The Rule of the Society of St John the Evangelist (copyright Cowley Publications)
The Vow of Celibacy - Chapter 9
Through our vow of celibacy we offer ourselves as members of a community to be completely available to Christ. We commit ourselves to remaining single forever, instead of united to another in marriage or partnership. We pledge to forego the expression of love through sex, which God has blessed as the means for human partners to become one.
It is our desire to make a vow of celibacy that is the deepest possible expression of trust in Christ, who has chosen us to follow this path. Christ is the creative Wisdom through whom the Father created all things; he is the Light who lightens all who come into the world. Our sexuality, our power to love, our creative energy for relationship and union are of his making. They reflect the mystery of the triune life and mirror God’s passionate love for all creation. In our vow we offer these gifts that belong to the heart of our humanity to Christ, trusting that he will bless, shape, and use them. Our faith in Christ as creator also expresses itself by revering our manhood itself as sacred. If we foster a climate of celibacy in which this faith and reverence flourish, each brother, whatever his sexual orientation, can come to accept fully the particular way the mystery of sexuality has been woven into the texture of his humanity.
Our vow is also a response to Jesus’ own way of life. His own freedom from ties of family and home, in order to be completely available in the Spirit for the proclamation of the good news, attracted others to choose the same path. They trusted in his promise that their choice, though full of painful losses and risks, would bring the reward of an abundance of new relationships among those who were awakening to the joy of the Kingdom: “a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children. . . and in the age to come eternal life.” When we make our vow we affirm our own confidence in this promise.
We make our vow also trusting in the healing power of Christ, the redeemer of human brokenness. Our capacity for intimacy, our sexual desires, our readiness to be faithful, are all damaged by the confusions and wounds of our fallen human condition. For us celibacy is a path of healing and redemption, as the vocation of marriage and partnership is for others. As we make our vow we acknowledge humbly our need for grace to give us that unity and integrity of heart which we can never attain by our own power. We set out on the celibate way as a path of salvation that gives us the hope of attaining maturity as loving, disciplined, and free men.
Our vow flows also from the experience of Christ, ascended and glorified, dwelling in our own hearts. Though we have surrendered the fulfilment we may have found in marriage or partnership, the mystery of union and mutual love is truly given to us. In the emptiness and absence that celibacy opens up in our hearts, Christ waits to make known to us the infinite strength and tenderness of his love. The exploration of our sexual solitude through prayer will reveal the depth of Christ’s desire to be the one joy of our hearts. We can find the joy of celibacy only by entering into the mystery of our union with him and returning his love.
Celibate Life - Chapter 10
Each of us will pass through different phases in our lives of celibate chastity. At times we will be glad of our inner solitude, which fosters prayer, and the diversity of relationships we enjoy in community and with friends; at other times we will feel loneliness. While others are enjoying the consolations of community life, some brothers may be missing the solace of partnership, the joys of sex, and the satisfaction of having a home of their own. There will be seasons of contentment in our singleness; there may be days of testing and confusion if we fall in love, or become strongly attracted to another. Struggles will come at different stages as we break through to new levels of integration; the challenges faced by young religious will not be the same as those that come with the onset of middle age. Old age may bring its own trials of doubt. Only if we share these different experiences in candour and trust can we offer one another genuine support.
At times many of us will miss having fathered children. We shall need to open the poignancy of this loss to Christ in prayer. He will show us that in union with him our lives have been far from barren. As we nurture others in Christ, and bring them to maturity, we shall discover that fatherhood has found expression in our lives. In prayer, meditation, our thought, our work, and our friendships, we are called to fulfil our deep human urge to be creators with God of new life, and to bear fruit that lasts.
The disciplines that let chastity take root in our lives are not mere curbs. Their purpose is to help us live with vitality and spirit. When we meditate we should truly pray with our bodies, and dwell on the glory with which the indwelling Spirit endows them. We are to reverence our bodies and do justice to their need for regular exercise and adequate sleep. Physical sloth and stress from overwork are equally liable to make sexual tension worse. Lethargy makes us more susceptible to the escapism of fantasy.
The disciplines that foster celibacy include those which prevent our spirits from becoming solemn and heavy. We can all contribute to the sanity and balance of our life together by allowing playfulness and humour to keep us in touch with our humanity and to release tension.
Jesus taught chastity of the heart, not merely of outward behaviour. The conversion of our imaginations continues all our lives as we seek to make his integrity our own. We shall need to examine our hearts often to test the degree of our emotional honesty in our relations with others, and our faithfulness in honouring our personal boundaries. Whenever we are in perplexity or temptation it is essential to open our hearts to our spiritual directors or confessors; secrecy makes us more likely to deceive ourselves.
It is through friendship that we will be of most support to one another. Celibacy could be unbearably lonely unless we uphold one another with affection. Our friendship with one another does not draw us away from the centrality of the love of Christ in the heart, for that is the very thing we all have in common.
The Witness of Celibacy – Chapter 11
Our lives of committed celibacy can act as a powerful sign of the reality of God’s grace. As we grow in our understanding of the meaning of our vow we are called to become more aware of our role as witnesses. The celibate life is a risky one. If it is lived as a cowardly way of avoiding intimacy and commitment, it can wither the soul. But if as celibates we embrace our sexuality as a divine gift, and draw upon it as a source of energy and creativity, we can bring hope and encouragement to many who meet us.
Our singleness of life awakens the need to discover within our own selves the mystery of the male and female dimensions of the divine image. If we are courageous in this exploration, and cooperate with the converting power of the Spirit, we can bear a significant witness to both men and women. Women will find encouragement if they encounter in us not only the security that comes with deep respect, but also empathy of soul. Men will find encouragement if they encounter in us confident forms of masculine identity that do not depend for their vigour on force or competition.
Our fidelity to this vow can be an encouragement to those who are united in the sacrament of Marriage; like them we depend on divine grace to help us remain steadfastly together until death, through all the changes and trials of life. Some partners of the same sex who have made a covenant of faithfulness in Christ may find inspiration in our loyalty and perseverance.
We are also witnesses to those who for many reasons live single lives. Much of the confusion and pain in fallen humanity’s struggle with sexuality stems from the illusions that sexual activity is essential to wholeness, and that other forms of intimacy are inferior to the sexual bond. We can help people by the example of our lives to honour the depth and fullness to be found in the intimacy of friendship. We can bring inspiration and support to the struggles of those who seek to find meaning and purpose in their singleness. In our ministries, especially of hospitality, our celibacy gives us a special freedom to provide a setting in which single people of all ages and walks of life find respect, welcome, and affirmation.