This blog has been pretty quiet for a few weeks. That’s because something has been going on in my life that I wasn’t quite ready to write about yet. Now, God has brought a new focus to it all, and I find I need to write about it before I can go on to write about other things in the coming days and weeks.
Two months ago, my life took yet another amazing turn when I participated in a Called and Gifted workshop sponsored by our diocese. When I left the house that morning, I was full of anticipation, but I could not have known what surprises were in store for me! I could not have predicted the joy that was waiting for me. The purpose of this workshop was to lead participants through a prayerful process of identifying the charisms with which God had gifted them and discovering what that would mean for them.
First, a few words about “charisms.” These are gifts of the Holy Spirit – special gifts we receive, in addition to those at Baptism and Confirmation. The gifts of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism and Confirmation are intended for our own spiritual growth and benefit, whereas charisms are given to us for the purpose of fitting us to serve others. Charisms are not necessarily aligned with natural talents, but discerning charisms can begin a life-changing journey of grace, a journey in response to God’s call to all of us to serve Him and His people. To go into greater detail here would stray from my purpose in writing and would ruin the surprise for those who may be inspired to explore further. More information about charisms can be found at https://siena.org/charisms-faq.
On the day of the workshop, I sat with about 80 other people, taking the inventory that would reveal my charisms to me. And what a revelation when I completed the self-scoring process!
It wasn’t particularly surprising to me that “writing” came through loud and clear as one of my strongest charisms. I always have known that this was something God called me to.
What was a surprise was learning that I have the “lifestyle” charism of celibacy – and that it was identified with a resounding emphasis!
At some future point I may write further about the other charisms I identified that day; they will be significant to my life of service to God. But celibacy is the one I want to write about at this moment.
Just to start on a level field, celibacy is defined most simply as abstinence from sexual relationships. Make no mistake – the Catholic Church expects that unmarried persons will remain celibate outside of marriage. In that sense, while I am single, celibacy is the state I am supposed to live in. Beyond the basic definition of abstinence from sexual activity, celibacy also may include voluntary abstinence from marriage, and by extension may include voluntary abstinence from activities that would naturally lead to marriage.
In the context of charisms, celibacy may be simply one’s current state of life – for example, as a widow who has not remarried, I live a celibate life. On the other hand, celibacy may represent a vocation, or calling, that goes far beyond a state of life or even a lifestyle – a calling that liberates someone in a significant and special way for the work to which God further calls them.
With that as a backdrop, what I learned at that workshop put meaning and purpose around what I’d been thinking for some time – that I needed to do something about my single state. Not change it! No, what had been growing in my heart is a need and desire to somehow formalize it.
In the seven years since my husband died, I found that I lacked interest in dating or in any sort of romantic involvement. Oh, I tried dating, but there was never the slightest spark of real attraction; fortunately, each foray into the world of dating and relationships ended naturally, without drama. I’ve thought it was unusual without ever really exploring it. Apparently, my demeanor lets men know – without my being aware of doing so – that I am not interested.
The revelation that came out of this workshop was that my lack of interest in relationships, and the fact that men are not swarming to ask me out, are actually huge blessings from God. As I gained understanding of the charism of celibacy, I gained clarity. By removing these urges and temptations from my path, and by making it easy for me to get past them when they arise, my Lord is making me a clear path to devoting my life to His service in all the ways He calls me.
This realization has led me on a path of discernment and has had me seeking, in prayer, the counsel of the Holy Spirit as to whether I should in some manner formalize my celibate state. Although I had wondered about this, vaguely, in the past, I didn’t have a clue what form that might take. Now I began to see it as something He wanted me to explore.
I see in celibacy, with this new infusion of grace, a fertile ground for deepening the roots of my personal relationship with Jesus. Celibacy brings liberation, a freedom that lifts my soul.
I needed this liberation. At first, there was this idea that if I accepted in a formal way that I am called to celibacy, and began to live that out in my life, that would be the exact moment that the guys would start beating down my door for dates and romance, and oh, oops, I already made this promise to God. And this notion tended to get in the way of my discernment, even though I know rationally that I don’t want such relationships and do not have space in my life for such complications.
I realized, then, just how much I had regarded each trip out of the house, to church or out to eat or shopping or any number of activities, as an opportunity to meet “the right guy.” This realization brought reality to my liberation, and a weight lifted from my heart. Even before I began a more formal discernment, I began to feel a new strength that lets me know that I can (a) turn down invitations without drama, (b) offer friendship with a clear understanding that this is all I offer; (c) know that in doing so, I embrace what is already mine rather than avoiding or losing something else and (d) constantly pray that God, in His Holy Spirit, will guide me.
Over a period of two months of prayer and discernment, I’ve prayed daily for guidance, and I’ve met with several individuals (including my spiritual director and my pastor). I’ve talked with family members and shared my thoughts with them, and their support is beyond value! Out of all this has come the firm conviction that in grace, and for the greater glory of God, I am called to make a formal commitment of my celibacy – to become, as the early church often practiced, a “consecrated widow.”
To that end, I am preparing to make a formal private vow of celibacy sometime in the next few months. My preparation involves three main pursuits: First, intense prayer, establishing a daily schedule that makes formal and informal prayer a priority. My pastor called this, when he advised it, a “spiritual defense system,” essential both for spiritual growth and for that inevitable time when the Evil One, seeing the good I intend, will tempt me to stray from it. Second, identification of ministry – for while it’s all well and good to understand that I am called to celibacy, at its heart the purpose of this call is to liberate me from other potential priorities to make God’s purpose my top priority. And third, identification of community – finding and connecting with others who are living in a similar way, a community in which all gain and give strength from and to one another.
While this will be a “private” vow – that is, a vow given to God rather than being accepted by a religious superior in the name of the Church – my plan is to make this vow in the setting of a weekday Mass, as a means of witness, evangelization, and discipleship. Along my path of discernment, I realized that doing so is a way to glorify and praise God to the benefit of others. I will give public witness to my commitment to answering God’s call to service and to my intentional choice for living out that commitment.
My heart is ready. My soul is eager.This is a way that I have lived, intentionally and voluntarily, for several years without fully understanding the import of it. In those years, one of my most frequent prayers has taken the form, “Jesus, lead me. Jesus, guide me on the path You want me to walk. Please help me to know what You want me to do in life, and give me the grace and strength to hear you and to follow You.” It has been the most wonderful surprise to see where He is leading me, and I am eager to know what He has in store next.
This path to a consecrated life – to be sure, one lived in the world and in active service to family and others to whom God may send me – fills me with joy. I’ve written before that I had come to understand that I had a vocation to religious life and that I walked away from it when I was younger; God found many ways to write straight with the crooked lines I drew over the years, and now He has called me back to a new and fresh version of that life.
I can live with that.
Thanks be to God!
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