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What Has Celibacy To Do With Undivided Devotion?

Recently someone sent the following comment into Undividedblog:

“I do not understand what being celibate has to do with being undivided in devotion to God. The people that seem most Christ-like are married couples who do good work together for others.  

“Right now, the requirement that priests be chosen from a celibate male pool is leaving the Catholic Church so short of priests that it is undermining Catholicism.”

Hey, thanks for writing in. It’s all thought-provoking wilfstuff: I’ve asked my friend, Wilf, to comment and I’ve written my own thoughts after.

Wilf: I think you are right about many married people.However for some people, those who Jesus said could recieve the gift of celibacy, it can and does open up something very wonderful and powerful: it is gift which can sharpen and empower all the other gifts a person has.Having said this, I do not think it should be a prerequisite for the priesthood. Maybe something more like the Orthodox approach would be better, where priests can be married or celibate.

I guess celibacy, for me, is a lot to do with freedom – from family responsibilities and so having time and energy available for other things. Freedom, however, must be treated as responsibly as commitment. Will I use or misuse this gift of freedom?

Ideally celibates use their freedom in order to live poured-out lives – for God, for others.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case and I find this a challenge everyday – to love foremost, to serve and to pray. There are, sadly and gladly, very good examples around of both celibacy’s misuse and use. I guess, let’s not tar everyone with the same brush.

I have observed, as you have, shining Christian couples exemplifying lives poured out for others. Wonderful. Indeed, personally, what would I have done without such people? I have also had the good fortune to see some brilliant examples of celibates, ‘not counting their lives precious to themselves’ (Acts 20:4) but living lives sold out for others.

I believe that, in a healthy church, celibates and married people work together. Celibates often thrive when they closely connect with families and visa versa. Personally, I have really enjoyed the friendship of my married friends and their children and this has been very beneficial – for me as well as them. And then, there is the freedom in celibacy to give oneself to spiritual sons and daughters and one takes on commitment then of a different but equally important type. I find there is no lack of people wanting mentoring, mothering, befriending – if you have time. Yes, celibates, we have time – and hearts of love can go a long way.

I come from a tradition where we have married, single and celibate leaders. I am glad for this as I believe it brings wholeness to the church. We need each other.

 
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Posted by on Mon 18th Mar 2013 in Contemporary

 

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Celibate Heart: Married to Christ the Lamb

One of a selection of poems written by people in the Jesus Fellowship about celibacy

I have a gift which brings me joy,
Purchase of Jesus’ blood,
My life a sacrifice poured out
To build the church of God.

      A gift the Spirit keeps renewed,
      My soul knows one desire,
      To speak the power of Jesus Christ
      And bring revival fire.

            Always this gift I'll recognise,
            I pledge to Him again,
            My will, my heart, my all is His,
            "Married" to Christ the Lamb.

 New Creation Farm, Northamptonshire. 1994.
 
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Posted by on Fri 24th Aug 2012 in Poetry

 

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A crucified life: John Chrysostom: fourth century celibate leader

Sunset in Istanbul (once Constantinople)

‘God does not refuse it [the gift of celibacy] to anyone who asks Him for it with fervour … this gift is granted to all those who wish for it and who ask for it.’

‘The root and flower of celibacy is a crucified life.’

To celibates: ‘You have a heavenly bridegroom, indeed for whom it is well worth making any sacrifice here on earth.’

John Chrysostom 344? – 407

Soon after his death this celebrated leader of the eastern church gained the virtue name Chrysostom, meaning ‘golden mouth’, due to his great eloquence and ability to preach the gospel in a way that everyone could understand.

John Chrysostom was born in Antioch, Syria, and his father, Secundus, was chief commander of the imperial troops there. Secundus died young and the care of his young family was left to his wife, Anthusa, who was only twenty. She was a devoted Christian and never remarried. One of John’s pagan tutors, on seeing her courage in widowhood commented, ‘God, what women these Christians have!’

Around the year 374, John retired to the mountains near Antioch and for four years lived with some monks who lived in community there. Describing the experience he says, ‘The cold words mine and thine were banished … no one possessed anything as his own and the quality of life there was as different from the world as the security of a peaceful harbour is from the most tempestuous ocean.’ Later he lived as a hermit in a cave but ill health caused him to return to the city.

In 381 John became a deacon, in 384 he was ordained a priest and in 398 he was appointed, against his will, Archbishop of Constantinople but, from the start, his no-compromise stance and his powerful and controversial preaching made him enemies as well as friends. The previous bishop of Constantinople had lived at great expense but John lived very frugally and gave all excess money to the poor and sick of the city. Not only did he sell the luxurious furniture belonging to his extravagant predecessor, he even smelted down some sacred church vessels and gave the proceeds to the poor. He started many hospitals in the city which were staffed by priests whom, he insisted, had to be not only of holy character but full of tenderness, compassion and wisdom too.

John reformed the priesthood and with his eloquent, fiery, persuasive preaching, fearlessly attacked unholiness in the church. Yet, underlying this, was a tender and passionate love for his flock. He could describe himself as their ‘slave’ and said that same slavery was his delight. Particularly knowing his special care and oversight were a very devoted group of celibate women belonging to his flock led by a certain woman, Nicareta, and in his preaching he never tired of recommending that celibacy chosen for God’s sake was the better way, for those who were called to it. He wrote:

God does not refuse it [the gift of celibacy] to anyone who asks Him for it with fervour … this gift is granted to all those who wish for it and who ask for it.”

John was a man of action, sending missionaries abroad and serving the underprivileged in his home city, Constantinople. Yet, undergirding his powerful ministry and great productiveness was a heart which loved quietness, contemplation and prayer.

John Chrysostom wrote a good deal, and included amongst his writings are three small works, entitled: ‘On Virginity,’ ‘To a Young Widow’ and ‘Single Marriage’. In these he sets out his views on the single life. For him celibacy was not so much about abstinence but about giving oneself wholesale to purity and finding a special consecration to Christ.  It is not an easy way, he writes, for ‘one must walk on burning coals without being

a crucified life

scorched, on a naked sword without being wounded, since lust is as overpowering as fire and steel.’ But these temptations, writes John, can be overcome and the rewards one finds in the celibate call are beyond any price. Indeed, through the power of the Spirit the gift of celibacy can have a transforming effect on human beings. ‘The root and flower of celibacy is a crucified life,’ John writes to celibates and yet, ‘You have a heavenly Bridegroom, indeed for Whom it is well worth making any sacrifice here on earth.’

John’s outspokenness against the city’s vices won him enemies, not least the Empress, Eudoxia, who secured his banishment from Constantinople on two occasions. The second time he was exiled he was dispatched to the far reaches of the empire where the inhospitable climate caused his weakening strength to finally fail. If he had had a thousand lives he would be ready to lay them all down for his flock, he had said at his first banishment and now, on the eve of his death he had a vision of a former martyr standing before him saying: “Be of good courage, brother John; tomorrow we shall be together.”

And so he died, greatly venerated; his remains were eventually taken in honour first to Constantinople and then to Rome.

 
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Posted by on Thu 23rd Aug 2012 in Historical

 

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