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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Priceless Jewel in Soho: Mother Teresa exhibition

Nirmal Hriday, the home Mother Teresa established in 1952 to care for the poor of Calcutta

‘Celibacy’

Inspired by a visit to the Mother Teresa Exhibition in Soho Aug 2012

 by Sue Withers

Soho: place of flaunted sin and hidden shame; a strange setting, in your seedy streets, for a priceless jewel.

A gift bestowed on single-hearted lovers of their God and of the poor who stood out from the crowd.

Their selfless service a resplendent light from Heaven irradiating the darkness.

For these the celibate life enabled their devotion, and fuelled their passion.

They became the mothers and fathers who adopted the unwanted, unloved and untouchable of their generation.

Dare we aspire to follow them ?

 

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Posted by on Fri 28th Sep 2012 in Poetry

 

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Mother Teresa in Soho: summer 2012

An unlikely place, Soho, to house an exhibition about Mother Teresa, or … mmmm … perhaps not.

Like Jesus, she specialised in the sort of people that most people prefer to bypass. Second thoughts, a very fitting place to find an exhibition about her.

There was her room, a replica of it anyway. A tiny hospital bed, two old telephones (I mean old), a primitive filing system and a cardboard box under her bed with ‘AWARDS’ written in thick black pen. Perhaps, most telling, was what she had on her wall: a photo of Theresa of Lisieux, (whose name MT adopted at her first vows) with the saint’s words, ‘My vocation is love.’

I think those words could be a summary, actually, of Mother Teresa’s life.

Walking around the exhibition reminded me of my university days. I was studying Theology and finding much of it tedious and dry: reading books written in seminaries or theology departments by academics. Not that I’m against academia or theological study but theology springing from real life, actually life in the gutter, takes on a new and exciting dimension. I remember, in my third year, walking round a reservoir with a book of Mother Teresa’s sayings in my pocket and finding it, well, a reservoir of life to me at that time, water in a largely desert place. I felt as if I had found ‘the real thing’.

It was fascinating to see her simple blue and white habit, her cardigan, the worn cloth she darned, her handwritten notes and letters asking for this and that. It made her a little more tangible and gave insight into her humanity (I hate the iconizing of even the most saintly of people).

Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Albania, Mother Teresa felt the call of God to become a missionary nun when she was eighteen. She joined an Irish order – the Loreto Sisters – and in 1929 arrived in Calcutta where she took her final vows.

Mother Teresa taught for many years. It was not until she was recovering from a serious illness in 1946, aged 36, that she received what she called her ‘second calling’. The voice of God was clear: she was to leave her convent and work with the poorest of the poor.

The exhibition displayed her conversation with Jesus at this time: “To leave that which I loved and expose myself to new labours and sufferings which will be great. These thoughts were a cause of much suffering – but His voice kept on saying, ‘WILT THOU REFUSE?’

Jesus said to her, “Come, carry Me into the holes of the poor. Come be My light, I cannot go alone, go among them, carry Me with you into them.”

Mother Teresa’s life had many similarities with St Francis of Assisi. Like Francis, strict poverty, abandonment of every personal possession and celibacy were all integral parts of her calling. Also like Francis, she formed her own order – known as the Missionaries of Charity – whilst remaining firmly within the structure of the Catholic Church. Whilst the number of monks and nuns has been steadily declining worldwide, the brothers and sisters in the Missionaries of Charity has been growing and growing, numbering about 4000 today.

The exhibition revealed MT’s inner crisis of faith (what a relief to find people like her had crises like you and me). ‘For nearly 50 years MT clung to Jesus in blind faith, not feeling His presence yet profoundly united to Him, radiating His joy and love to each person she met.’

She wrote: ‘Within me everything is icy cold. It is only that blind faith that carries me through. The smile is a big cloak that covers a multitude of pains.’

Mother Teresa referred to herself as ‘Christ’s spouse’, as do all the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. She commented that being ‘Christ’s spouse’ is similar to the love of a wife for a husband. “We are all women who have the ability to make use of this love. We should not be ashamed of loving Jesus with our emotions.”

Speaking of her celibacy, Mother Teresa said, “I cannot in conscience love a creature with the love of a woman for a man, I no longer have the right to give that affection to any other creature but God.”

For Mother Teresa, the love she would have given to a spouse was first directed to God. To her it was a marriage of a different kind. Commenting on this ‘marriage relationship’ she found with God she once dryly said, “But sometimes I find it difficult to smile at Him because He can be so demanding!”

Her achievements are formidable in their international scope and she has become a byword of sanctity. The exhibition, however, showed us not only the depth of a love born out of suffering and obedience but a woman who was a human, like you and me.

‘My vocation is love.’  Mother Teresa got it right and I guess, if we have those four words emblazoned on our hearts, we can’t go too far wrong either.

 
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Posted by on Thu 27th Sep 2012 in Historical

 

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Celibacy – A passion burns within

Celibacy a passion burns within.
A loneliness that also stings
Like barbed wire that grips and rips into your clothes and won’t let go
It leaves its mark
Never the same as God’s tender hand takes you through a land
Of unsurrendered natural man
Each step you take there’s more pain as He crushes you like a rose
To release the beauty deep within, to smell the perfume released through suffering
It was for freedom that Christ set us free.
Stand firm and don’t submit again to that yoke of slavery
Love of Christ drives this gift
A willingness to pay the cost of lifetime singleness
So that others may find that greater gift of life, freedom and home in Christ.
They won’t just survive but learn to live through the sacrifice we give
Don’t get me wrong, tis not all dreary this celibacy
The call still rings clear. Set apart for Christ, His Church
What an honour to die to self and live for this is gain
A joy, a love, a passion burns deep within
Keeps the fire stoked always burning
Laughter, peace, real happiness
To find one’s place in this body of Christ

 
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Posted by on Thu 20th Sep 2012 in Poetry

 

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Rebel turns influential celibate leader: Augustine of Hippo, 354-430

Ruins of ancient Carthage

“Press on then, saints of God, youths and maidens, men and women, celibates and virgins, press on unflaggingly towards the goal! Praise the Lord more sweetly, to whom your thoughts are more fully devoted; hope in Him more eagerly, whom you serve more eagerly; love Him more ardently, whom you please more carefully!”

“But behold, the Lamb walks in the paths of virginity … therefore you, you His celibates, follow Him, even there, since because of this one thing you do follow Him wherever He goes … Let Him be placed in complete possession of your heart, who for you was placed upon the cross.”

Augustine described marriage as a ‘hill of inferior blessing’ and encouraged people ‘to rest on the mountain of the greater blessing of celibacy.’

Augustine was born in 354 to African parents of Berber origin in what is now Algeria in north Africa.

As a young man Augustine studied at the University of Carthage.  As he later related in his famous ‘Confessions’, from this time on he engaged in a reckless, sinful life. He found a girlfriend and they lived together for several years and, whilst he was still a teenager, had a son – Adeodatus.

Despite throwing off his parental restraints, Augustine was a seeker of truth and he felt drawn to a popular philosophy of the time, Manichaeism, which he felt explained the presence of both good and evil in the world – and did not make too many moral demands on him. However, in his late twenties, he rejected this philosophy and became a skeptic for a while until he met a well-known Christian leader in Italy called Ambrose. His intellectual and moral and objections to Christianity were stripped away and Ambrose answered many of his searching questions. In 386 Augustine became a Christian.

Shortly before his conversion Augustine split up with his girlfriend. This left him a single parent for a few years until tragedy struck when his son died.

Augustine was drawn to the celibate life and longed to find out what God wanted for him. He felt a strong desire to live in the desert like so many did at the time, withdrawing from the world to find God. However, what came to matter more and more to him was finding a unity with other believers and instead he devoted his life to living in Christian community.

Augustine was chosen as bishop of Hippo in North Africa and, with his powerful intellect, he refuted much of the false teaching around at the time. He formed several celibate communities but one of his profound beliefs was that celibates were for the church and for the people. They were never to spend all their days in isolation.

For Augustine, Psalm 133 illustrates the relationship of celibates to the church. It says, ‘Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!’ Augustine wrote that Jesus is the Annointed One, the garment onto which drips the oil of unity is the Church and the collar of the garment is the spiritual life celibates bring to the church. Celibates have a vital role in ‘sewing up’ and perfecting the Church for the coming King, Jesus. Augustine spoke once of Christ, knocking at the door of a celibate’s room saying, “Open to Me, preach to others. How shall they listen to Me, if no one preaches!”

Augustine was a great champion of community brotherhood and celibacy. Celibacy was never to be forced on anyone and yet he described marriage as a ‘hill of inferior blessing’ and encouraged people ‘to rest on the mountain of the greater blessing of celibacy.‘ He described celibacy as ‘the best gift’.

Augustine founded communities for celibate women as well as men and to some of these he wrote, ‘But behold, the Lamb walks in the paths of virginity … therefore you, you His celibates, follow Him, even there, since because of this one thing you do follow Him wherever He goes … You have the opportunity; your heart is free from bonds of marriage … If therefore, you owed great love to a husband, how much ought you to love Him for whose sake you have chosen not to have husbands! Let Him be placed in complete possession of your heart, who for you was placed upon the cross.’

Augustine died in 430 at the age of seventy six and can safely be regarded as one of the most influential Christians there has ever been. Church planter and builder, writer, teacher, apologist and prophet – and pioneer of brotherhood and celibacy.

Press on then, saints of God,’ he wrote, ‘youths and maidens, men and women, celibates and virgins, press on unflaggingly towards the goal! Praise the Lord more sweetly, to whom your thoughts are more fully devoted; hope in Him more eagerly, whom you serve more eagerly; love Him more ardently, whom you please more carefully!’

 
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Posted by on Thu 13th Sep 2012 in Historical

 

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An interview with Andy

Andy - given to God

Andy: ‘I wanted to give myself to God as fully as possible’

Andy has been a committed celibate for over ten years.

Undividedblog recently asked him a few questions about his celibacy. Here’s what he said:

Tell us a little about yourself and why you are celibate

I became celibate in 2001 after I had been a Christian for eight years. I was becoming increasingly aware of God’s power and love towards me. I felt like God was limitless and that I was limitless in him. I wanted to give myself to him as fully as possible. It was a very difficult decision because I had always wanted to get married. But God softened my heart gradually until I reached the point where I chose celibacy.

How have you found celibacy? (i.e. your experience)

There was a time shortly after I committed to celibacy when I really regretted it. I felt like I had ruined my life. I was not living in Christian community at the time and celibacy seemed pointless. But when I moved into community, celibacy made perfect sense.

Although it can be tough at times, I regularly thank God for the gift of celibacy because it makes me more available to him and the church.

How have people both inside and outside the church responded to your celibate commitment?

When I made my celibacy commitment, I was a member of a church where the gift of celibacy was not properly understood. Although most people were supportive of my decision, some didn’t like it and said I shouldn’t talk about it. Others thought it was a bit weird and that there must be something wrong with me if I didn’t want to get married. I found that hard.

In the Jesus army, there is a much clearer understanding of the vision and purpose of celibacy and so I feel valued. New friends often ask questions about it and I really enjoy sharing with them my passion for God and how that is expressed in celibacy.

What is your vision as a celibate?

This has changed over the years. When I first became a celibate, I had delusions of grandeur! I thought God was going to make me into some kind of Christian superstar! I hoped to be an international Christian celebrity speaking at churches all around the world!

I’ve realised that celibacy is a much humbler path than that! Single-heartedness in my walk with God. Availability to others. Freedom to love all kinds of people.

 
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Posted by on Fri 7th Sep 2012 in Interviews

 

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Book reviews coming soon …

Open BookComing soon …

Book reviews on celibacy and related issues.

Ever wanted to read a good book about celibacy, or maybe a book about or by a specific celibate man or woman, but not quite known where to look?

Hopefully we’ll be able to point you in the right direction. We have a plan to post up first-hand reviews on lots of good books about this kind of stuff.

If there’s a book you’d like to recommend, let us know in the comments below, or send us an email. Thanks.

 
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Posted by on Fri 7th Sep 2012 in Books

 

Doris’ story: celibacy frees me to live out more fully what God has invested in me

Doris - freedom in celibacy

Doris: “I love celibacy because of the freedom it gives”

Doris (34) was born in East Germany and now lives in London. She tells her story:

“When I was 13 I watched a documentary about orphan kids in Africa. It got to me and made me cry and I realised that without God I couldn’t make a difference.

“I knew I needed to put my life in God’s hands to make it worthwhile. I prayed, ‘God, have my life.’ Later, when I was 17, I was baptised in water and the Holy Spirit.

“When I was 18 I read Shadow of the Almighty, a book written by the wife of Jim Elliot, a missionary in Ecuador who had been killed trying to reach a primitive Indian tribe. As a young man, Jim had basically said, ‘If God wants me to stay single, I will.’ I wondered, ‘How can anyone pray like that?’ I really wanted to get married. I’d been brought up with five brothers and sisters and wanted to marry young. My parents’ marriage, too, was a good one – an example I could follow. I was so challenged by this book and I prayed for the ability to pray like Jim Elliot.

“Around this time I was apprenticed as a health care assistant and came to London for a gap year as an au pair. Later on, I was hoping to go to Africa to work in an orphanage.”

While in London, Doris was invited to Spreading Flame, a Jesus Fellowship community house in Acton. She said, “I fell in love with the vision of community and let go of my plans to go to Africa. God was calling me here.

“When I moved into Spreading Flame I was inspired about celibacy by the example of two young celibate sisters. People were really doing it! I prayed about it and the more I got to know the calling of the Jesus Army, the more I fell in love with the vision of celibacy, although I still wanted to marry and have kids.

“I felt God say, ‘Choose which gift you want’ (marriage or celibacy). I thought it would be better if He made the choice! In one of our Sunday morning church meetings I sensed God offering me the gift of celibacy. I had the impression of a grey parcel; it didn’t look very attractive but inside I knew it would be colourful. Again God gave me a choice.

Finally, at the age of 24, Doris made her decision to make a celibacy vow. ‘I’ve never regretted it although God tested me from the word go.’ Yes, Doris has fallen in love since and has been very tested on celibacy but, “the calling has outweighed the testing. In times like that I’ve hung onto my friends. People believed in me despite my struggles – and that made me believe I could pull through.

“I love celibacy because of the freedom it gives and I can do the things I love to do such as spending time with young sisters in the church – something I really love. I also love doing domestic work at Battle Centre, the Christian community house where I live. It is an amazing way to build the kingdom of God. The kitchen is the hub of the house. I’m available to people – celibacy gives me that freedom.”

What about the future? “I’m expecting, anticipating new things – and still excited about living in community. I look forward to making disciples and seeing them come into the kingdom of God. So far I’ve been mainly a friend to people but I want this to develop more and more into spiritual motherhood.”

Doris finished by saying: “Celibacy frees me to live out more fully what God has invested in me. I want to be content with whatever situation God puts me in. It may sometimes be day to day ordinary things like scrubbing floors and loos and kitchen pans but, even in these, I can find the extraordinary, supernatural life of God.”

 
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Posted by on Thu 6th Sep 2012 in Contemporary

 

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