Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Charism of Celibacy: A Personal Reflection

I have never really been part of the “gay scene” or the “gay life.” In other words, I don’t go to gay bars or join gay groups or associations. I have few gay friends. I have been to the Pride Parade twice, only once with another gay person. I have been closeted or partly closeted most of my life out of shyness, or fear, or for very “practical” reasons related to employment or income. Thus even though I always dreamed of having a life partner, my own, self-imposed circumstances made the realization of this dream rather a big challenge. I have had a few “affairs,” all of which were pretty short-lived because in each case I latched onto the first guy that came along, thinking he was “the one.”

I am sure this is not an unusual story.

My most recent relationship lasted four years—the longest yet, perhaps because it was long-distance. Again, I deceived myself into thinking that this was “it,” that this guy was the one I had been waiting for. As a result, I allowed myself to be taken for granted, strung along, and generally disrespected by someone who was actually a wonderful person—he was just not ready to commit.

Again, not a particularly original story.

Late in the fourth year of this relationship, two things happened that changed my life. One of these was my return to the Church, which I have already talked about in earlier blogs. The second occurred slightly earlier and was for me equally momentous, if not more so. God opened a door for me and gave me the opportunity to choose a new path.

I was walking on the street in downtown Vancouver after having lunch with a former colleague when I suddenly ran into another former colleague, from the same organization, whom I had not seen in ten years. We did the catch-me-up-on-your-life-in-the-last-ten-years-in-25-words-or-less thing, and I learned, to my great surprise, that she had just written a book. To make a long story short, I became the editor of her book and this book and my growing friendship with this former colleague both had a profound effect on my life, especially on my understanding of relationships.

The book is called Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends. The author’s name is Kaycee Jane. Frog or Prince?, which is intended for a reading audience of young women, aged 16 to 25, makes the following essential points about relationships, which for the purpose of this article I will put into a gay context. First, a relationship is not the single determining factor in a person’s happiness; it is not even the main factor. Rather a love relationship should enhance what Kaycee calls a person’s “beautiful life.” It is the responsibility of the individual to take stock of his existing relationships—with friends and family—his interests, and his personality traits and use these to build his own beautiful life. Only when this life has been firmly established should one consider a serious relationship.

Second, a relationship with a Prince can only be built on respect—respect for self, respect for others, and mutual respect between the two parties in the relationship. Third, we have to break apart old belief systems—“all is fair in love and war,” “you have to love your boyfriend and stick with him in spite of his warts,” “it’s better to love than to be loved.” And hundreds more, like“my boyfriend’s jealousy is a really cute sign that he loves me.” It’s not; his jealousy means he doesn’t trust you. Fourth, relationships are about recognizing needs and getting them fulfilled. You have needs, he has needs—lots of them—and if they are not getting fulfilled, he’s a Frog. Which doesn’t mean he is a bad guy; he just isn’t the right guy for you. He is not your Prince and don’t try to fool yourself into thinking he is, that you just have to make him change—he will not change.

Working on this book, I realized that I had been expecting a boyfriend to make my life beautiful; I knew now that this was never going to happen. I had to build myself a beautiful life. I also realized that my boyfriend was a Frog. The respect was not there, I was operating on false beliefs, and my needs were certainly not being met; I am sure his were not being met either. Yes, he was a really nice guy—wonderful to his family, loyal to his friends—but not a Prince to me. So I terminated the relationship.

And then I began to think seriously about my life so far and about how I had not made it beautiful. It was somewhat attractive in many ways, maybe even a little pretty. But it was definitely not beautiful. I had to start again, even while I missed terribly the boyfriend I had just shown the door. Again, God intervened through a friend who guided me onto the path where I now find myself and where indeed I am able to “follow my bliss.” I have built a beautiful life for myself, where I read, I study, I reflect, and I write on a subject that is endlessly fascinating.

A big part of this new life is the decision to remain single, a decision which seems to have been partly conscious, partly unconscious. I live in a rather unusual situation in that I own a house with my best friend, who is female (and straight) and several “homestay” students, international students who stay with a Canadian family while they are in this country studying English. One of the students is actually no longer studying; in fact, he has graduated from university, achieved CMA certification, and gained landed immigrant status in Canada; altogether this young man has been with us for about six years and is truly “a member of the family.” For him and for the other students we try to create as much of a family atmosphere as possible. As I am at home all the time, I cook, clean, and generally take care of the students. They are also my present source of income, along with a small amount of editing work.

As with most people, I decided after my relationship ended that I did not want to again go through what I had experienced for the previous four years. Of course, many of us sooner or later forget that we made this decision and start searching again, usually getting ourselves into the same kind of relationship we just got out of. After a while, however, and once I found myself firmly on a new path, I recognized that I was no longer feeling the need of a partner. My work and my journey were now my joy; I had, over the period of a few years, gradually created a kind of semi-cloistered monastic existence for myself, which I find satisfying in every way. I have built an office in the garage at the back of our house; this is my “cell,” where I work and sleep.

So celibacy has become a conscious choice, but it is a choice guided by God. In his book Freeing Celibacy, Father Donald Cozzens, referring to men and women religious and to secular clergy, says the following about the charism of celibacy:

Some few men and women appear to possess the charism of celibacy, a graced call from God to pledge themselves to celibate living for the good of others and for the building up in history of the reign of God. For these individuals, celibacy is their truth—the right way for them to live out their lives. Without disparaging marriage and with regard for the goodness and wholesomeness of human sexuality, they sense a mysterious pull of grace toward singleness that seems to fit with their inner life and spiritual journey.
Charism is defined in the book as “a gift freely given by God to a person or community, for the good and service of others in bringing about the reign of God.” Father Cozzens later goes on to say that there are many who feel themselves powerfully called by God to the priesthood but who do not possess the charism of celibacy. He believes that these men should be allowed to marry—as their charism is for the married life—so that they may be happy and effective ministers like their successfully celibate brothers.

I make no claim to priestly celibacy, which, according to Fr. Cozzens, “implies sexual continence, the foregoing of all deliberate sexual experience.” I do believe, however, that my decision to be single, taken not because I am “tired of the stress and tensions of dating,” but rather because I am happy and fulfilled in another kind of relationship, is a kind of charismatic celibacy, a gift from God. And I sincerely hope that I am using this gift “for the good and service of others in bringing about the reign of God.” One recognizes that one has a part to play, however small, and assumes responsibility, joyously, to play it to the best of one’s ability.

Without a partner in it, my life—at this moment—is complete. I do not feel the urge to seek out a relationship. Nevertheless, I am aware that at any time I may meet someone with whom I could make a life. Thanks to Kaycee and Frog or Prince? I will be able to determine without a great deal of difficulty if that man is indeed my Prince. If he is, I would not only be foolish but also sinful to turn him away because he would have been sent to me by God.

We cannot say “no” to God.

A plug for Frog or Prince: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends: You can buy this book at amazon.com or for Canadians at amazon.ca. Kaycee Jane has a website for the book: www.frogorprince.ca

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