Masculine Spirituality Part 3 or Dealing With Urges

I didn't get a chance to talk much about my sexuality workshop in January, which is unfortunate because there were some good things I learned from Don Miller when I was in Springfield, IL. While we spent time talking a lot about theory rather than the practicality of being a celibate religious male, we did talk about how we maintain celibate relationships with women while still maintaining the sexuality that we have as males.

So if you've ever wondered how a normal guy attempts to live celibacy, grab something to eat and drink, and consider this your warning.

In spite of what most people believe, the vow of celibacy (or discipline, for those who become diocesan priests) is much more than just giving up sex. This misconceived notion that a celibate life is solely about the act of sex comes from society, media, friends, family, etc. In fact, men who join religious life simply to give up sex and relationships with women are the wrong candidates for this type of lifestyle. For example:
  • people who have a bad or undeveloped relationship with the opposite gender
  • people who have a bad or undeveloped relationship with sex
  • people confused with their own sexuality
  • people who want to get away from the opposite sex completely
  • people who don't want the responsibility of a family
The first part of understanding celibacy is understanding exactly what you are giving up, and what you are also accepting.

By living this life, I am choosing to give up:
  1. Looking for a female companion to love intimately
  2. Committing solely to one woman
  3. Creating a family and raising a child or children
  4. Engaging in "genital activity" (i.e. sex and everything else)
While the list is direct and to the point, no one should assume that a. it's an easy task for any man to do b. that the struggle ends after a person has taken vows, or c. that the Church feels we should avoid contact with all women. I belong to a mendicant order, meaning that after my formation process, I will be working in the community with others. It is short-sighted to assume that I will only be working with men, or that I will simply turn off my "manhood." This is the second misconception about celibacy.

God created man and woman to love each other, and he gave them desire for that same reason. We are, by nature, social and intimate beings. We have a fire within each of us that drives us to find something more than ourselves, something that fuels the love and desire that we have for another human being. These are not bad thoughts or impure urges, they are part of how we were created by God; and he gave us those things for a reason.

We are sexual beings, and that sexuality that is inside of me is something I must incorporate into my vocation as a Capuchin Friar. That doesn't mean I'll be able to act and do the same things I did before I was a Capuchin, but it does mean that I recognize my need for interaction, communication, and intimacy with women...but with specific non-negotiable boundaries.

Here is a perfect example of celibacy and how I deal (or struggle) with it, depending on the point of view:

Yesterday when visiting a soup kitchen in Brooklyn, I was introduced to some of the staff and took some time to talk with them. Some of the staff were younger women, and some of those women fit the type that I am into. I spoke with a wonderful young woman for about 20 minutes, exchanging information about each other, learning our different backgrounds, and sharing the occasional joke. For obvious reasons, we had a lot of things in common.

Any man or woman knows that depending on the circumstance, inflection, body language, vibes, and how each participant in this conversation feels, the outcome of a conversation like this can lead to numerous places. Therefore when I interact with women now, I have to consider a number of things:
  • What is my overall intention? Am I sharing information because our jobs are similar? Are we just talking politely? Am I attracted to her?
  • What kind of message am I sending? Is the topic strictly professional, or are we getting too personal? Is my body language appropriate to the conversation? Am I sending out any vibe I shouldn't be?
  • What kind of message am I getting? Are we still talking business, or is she flirting with me? Do I think she is sending me signals? If she is, what am I doing about it?
  • What are the boundaries? What can and can't I say as a Postulant? What about as a guy? Is it right to ask her for her email or facebook address? What would I do with it if she gave it to me?
All of these questions, and about a hundred more, run through my head when I talk to women. In reality, it's not unusual. Realistically, most guys are asking the exact same type of questions when they're out on a date, in school, or doing any other activity where they're interacting with the opposite sex. The big difference between those guys and me is that they are looking for a different result than I am. While they may be looking for a future companion, I am making sure I am not looking for that type of intimacy, or that I don't appear to be interested.

While I'm sure the attractive young lady I spoke with has a wonderful boyfriend who loves her very much, the interaction I described is the way that I deal with celibacy from a "giving up" standpoint. Regardless of what could have happened, I'm working on becoming a professional religious, which means a celibate life for me. While I may have ideas that come into my head, it's up to me to recognize the choice I'm making and to be loyal to that decision.

This brings me to the third and most misunderstood concept of celibacy: Celibacy is only about giving up. In fact, it is through celibacy that we gain the world. In three simple words, we choose celibacy "for the Kingdom." And that, boys and girls, is a topic worthy of it's own separate post. A good discussion for another time.

Later that night when I got home, the guys joked at how I was hitting on a woman from one of the ministries. The guys I live with understand that same "dance" I do with regards to dealing with women. As for what was really going through my mind at the time...well that's just none of your business. :p

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