One of the three monastic vows, celibacy can be a confusing subject. While few are called to practice Christian celibacy, it can offer meaning, clarity, and encouragement to all. Br. Lucas Hall invites us to discover in the witness of celibacy the invitation to surrender ourselves in trust, wholly and joyfully, to God's love.
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Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE arrived at the monastery in 2017, and made his initial profession of vows in 2019. Born in 1992, he spent his childhood in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, and studied political science and comparative religion at Miami University. He enjoys writing, woodworking, and cooking.
trusting in the love of God
Celibacy can be a confusing subject. It comes wrapped in obscurity and confusion, perhaps because it touches on the subject of sexuality, a topic many feel uncomfortable discussing. But people experience sexuality, and the Christian witness to this has always included a space for celibacy. While often seen as punitive repression, celibacy is truly an affirmation of trust in the love of God, and an encouragement to all people to trust this love.
The witness of Christian celibacy calls the Church and the world to recognize the importance and holiness of the human body. John’s Gospel proclaims that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.”1 Jesus experienced embodied existence, including sexuality. He even entered scenarios and interactions that Jews and Gentiles both would have recognized as erotically-charged, from his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well2 to his reclining with the Beloved Disciple at the Last Supper.3 Christ used this embodied experience to point always to God and to the love of God. His celibacy does not amount to a shunning of bodies and sexualities, but rather reveals the capacity of our yearnings to be holy, lifted into the loving gaze of God, and satisfied in our eternal union with Christ the Bridegroom. Christians walking in this path of celibacy follow in those footsteps, and point the same way.
It is impossible to speak meaningfully about sexuality without mentioning sex and gender, and Christian celibacy has offerings on this subject too. Celibacy stands against twisted social norms where a man’s masculinity and worth are dependent on sexual power and domination. The monastic tradition affirms that the power of God is perfected in what the world scorns.4 In a culture where men feel increasingly friendless and alone, celibate communities offer a counter-cultural vision of trust, authenticity, and vulnerability that stems from the persistent love of deep friendship. The witness of celibacy offers a space where women can trust that they are not the objects of sexual pursuit. Women can also look with pride to the authority and wisdom on display by female monastic leaders in the past and present, as Christian celibate communities have allowed women to demonstrate their gifts in an otherwise male-dominated Church and world.5 Christian celibacy also has much to offer anyone who feels outside of the mainstream sexual and gender categories of the dominant culture. Christ himself spoke of celibates as “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,”6 placing Christian celibacy in a tradition of transcending established gender norms and boundaries. In the mystical theology so closely associated with celibate monastics, we see great flowing freedom in the perspectives and imagery of sexuality. Christ himself was sometimes called a eunuch in recognition of his own celibacy.
Most people are not called to be celibate. But Christian celibacy can offer meaning, clarity, and encouragement to others. Celibacy explicitly dignifies the lives of single people, proclaiming that one may be whole and worthy of respect, dignity, and community without being in a romantic relationship. The world in general, and the Church in particular, are prone to ignore and degrade single people as basically incomplete, worthy of consideration primarily in an attempt to “correct the error” of a person’s singleness. The deliberate lifelong commitment to singleness involved in the vow of celibacy stands starkly against this tendency toward isolation and condescension. On the other hand, the vow of celibacy also can encourage those who are called to marriage. Both marriage and celibacy ask us to surrender to the risk and challenge of commitment; both are lifelong recognitions of the Christian truth that we are not our own, that we belong to another.7 In both vocations, Christians are called to engage with their human capacity for erotic love in a way that reveals, day-by-day, the abiding love of God.
In the embrace of our sexuality, we often find the most poignant experience of beauty. To behold something or someone beautiful is to experience a deep stirring; it is disarming and vulnerable. We can simultaneously feel joy and fear as we witness the arresting power of that which is beautiful. Christian Scripture and tradition affirm that the beauty of all created things and beings should point us to the infinitely greater beauty of the Creator, and they position God as a craftsman, bringing the world into being through wise and artful skill.8 The celibate life might at first seem like a rejection of sensuality and beauty; in fact, the vocation of Christian celibates is rather to attune themselves, body, soul, and spirit, to the presence of God’s beauty in all things. By joining Jesus in the asceticism of celibacy, the celibate Christian grows in the knowledge of God’s omnipresence, trusting in the reality of divine beauty even in the barren starkness of the desert. We learn deeply the truth that Christ came into the world in humility, with “no form or majesty that we should look at him; nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”9 This can serve as a witness to the whole Church, encouraging Christians to look beyond outward appearance. In this, we can more fully live the call to recognize the beauty of the face of Jesus in all people.
Celibacy is not a common vocation, and it can be a difficult one to understand. But Christian celibacy should be understood as a devotion to God’s love. In the Incarnation, Jesus has hallowed our bodies, our sexualities, our senses, and our desires, offering in himself a way for everything to be lifted up into the eternal love of God. The witness of Christian celibacy is to trust in this joyful promise, and to proclaim that joy to all.
- John 1:14
- John 4:1-42
- John 13:23
- 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
- See the examples of the Desert Mothers, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, and the role of abbesses in Church councils and at the heads of English double monasteries
- Matthew 19:10-12
- 1 Corinthians 7:4
- Wisdom 13:1-9
- Isaiah 53:2