The Frozen Chosen – The Vow of Celibacy
Posted on 14. Mar, 2012
Very often I’m asked “Should priests be allowed to marry.” “Only if they really love each other,” I reply. It’s an old joke in response to an increasingly popular question. The evangelical counsels or the vows, as they are popularly known, are seen by society at large as increasingly anachronistic. We live in a world that values money, sex and power above all, so we must ask do the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience have anything to offer?
4thought TV, an excellent production broadcast on Channel 4 each evening, had a series on the value of the vows in contemporary society all last week. Drawing on people of all faiths, across a range of views, they reflected on their value and place in the world today. Sasha Das Gupta, a 23 year old photographer and hedonist, argued that you shouldn’t abstain from anything you enjoy in life. She felt that there was so much to experience in life you shouldn’t limit yourself in any way. She questioned the value of fasting or not using her sexuality in order to make a god love her. For her the experiences of having a child, falling in love and taking drugs with her friends are the little moments that make up the fabric of life. What I found interesting was that during the interview we saw a tattoo on her arm saying, ‘I am a tired soul.’ While there was no doubting her obvious passion there was, I felt, some dissonance between the creed she proclaimed and the feeling she portrayed.
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Sr. Cathy Jones, a member of the Congregation of the Assumption, unsurprisingly had an entirely different perspective on the vows than Sascha. She made her vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience ten years ago and she openly acknowledges the difficulty in giving up so much. But she is not in religious life because of what she has left behind. She genuinely believes that through her vows she grows closer to Christ, is more able to serve others and is called to live as a member of a religious community.
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On a number of levels I agreed with both Sr. Cathy and Sasha. Life is indeed for living. Jesus himself said in John 10:10, ‘I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.’ But I think the understanding of life, limits and vows are very different for Sr. Cathy and Sascha. If we only see the vows as things we are forced to give up then we’re missing the point completely. They are certainly a challenge, but so is everything worthwhile in life. The vow of celibacy, as understood in MSC spirituality, is that we consecrate ourselves to God in order to love him with a free and undivided heart and to love our brothers and sisters as Jesus did. It not about closing ourselves off, becoming the ‘frozen chosen,’ but about opening ourselves to others unreservedly, most especially those in need. It’s drawn from a deep prayer life, a healthy sense of sexuality and a sense of call.