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Can you be celibate and happy?



Edifa - published on 05/12/21

The sheer number of people who are celibate shows that it's possible to be fulfilled without a romantic relationship. What's their secret?

For many persons, celibacy has become a fact of life: they didn’t choose it, but they’ve accepted it. Many of them are very happy. On the path of incontrovertible abstinence, some of them have discovered that they can enjoy a variety of spiritual and human experiences, including beautiful friendships. 

Celibacy is not always a choice.  

This is why celibacy cannot be proposed to young people as an option, a worthy living situation alongside with marriage, religious consecration, or priesthood. People can only commit themselves to positive choices –even if they may involve great sacrifice. We can’t build a life based on a negative choice, as in an old-fashioned novel where a heroine joins a convent because of a broken heart. 

Claiming that “celibacy is a vocation” is controversial. One may say “I am living my vocation” or still simpler “I seek to answer the call of the Lord as a celibate.” Or it’s also always possible to explain: “In the secret of my heart, my celibacy has transformed into consecration.” An extended period of celibacy may be obscured by nostalgia and anxiety; solitude is an ordeal that many faithful face and is a part of the mystery of the Cross that applies to our lives in one way or another.

Celibate is not “for the lack of something better.”

A friend of mine asked whether my view of what she calls “the marriage market” is a realistic one. It’s true that the present state of the world makes it difficult for Christian marriages to form. This undoubtedly requires confidence in Providence, some imagination and initiative on the part of the interested parties, their family, and their parish. Perhaps, the same rules apply to marriage and as to vocations: we wait for the Lord to “send” one, but are we always ready for what he sends?

I would say that celibacy is less of a condition than a “wait.” It’s primarily a wait to make one’s vow, involving preparation, growth, and purification.  If this vow does not materialize, this wait is interiorized: deep down, isn’t it a promise of the day when God becomes everything in everyone? This is why I mention the wedding supper of the Lamb. It is the mystery all Christians must experience because they have been baptized:  “Christ loved me and gave himself for me,” and this love gives sense and weight to my life.

This is why celibacy is not a deprivation. But this nuptial mystery can only be celebrated in three ways: the union between husband and wife, “as Christ and His Church;” the religious life — a virginal bride awaiting her Beloved; the priesthood – an embodiment of Christ the shepherd and the spouse of the Church. This is why celibacy is a state of extreme poverty. But in the Church, poverty is more of a blessing than a deprivation.

Father Alain Bandelier

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