Saturday Symposium: Frameworks for Understanding Celibate Vocations

Good morning everyone. We’re off enjoying a quick fall getaway together. We appreciate the chance to be somewhere with a different pace of life, even as we’ll be back home tomorrow. We’ve been praying for many of our readers this week. Please don’t hesitate to let us know how we can be praying for you.

Let’s get on with our weekly Saturday Symposium question:

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: This week, we’ve been talking about some overlooked dimensions of celibate vocations. Sarah shared about how socioeconomic status impacts our life together as celibates, and Lindsey discussed the role of caregiving. We also took a look at historic examples of celibate vocations such as the Beguines and children raised in monasteries. Looking at celibacy historically, it’s inaccurate to dichotomize celibacy by suggesting that people either receive the spiritual gift of celibacy or they are forced into it by oppressive religious systems. We’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on: Are there ways of discussing celibacy and marriage that respect people’s abilities to make choices (that may or may not involve “gifts”) within their specific circumstances? What kinds of circumstances might compel a person to follow a particular vocational pathway? How do we avoid dichotomizing the reasons why people embrace vocations? How have you seen people discern how God is calling them to live their lives, especially when God seems to be calling people towards lives that they don’t appear to have clear, natural, and innate abilities to live?

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!


Sarah and Lindsey

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4 thoughts on “Saturday Symposium: Frameworks for Understanding Celibate Vocations

  1. I’ve been pondering this over last the few days and, to some extent, I’m unhappy about answering because I consider that it might push people into a situation in which they have to accede to pressure to be celibate simply because, well, because…

    So this is all tentative, but I suggest a third category, not so much “celibacy as gift” or “celibacy as coercion” so much as “celibacy as discovery”. Where celibacy is “discovery”, it is not necessarily chosen, but neither is it rejected. The types of people that might find themselves discovering celibacy would be people that are (or were) married/partnered, but who were incompatible sexually (or aged out of sexual relationship) and discovered themselves to be in a relationship closer to spiritual friendship. I think it would describe married people in which one or both partners felt called to the monastic life and thus were perhaps to align themselves with another community and also were to become celibate. Certainly the “other” partner, ie. one that did not choose the celibacy would need to find a way to come to peace with it were they to desire to keep the marriage/partnership intact. It would also describe single people who once desired to marry, but as they got older, didn’t find the right person and decided to stop looking because they found themselves to be closer to God in their current state of life. It certainly describes people who became monastic as a result of a childhood spent in that way of life.

    I think that there are many Christians (particularly clergy or church staff) that are LGB who are likely to be in this situation… Celibacy becomes a way of life, not because it is desired, but because it is better than lying/remaining in the closet. They would not say that celibacy was gift, perhaps because, were circumstances different, they’d be sexually active. Neither would they say that celibacy was coerced because both or either could make a decision to do something else. Thus “celibacy as discovery” is a necessity on account of the virtue of honesty.

    However… I’ve not too much desire to expound this line of thinking because I think it could too easily be used by people who would then say, “well, maybe if you would just be celibate, you would discover yourself closer to God in that way of life”… It too easily becomes something that’s coercive. I’m not a huge fan of placing children in monasteries and convents, either. (I doubt anybody would be, given western society’s current affirmation on the importance of individuals and choice).

    Also, I wonder more and more frequently whether the way in which women live together doesn’t perhaps confound the “married” or “celibate” dichotomy in the sense that women’s sexuality is often non-genital and embracing of others in the manner of hospitality (either by desire, child bearing or economic necessity).

    • Hi Angela, thanks for sharing your thoughts here. It can be difficult to even have a starting point for talking about celibacy.

      One thing that we noticed in your remarks about “celibacy as discovery” is that you seem to be beginning with the idea that those discovering celibacy would be doing so in the context of an existing non-celibate relationship. Is that a fair way to read your comment?

      Lindsey can appreciate discussing celibacy as discovery and finds the concept helpful across a wide range of life situations.

  2. There is nothing about celibacy that is good if it isn’t a gift. People aren’t supposed to be celibate if God doesn’t call them to be a nun or a priest. Nuns and priests shouldn’t have to be celibate either but churches will not make that change. If you don’t feel the gift, you shouldn’t try to make yourself stop being true to yourself.

    • There are other celibate vocations than that of a nun or a priest. Many people have also felt called to vocations where ability to live out that vocation developed along the way rather than being present at the start.

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