Imagine, if you will, standing at the very edge of a cliff with thousands of feet to fall if you step off, but at the bottom, you will land safely on both feet. How do you feel? If you’re like me, you’re probably nervous and a little excited. Now, imagine you’re right on the precipice – your toes are hanging off the edge and you suddenly hold your head up high, stretch your arms out beside you, and jump! What feelings do you experience? What thoughts go through your mind?
Interestingly enough, this is how I’ve heard others describing what it feels like to make the personal commitment to celibacy. Scary! Like taking an extraordinary leap of faith into the unknown.
There are several types of single people who make this decision; those who have never been married, those who are divorced, and those who are widowed. All of them have the same decision to make, but those who are divorced and widowed must pull back tightly the reigns on a passion they’ve already been able to enjoy. Some people are never successful in getting themselves to take that leap and while others find the courage to do so and act upon the graces God has given them to succeed.
So, why is the decision to remain chaste so hard?
It’s difficult, partly because of all the media messages we receive, in particular, the biggest lie of all that if you’re not having sex, there’s something wrong with you. But the magazines, billboards, television shows, movies and music all attack every sensibility we might have toward living a chaste life. I find this so sad because there truly is real joy in living a celibate life and I want to point it out for anyone who is struggling with the idea of committing to celibacy until marriage.
Let’s say you’re standing on the edge of that scary cliff, debating. You don’t want to jump because it’s scary, but if you don’t jump, you’ll never reach the solid ground below where you can move forward. You’ll always be stuck at the top of the cliff, unable to go anywhere, unable to make any progress. So, decide taking the risk is better than being stuck and you jump.
You land firmly on your feet and have absolute freedom to move forward. The joy you experience is in the freedom you have gained. But more than that, the joy you experience comes from exercising your free will and choosing to do someone else’s will – the will of God, of course. You could indulge in what feels good and what the rest of society says is normal, but instead, you choose to obey God. Not only is that freeing, but it brings an unprecedented clarity to your heart and mind.
I recently read an interview with Pope Francis that was done before he was the Pope, back in 2010 when he was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. The interview was about the “secrets” to living celibacy for priests and seminarians. But I couldn’t help but recognize how important Cardinal Bergoglio’s words were for singles who are trying to live this way, too.
Pope Francis admits to the fact that it is difficult, but not impossible. The key is to remind yourself of the choice you have and remember God will not tempt you beyond your ability to resist:
Bergoglio: When I was a seminarian, I was dazzled by a girl I met at an uncle’s wedding. I was surprised by her beauty, her intellectual brilliance… and, well, I was bowled over for quite a while. I kept thinking and thinking about her. When I returned to the seminary after the wedding, I could not pray for over a week because when I tried to do so, the girl appeared in my head. I had to rethink what I was doing. I was still free because I was a seminarian, so I could have gone back home and that was it. I had to think about my choice again. I chose again – or let myself be chosen by – the religious path. It would be abnormal for this kind of thing not to happen (Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra [“On the Heavens and the Earth”], 2012, Sudamericana publishing company).
When we resist temtations, especially sexual temptation, it’s like reaching a new level of being human. Each time you make the choice to be chaste and resist the temptation, your level of spirituality and maturity is upgraded with powerful virtues and graces that fortify you for the next temptations that will come.
So, have no fear about stepping off the cliff and taking that leap of faith. You will land on your feet and be better, wiser, and happier for doing so.
Feel free to send me your comments, questions and disagreements to firstname.lastname@example.org.