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The vow of celibacy

27 Jun 2016, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Augustinians

Like other religious congregations, the Augustinians make three vows; the vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity (in celibacy). We manifest; we express our life of consecration to God through these religious vows.Ordination “We undertake the vows of chastity for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven (Mt 19:12). It is in the light of this teaching of the Lord that the Church has always recognized the special eschatological significance of this vow, seeing in it a love that is both universal and everlasting, and a witness to that remarkable union between Christ and his Church (see Eph. 5:23-32) which will be fully manifested in the world to come.”

The evangelical counsels or the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience are not meant only for the religious; the diocesan priests are also bound by them even though not as strict as it is with the religious. The diocesans may call it to promise while the religious call it vows, but we are actually talking about the same thing.

In this article, I singled out the vow of celibacy to look at it from the point of its challenges. Yes, challenge. Though celibacy is a vow made freely without any form of compulsion, it comes with challenges. As seminarians in a religious community, it was almost a general belief that the vow of celibacy is the most difficult of the three religious vows, but whether that is true depends on the individual. I realized that so many of us thought so simply because we heard others said so and not out of the lived experience. Though the vow of celibacy, like the other two, is a way of life freely chosen, the person in it remains a human being who must struggle to keep the vow he or she has made. It is not chosen out of hatred for married life; in fact, one cannot sincerely appreciate and live the religious vow of celibacy without appreciating married life. The religious vow of celibacy is a life of sacrifice. This sacrifice will only be sincere if you truly appreciate the married life because sacrificing what you do not like will not be a sacrifice at all.

There was a time when the media focused her attention on celibacy in the Catholic Church, questioning the relevance of the vow of celibacy and putting pressure on the Church for priests to begin to get married. The pressure was as a result of the failure of a very few brother priests who, in their weakness, failed in this vow. They were heavily criticized, insulted, and discriminated against as if they were superhuman. Society sees their failure as a horrible thing, as if the married person who failed in their marriage commitment has less sin. I am not drumming for the support of the weakness of priests but rather draw attention to the need to pray for them. “The life of a priest in the world – in a world which is hostile, by definition – is far from being a soft and comfortable existence. Ordination to the priesthood does not bring comfort but conflict, for “Has not man a hard service upon earth?” (Her 7:1), and this is especially true of the priest because of his special mission and indeed because of his priesthood itself.” He is a man even though he has been chosen and set apart through his ordination, he faces the same temptation with everyone else, and in fact, his calling exposes him to more dangers. Pray for your priests and not criticize and frustrate them; they are not superhuman. God called them in their imperfections and weakness into something holy; that is the mystery of the priesthood.

I do not see the vow of celibacy as the most difficult but as the most delicate. It is delicate because it touches my very being; I see it as delicate because I can decide to be very obedient without questioning my superiors’ decisions. I can choose to live a life of poverty, not to own anything but to share everything in common. One cannot, however, chose not to respond to certain emotional stimuli even without intending it. It is natural; it is part of our makeup but not an invitation to become slaves to sexual urges and desires. The religious vow of celibacy liberates for the gospel of Christ and raises us above particularized love to embrace universal love. It is not a call to love less but love much with the same love with which Christ loves us. “Saint Augustine candidly reveals his own struggles to remain chaste in the confessions. Since we carry this treasure of chastity in vessels of clay while we are exiled from the Lord (see 2Cor. 5:6), we should not presume upon our own resources, but trust always in divine assistance.”

The priests and the religious have chosen to respond to the call to live a celibate life; it is not easy, but they struggle with God’s help. In our weaknesses and even in our failures, we see our insufficiency and the need to hold on to God for help continually.

Pray for your priests; therefore, again, I say pray for your priests. What they need are prayer and not condemnation.

1 COMMENT
  • ada Reply

    I really appreciate this article so much.It is never easy at all. I belonged to Mary league girls of my home parish before leaving to the city and before i got married. Through the wows we made and by the grace of God, we were able to keep till marriage. it was the grace of God all through. May He who called u as a priest always sustain u by his grace. AMEN

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