I’ve written about chastity before so I won’t go into much detail here. But as I read the Chapter of Renewal notes, I was struck again by the beauty of the vow of chastity and its gift of opening us up to the world.
The motive of Chastity is love of God; the result of Chastity is instense love of neighbour; it is nourished by a spirit of prayer. Our Chastity frees us for deep, personal relationships with one another. Rather than a protective attitude, it engenders a continual growing in love, and a continuing going out to others.
This makes demands on us: openness to the Holy Spirit’s urging; a learning to accept love; mutual acceptance and reciprocal giving. It is God Who first loved us and Who gives us the capacity to love. The test of love is not emotion, but trust and service; ultimately love is a mystery.
The idea of a life without a romantic relationship was a real stumbling block for me when I thought about entering religious life. I struggled with it throughout the years I was discerning. I thought that the absence of romantic love would lead to unhappiness and loneliness, and I thought that I would be constantly trying to suppress or repress my feelings. That celibacy / consecrated chastity could mean a life of meaningful happiness just didn’t seem possible. And so for many years, even though I didn’t feel particularly drawn to marriage or to having a family of my own, I struggled to see the possibility of religious life.
During this year of novitiate I have had plenty of time to face the demons within, including the false ideas I’ve carried around about sexuality and my sense of self worth. I’ve been able to see that a lot of my struggle with the notion of chastity has been around my ideas about being loved and valued.
For a long time I believed that being loved romantically by a man was the only way that I would find true happiness. (This idea was reinforced by societal emphasis on romantic love, and on a more personal note, it was also reinforced by the model my mom gave to me.) Every other kind of love seemed second best. I wanted to be loved and admired (adored actually) by a man who would make me feel special. I thought that being loved in this way would take away the pain I had felt growing up, feelings of not being loved or being enough (see blog post from March). However, none of my romantic relationships ever really did this. Nonetheless I clung to the belief that eventually I would meet the man who would make everything in my life perfect.
But it didn’t happen. And when I was honest with myself, I knew that I wasn’t even all that interested in looking for the man who would make my life perfect. I was comfortable and relatively happy being single, and I was more interested in my relationship with God. Which blossomed into a deep attraction to religious life. And now, having had some experience living religious life, I can see that it does make me feel happy and fulfilled. There is great love and support in community life. For me, living a life that is totally centred on God, and living a life dedicated to bringing God’s light and love into the world (whether through ministry like spiritual accompaniment or combating social injustices or myriad others) is how I can freely live as fully myself, without clinging to false ideas.
Not to say that living a life of chastity is easy. In our formation house we have been studying the religious vows, and we’ve had some great discussions about chastity. My understanding and appreciation of chastity will grow and change over time, I know, as I live religious life. There will be moments when I will fall in love and I will need to discern how to respond. There will be moments of loneliness and unhappiness. It happens in every life. And in those moments I hope that I will still be able to see the gift of the vow of chastity, draw upon the support of community, and find strength in my relationship with God.