With all the talk about the possibility of married priests I thought I’d share this beautifully clear passage from Andre Louf’s The Cistercian Way. Andre describes celibacy as one of the ascetic exercises of grace.
According to the teaching of St Paul, the primary aim of celibacy is to make us free for the Lord Jesus in love. The terms he uses to describe this freedom point very clearly towards prayer. In recommending celibacy, St Paul proposes that one “wait upon the Lord without distraction” (1 Cor. 7:35). Is there a better definition of uninterrupted prayer? Such prayer will one day be the most convincing proof of a celibacy which has reached its full flowering in the love of God.
Like all other forms of asceticism celibacy requires great care. The renunciation which it involves cannot but inflict a wound and that wound can continue to fester for a long time. There is much more to celibacy than simply resisting the desire for physical pleasure. The celibate creates an affective void within himself. This should not lessen or diminish his affective capacity. On the contrary, it should liberate it and put it at the service of the Lord Jesus and his Church, and especially at the service of the brothers with whom the monk lives. This will not be achieved in a single day. It is the end of a long slow haul, during which prayer predominates in the monk’s life.
Whenever he meets temptation, the monk will spontaneously turn to prayer. He will feel the need of prayer in order to remain at peace, depending only on the power of God, for whose help he will pray without ceasing. Inevitably he will meet with difficult situations where he will find no way out but to cry to God, to call for help, to invoke doggedly the name of the Saviour. “Lord save us, we are sinking” (Mt. 8:25). How often will our prayer be little other than this? But this is enough. Gradually prayer will take on a more fundamental role. By the very fact of being continually in the Lord’s, presence, of clinging to him, of filling the silence by calling on his name, or of gazing steadfastly at his face, the faith which joins us to him will grow stronger and deeper. The solitude of celibacy will become a communion of love through prayer, and in this way a fullness will come into the heart of the monk which will be both human and divine. None of the personal richness that flows from love in the human being will be lost or lie fallow for the monk because of his celibacy. It will all be taken up and used to the full. By his deep bond of love with the Lord Jesus, he will be open to the fullness of divine life. This bond will differ from one person to another, according to the psychological make-up of each one. It will vary infinitely, just as human love does, for human love is only an imperfect reflection of the unfathomable riches of God’s love.
To one person God will appear as friend or brother, to another master or father; to another an infinitely tender spouse. God is all of these at once, and is yet far more. In the face of his love all human comparisons fade. The saying of Jesus that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father can only be verified by experience (cf Jn 14:9).