Chapter Six: The Celibate Life: An Encounter with Beauty
by Madeline Watkins
The beauty of a life of chastity is the answer to a culture that has normalized “hooking up,” sex before marriage and cohabitation. Young adults have been inundated with the message that chastity and celibacy are outdated, unattainable, and even abnormal or unhealthy, but this is simply not true.
I want to focus on one of Pope Francis’s favorite words – “encounter” – as the remedy to this cultural problem. When we encounter authentic beauty, it strikes a chord deep within us, or as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, it “wounds” us (check out Benedict XVI’s 2009 Meeting with Artists for more about that). The world is in need of an encounter with Christ, the truly Beautiful One, who “fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 22). The world needs Christians to show the joy and beauty of the Gospel, the true freedom found in following Christ and His teachings. This is the way to reach young people who accept the cultural norms without reflection—showing them concretely what the alternative is, and that it is better.
As the WMOF catechesis says, celibacy includes “not only priests and vowed religious, but all those who are chaste outside of marriage….” (no. 99). I had a profound encounter with people living this way through the Catholic student center on my college campus. The fruit of the love and life of the priests, sisters and lay students I met there was unmistakably good. Their joy was palpable, attractive and infectious. As the WMOF catechesis states, “the possibilities for life which young people find imaginable depend on the examples they see and the stories they hear” (no. 108). I am grateful to God for placing these witnesses in my life in my college years, for my encounter with them opened my eyes to the incredible vision of the human person that the Church gives us and invites us to live.
I think also of my life the past few years as a 20-something and the friendships I have been blessed to have, and I recognize with great gratitude how fruitful they have been through His grace. To have a group of friends who are intentionally trying to live virtuous lives as they discern their vocations, and who support one another through prayer and fellowship, is an incredible gift. Single young adults need this type of healthy community, “an alternative space” (no. 101). Weary of what the impoverished culture has offered us, my friends and I desire more in and from life: more depth, authentic beauty, love, joy and freedom, and this is what we have each found in Christ. Encouraging one another in our relationships with Christ helps us to walk with the Lord toward whatever vocations we may be called to down the road.
The experience of encounter is necessary for understanding something different from what we know. My encounters with those who are celibate in the family of God, be they religious or lay faithful, have encouraged me in my own journey to follow Christ more fully, and to pray for the grace to be a faithful witness to Christ and his Church through virtuous living. Celibacy is truly a beautiful way of life that demonstrates that the richness and depth of a life lived with Christ is what we all desire and are made for.
About the author
Madeline Watkins is a staff assistant in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She holds a Masters of Theological Studies from The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington. DC.