendent. With this, each young person is confronted with the crisis of identity that asks “Who then am I?” and “How must I act so that my life will have meaning and value?”

As Pope Saint John Paul II said, “Man who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (2) Even that man has a self to give is not only in itself a gift – but it seems also to be an innate invitation to give of oneself.

This invitation for man to give of himself is clearly manifested in the natural earthly communion of spousal love. Because of it may seem that virginity – if a denial of this – is a rejection of the very invitation of our existence. However, to see virginity as simply a denial of sexual intimacy is surely not what John Paul had in mind. Instead, an individual’s call to discover their meaning is fulfilled through the virginal state – and man’s completely personal communion with God. Virginity then becomes an objectively “higher calling”.

In a truly selfless act - rejecting marriage for her (or his) life, the virgin is simultaneously affirming its goodness and becoming a sign of the fullness found in the kingdom of God. The celibate soul refuses interpersonal communion and gift while simultaneously becoming a gift to the community and gaining a personal union which is in essence divine and necessarily ranks high above any other earthly romance.

We have seen that all the riches which the world has to offer, mediocrity, and self-centered lifestyles have not fulfilled us.  
We then are uplifted and deeply affected by the examples of those who live the radical life of a religious vocation. Such a lifestyle is counter-cultural to its very core.

If we, as the youth who have seen the extreme of brokenness manifested throughout our culture, seek is the highest “happiness”, then celibacy and religious life only become relevant inasmuch as sacrifice, a detachment from the worldly standards of beauty and success, and self-emptying love become what is necessary for this same “happiness” or fulfillment.

It is a paradox - that the very denial of desires for temporal fulfillment could possibly spring forth into life which is fulfilling (both on earth and eternally). Should every single young adult pursue the celibate life? Perhaps not. However,  the very witness of every single celibate life affects every single young adult life. Show me a convent full of celibate religious and I will show you a community of servant individuals young and old alike, who are fully alive and fully fulfilled. Therein lies the relevance of celibacy to today’s youth.
  1. John Paul II, Letter to the Youth of the World, 5:2
  2. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 24:2
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