I love the vow of chastity! Yes, you heard me right. I, a twenty-four-year-old male, who grew up in the hyper-sexualized culture of twenty-first century America, am thankful that I have chosen not to marry. This choice is especially puzzling in a society where the chastity of priests and religious is looked upon by many at best as something pitiable, and at worst as a practice that is repressive and unhealthy. In a time where many, Catholic and secular alike, would hail the disappearance of religious chastity as something worthy of rejoicing, as a sign of ‘modernization,’ I find it all the more necessary to openly proclaim the immense joy of living chastity and the beautiful purpose that it serves in the Body of Christ.
Many well intentioned Catholics, when trying to defend priestly and religious chastity, will go for the pragmatic approach: “it makes sense because it means a man can devote all his time to the Church and serving others as a priest or brother, and a woman can do the same as a nun or sister. Not having to take care of a family frees them to serve others.” While this is a completely true and valid approach, I think it misses the whole point of chastity. The reason for chastity goes beyond the merely practical and is properly situated in the realm of the spiritual. It is a reminder that the true goods of sex, intimacy, marriage, and family are not the highest goods but must be directed toward the one Highest Good: God.
In the vow of chastity, Catholic religious give up the natural goods of marriage, physical/sexual intimacy, and children. In this way we strive to imitate Jesus who Himself was chaste and who calls those who are given the grace to live this way to follow His example (Mt. 19:12). It is through this vow that we, in a spiritual sense, are espoused to God. In the same way that husband and wife give the total gift of themselves to each other for life, consecrated religious give themselves entirely over to God and are thus a prophetic witness to how every Christian will be united totally to God in heaven, where there will be no human marriage (Mt. 22:30).
Living out a vow of chastity is by no means easy. There are days where—and I know married people can relate to this—the grass seems so much greener on the other side. But then again, I find that the truly joyful things in life are those that are difficult and require our persistent cooperation with the grace of God, those that require us to daily die to ourselves and to be nailed to the cross with Christ so that we may rise with Him in glory. Living chastity comes down to a choice made each and every day to be joyfully faithful to the vows I have freely made to God, to say with my heart what I say with my lips every morning as I put on my habit: “O Lord, you have set your sign upon my head, that I should admit no lover but you. Amen.”
Br. Benedict Mary Bartsch, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE