Religious Celibacy: A Sign

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Religious Celibacy as a Sign is something material or external that indicates the presence or existence of something else. It signifies or points to reality.[1] The vow of Celibacy is a sign which essentially points to Christ, His Church and His future kingdom. It can therefore be described as a Christological, Ecclesiological and Eschatological sign.[2]

Celibacy is a profound love and imitation of Christ and so is a Christological Sign. As the life of Jesus was directed toward the proclamation of the presence and the coming of the Kingdom of God in spirit of love and service (Agape), so are religious the light and salt of the world (Mt 5: 13-14), towards the same end. He renounced physical, sexual gratification, or intimate expression, and the companionship of a life partner. Christ shows us in His celibate life a way of giving ourselves totally to the Kingdom (Mt. 9:12). Jesus also shows us the meaning of faith; a faith which must be expressed by a free action that God alone suffices; that God alone brings me to self-regulation and fullness of life.

As an Ecclesiological Sign, Consecrated Celibacy is a sign of the Church. “It embraces and gives witness, in a visible way, to the Church’s relationship with Christ as spousal relationship of total oneness.”[3] Celibates who embraced consecrated chastity place themselves at the total service of the Church, at the service of Redemption, following the chaste and pure Christ whose love and service extends to all people.[4] This undivided love, expressed concretely in apostolic mission, is not merely utilitarian. We do make a vow of Celibacy in order that we may live more a life totally dependent on faith, hope and love. Our undivided love for Christ is a sacrament of Christ’s undivided love for the Church.[5] Celibates in a special way, share in the Church’s spousal relationship with Christ, by being exclusively set apart for Him.[6] Celibacy is a reminder of our final end in eternity and so is also an Eschatological sign. It points to the eternal heavenly condition of human beings after their resurrection, when there will be no marriage and we shall be totally united to God as with a spouse. Celibacy thus becomes a manifestation of the grace and the constant call to transcendence. It is also a manifestation of faith and hope in God; a belief that in the final reality we will be taken up into God where there’s no more weeping or gnashing of teeth; no emptiness of loneliness or unfulfilled desires, where there will be eternal communion and blessedness with the Father; where love will reign through Consecrated Celibacy. Celibates live this already here on earth.[7]

Religious are called to witness to the love and relatedness of God because God’s new reign has caught up with people. It is not an eschatological sign reminding us that our true home is in heaven. It is a sign that God’s love has struck roof in our earthly and human condition.[8] Consecrated Celibacy is an efficacious means of directing the spiritual and natural energies of the person for the Kingdom of God. Loving God unconditionally involves loving one’s fellowmen. The goal of Celibacy is to bring the human nature to perfection in love: for religious, in the radical love of God. Freedom of heart means the release from egoism, in an integrated psyche that seeks God alone.

[1] Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, USA: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1991.
[2] The Rule & The Constitution of the “Missionaries of Jesus”, The Rule and Life of the Brothers and Sister of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis: ‘The Life of Chastity for the sake of the Kingdom,’ Chapter IV, Article 17.
[3] Anthony Malaviaratchi; Initiation Into Religious Life, ibid., p. 107.
[4] The Rule & The Constitution of the “Missionaries of Jesus”, Constitution of Missionaries of Jesus: ‘Our Life of Consecrated Chastity’ – Means to Live our Vow of Chastity, Chapter VI, Article 29.
[5] Directory of the Missionaries of Jesus, ‘Our Life of Consecrated Chastity,’ Chapter VI, 25.
[6] Ibid., p. 107.
[7] Joyce Ridick, Treasures in Earthen Vessels; The Vows, ibid., p. 50 -52.
[8] Diarmuid O’Murchu, Religious Life A Prophetic Vision: Hope and Promise for Tomorrow, ibid., p. 134.

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