a priest's musings on the journey

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Perspective: On Celibacy

I am often asked by non-Episcopalians how it is that we Anglicans are different from the Romans. I rehearse the standard litany that we memorized in seminary- or was that Confirmation class?- and somewhere in the list I say, "...and we Anglican priest's do not have to take a vow of celibacy; we can marry." Of course, if they know I'm gay the next question is, "even if you're gay? You can have a partner?" Then I explain that yes, in some parts of the Anglican Church a gay or lesbian priest could in fact be partnered, but that it is a source of great contention in the wider Church.

I happen to be in a diocese that has three very supportive bishops, as far as the issue of the inlcusion of gays and lesbians in the Church is concerned. I have been encouraged and accepted by my bishop since I first came out to him almost three years ago. I believe that if I were partnered that I would continue to have his support, and yet, I am not partnered. I am not even dating or looking for anyone special. In fact, I have been celibate for the past two years.

When some in the gay community discover that I'm celibate, they don't quite know what to think about me. When they find that it is my own choice, and not one forced upon me by an ecclesiastical authority, they think I have lost my mind. Why would I be celibate if I did not HAVE to be? Believe me, it's a question I ask myself often. I am not celibate because I feel called by God to live life as a chaste human being. I do not have the vocation of singleness or chastity that a monk or nun might have. Nonetheless, I choose to be celibate because that lifestyle makes life easier for me. Even though my bishops are supportive, a large number of parishes in the diocese do not share their vision for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the Church. They might accept it "over there somewhere", but they don't want a partnered gay priest in their parish. So, being single makes me employable in the buckle of the Bible Belt.

More importantly, being celibate gives me the hope of being able to spend as much time in my son's life as possible. His mother struggles with homophobia; a fear that she never had until we separated. In college and grad school she had many gay and lesbian friends. She studied with them, went to dinner and parties with them, socialized with them and prayed with them. I never heard her say one derrogatory word about gay people- until those hurtful words were directed at me after our separation. Of course, I know where those words came from- they came from the same people in the Episcopal Church who are tearing our Church apart because they allow fear and hate to rule their hearts rather than mercy and love. Because of this fear and ignorance, she believes that I am an immoral person. I actually believe she thinks that I will somehow turn our son gay- as if I had the power to even do that. This fear has led her to keep our son away from me as much as possible. So, I live a chaste lifestyle to allay her fears, and to give myself a chance to be as involved as I can in my son's life.

For the past year I have felt abused and less than human because of this choice. Yes, I make it freely, but only because unjust circumstances demand the choice be made. And what's worse, is that is doesn't seem to have made any difference. I am still not in a parish - in fact I was forced to resign my last parish by a very homophobic bishop, even though I was celibate- and my ex-wife still refuses to adopt a custody arrangement that would allow our son to be physically present with each of us in an equitable manner.

However, this week I had an epiphany. I can't remember what I was reading, but a monk was speaking about his vow of celibacy. He spoke of it in terms of spiritual discipline: he spoke of it in terms of fasting. It dawned on me that my celibacy was indeed a fast. I don't feel called to chastity and I might or might not remain celibate forever. But, in this season of my life, it is the fast that I must make. I give up the goodness of sexual intamacy for something even better: for time with my son; for the ability to exercise my priestly vocation. By making it a spiritual discipline and a seasoned fast, I take away the abiltiy of the unjust to oppress me. Instead, just as Christ was empowered by the Cross to win Victory over evil and death, I will become empowered by my choice and I will gain victory over my oppressor's desires to make me a victim. In my weakness, Christ will be strong; in my darkness, Christ will be light.

I would not be honest if I did not admit that this choice fightens me a bit. My greatest fear is growing old and being lonely; not having someone to be intimate with- not sexual with, but intimate with. I do not want to end up like a grouchy, frustrated, bitter old man. I want to love and be loved; to nurture and be nurtured; to embrace and be embraced. For now, I can only lay those fears at the feet of the one who walked the treacherous waves of the storm- tossed waters and said to his disciples, "Do not be afraid: it is I." For now, I can only look for nurture and compassion in the community of the baptized and in my families of origin and choice.

I hold on to my hope and belief, that in the end all will be redeemed; all will be made right. All that I have suffered and sacrificed will have been for some greater good- and all will have been lifted up and hallowed in the great Sacrifice that God made, when God was humbled to become a human being and humilated to die as a criminal: then the victory of the Cross and Resurrection will be the victory that we all share, in some part now, but its fullness when the Day of Peace holds sway.

:: posted by Padre Rob+, 3:53 PM


I am full of admiration for you. i know so many Catholic priests struggle with celibacy and our church has lost some wonderful priests who had to get married.
Blogger John the organist, at 1:18 PM  

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