Some years back a young friend Meghul used to come to meet me. With him I have discussed many things. But recently when he came to meet me unexpectedly I did not recognize him and I was very busy. He greeted me very enthusiastically and gifted me a costly ball pen.
Usually when someone comes to meet me I leave all my works aside and respond to the person with much warmth and love. But god knows why, I was able to do so on that day!
Perhaps the question, he asked me, put me off. Imagine a stranger asking you a personal question as he did. “Father, what do you think? Can a person live without sex?”
“Sex is a very natural thing in human beings. A man or a woman with his/her appropriate partner enjoy sex at suitable time and place and thus make their lives enjoyable and fruitful. This is the usual natural way of sex. But with god’s grace a man or a woman can stay away from sex for a noble cause which he/she has embraced”, I said.
Then I explained to Meghul about the celibacy embraced by a religious person like me after long training. I explained him that during the training or even later a person feels strongly that he/she cannot live a celibate life. Then he/she leaves such a life and choose a life-partner and lead a family life.
I guess that Meghul was not very happy with my short explation of sexual life and celibate life. I was not happy myself with my brief presentation of sex. For, Hindus and Christians have very different ideas of celibate life and married life and totally different views of life. But that day I did not have the time and leisure to discuss all aspects of celibate and married life.
Both the celibate life and the married life are inspired and prompted by love. Love the most powerful force in human life. None can live without love. Both celibate life and married life are led by love. But life with love is very different from in married life and in celibate life. Love is lived in different ways. In Christian vision of life in both kind of love life one is not superior to another. Both kinds of love life are dignified life. In both the kind of life there is God’s love, sharing God’s love.
In the love-life with God men/women expressed sexual union with one’s life-partner. But in loving and experiencing God’s love in celibate life no other human person comes on the way. In celibate love-life God is everything. A celibate life is God centred life. Married life and celibate life are complementary. They are not superior or inferior to one another.
But people often compare both kind of married love-life and celibate love-life and people hold celibate life superior to married life! How do you feel if you compare your right hand with your left hand? Both your hands are equal in everything. With training and practice each hand may have different facilities or capacities. For instance I can write letter with my right hand; but by nature both hands are equal. They are not superior or inferior to one another. Celibate love-life and married love-life are something similar. A person leading a married love-life is more involved worldly matters while a celibate person is more concerned with godly spiritual matters. But there is no need to compare them and consider superior or inferior to one another.
Personally speaking while I was in primary school, that is, from the time I began to think I have felt special attraction to celibate life. I consider it today as divine inspiration. I faced many obstacles and difficulties on the way of this attraction. As the eldest son of the family my parents did not want me to be a missionary priest going away from home. While I was in school final year, with my insistence my parents were prepared to grand me permission to go for priesthood but only in the local diocese in Kerala. They wanted me to become a diocesan priest like my maternal uncle, who was an efficient and ideal priest besides being a great friend and counselor of my parents.
In my childhood my grandfather was my ‘great friend’. One day my grandfather came to my house and told my parents, “If Varghese wants to become a missionary priest in North India, let him go. If he does not like there let him come back”. My parents loved and respected my grandfather. So willy nilly my loving parents gave me permission. In the process I lost one year and I come to Gujarat in 1963. Then, after long training I received ordination to priesthood in Rome, Italy on 21 June 1947.
From the time I put my first steps in Gujarat I have felt that I have reached my destination on earth. For the last 54 years I have been living a very happy and contented life as a celibate missionary priest. In this, I believe that it is not my power or achievement but a divine power and inspiration is continually leading me in celibate love-life.
On that day when Meghul asked me about sex life, that is if a person can live or not live without sex, I did not think it proper to share with him as then I did not have the leisure time. Besides, I know well if I am able to live a celibate love-life, it is not my merit but God’s power and mercy working through me.
Perhaps we can understand better this from a biblical perspective. The creation story of the Bible says, “It is not good for a man to live alone.” (Genesis 2:18). Early in the creation story “God said, ‘And now we will make human beings, they will be like us and resemble us. … so God created them male and female”. (Genesis 1:26-27). God has created human beings with sexual instinct/power. So life without sex or free from sexual union is a step against God given natural instinct. It is like swimming against the strong current. So by mere human effort sex-free life is not possible.
Here we need to understand well what the Bible says. Jesus speaking about celibacy, that is, a life free from sexual union says, “This teaching (life free from sex) does not apply to everyone, but only to those to whom God has given it… and others do not marry for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Let him who can accept this teaching do so” (Mathew 19: 11-12). Jesus has identified three kinds of people. (First) “Some, because they were born that way; (Second), a few others, because men made them that way: and (Third) some others do not marry for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven” (Mathew 19: 12).
Like myself all Christian celibate (religious) men and women who are living free from sexual union know sex free unmarried life is a gift of God. That is to say, men and women living without sexual union know that their celibate life is a special gift of God. They are able to live such life only with divine power. To those who are leading such committed life Jesus says, “You did not choose me; I choose you; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures” (John 15:16).
In the Old Testament God has chosen the Prophets in variety of ways. Similarly a celibate religious person like me knows that God has chosen him in a unique way. So a religious person – a Sanyasi or a Sanyasini – with great humility dedicate himself/herself completely at the feet of the Lord. And God becomes everything for him/her. Usually a Religious person commits himself/herself publically on a particular day. That lifelong commitment is to be lived daily through taking recourse to daily prayers, meditation and other spiritual practices. In Religious life a person lives a life of sacrifice and seeks and gets spiritual counsel from experienced elders.
In married life husband and wife use their sexual urge to submit to each other and make happy and create new life. A Religious person in a very different way surrender himself/herself completely to God and dedicate himself/herself to the chosen path of service with total commitment. In this a religiously committed person knows very well that it is not his/her power and strength but divine power is at work in his/her life. So a Religious person’s life is completely dependent in the hands of God. He/She is totally dependent on God.
A person who has embraced Religious life in Christianity has an idea, a model, and a goal that is Jesus Christ. Jesus during his earthly life was totally dedicated to the will of his Father-God. Those who read the New Testament of the Bible know well that the only desire of Jesus was to do his Father’s will. So surrendering himself completely to his Father-God Jesus embraced the ignonimous death on the Cross. The enemies of Jesus believed that with the death in the Cross the end has come of Jesus life and his message. But Jesus rose from death on the third day. During his life as well as through his post Resurrection appearances Jesus gave the message that there is a life beyond death. A Religious person not only accepts this life after death but also prefigures that life and tries to live that life.
Here the words of St. Paul are very appropriate regarding my celibate life. He writes to the Church at Corinth, “An unmarried man (& woman) concerns himself with the Lord’s work because he is trying to please the Lord. But a married man concerns himself with worldly matters, because he wants to please his wife; and so he is pulled in two directions” (1Cor 7:32-33).
Finally my answer to Maghul’s question is that, a person cannot live without sex, that is, love. But when sex that is love is God centred then a Christian Religious person can live without surrendering his or her sexual urge. For his/her sexual life is lived in complete surrender to his/her Lord God.
Changed On: 16-07-2018
Next Change: 01-08-2018
Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018