Celibacy has always baffled people. But in today’s sex-saturated culture, it seems even more incredible that someone could give up sexual intimacy for life.
This leads to the popular misconception that priests and religious are miserable, lonely, and unfulfilled people. But while there are some sad celibates, many priests and religious can hardly hold back the immense joy they experience being completely dedicated to the Lord!
(Let’s also point out that sex doesn’t automatically lead to happiness and fulfillment. There are droves of people out there getting their “needs” met, but who are positively miserable.)
The best way to learn about the experience of celibacy is to hear from celibates themselves. Here are a few things priest friends have told us about what celibacy is really like.
1. Let’s be honest…it’s a miracle!
While celibacy can bring great joy, there’s no denying it can also be a struggle. It’s not natural, but supernatural. Committing yourself to celibate love doesn’t shut down sexual attraction. If you’re entering the priesthood thinking your sex drive will just disappear, you’re in for a big surprise.
But can’t the same be said about marriage? Even if you marry the love of your life and he or she is a stunning 10, you’re still going to feel sexually attracted to other people during the course of your marriage.
So how do priests deal with sexual attraction? That brings us to our next point.
2. Depend on God’s grace
Only the grace of God can help you persevere in celibacy. That’s why it’s incumbent that you foster a deep prayer life and frequently make acts of self-denial. If you fail to do these things, you’ll eventually fall prey to your sexual inclinations.
Again, honesty is key here. Talk candidly to God about the struggles you’re having. If you’re tempted by a beautiful woman, tell God and ask Him to help you see her with pure love.
3. Celibacy opens your eyes to the richness of the human person
Sex is a gift from God. Sex in marriage binds two people together and gives them a foretaste of heavenly joy.
But in the current reign of sin, our sex drive can become a blinding force, making us want to use people simply for pleasure. In this case, we fail to respect other people’s dignity as children of God.
Celibacy helps you see people in their true depth. Priests sometimes talk about how celibate love uncovers a woman’s inner beauty and richness, which often get hidden when the sex drive is in the front seat.
Celibacy is beautiful but, again, it’s not easy. But no vocation is. Every call from God — whether to marriage, the priesthood, religious life, or the celibate lay life — is a summons to die to ourselves in order to grow in the love of God and others. It is a stepping stone to that fulfillment of love we will all experience in heaven.