Lay Celibacy and Two Kinds of Eschatological Witness

I am all about the clickbait headlines today, people.

Anyway, I did a talk recently on “The Radical Challenge of Celibacy.” It wasn’t esp well-structured and needs a lot of conceptual work, but I did like the ending, where I contrasted two types of eschatological witness.

Catholics may be familiar with the idea that celibacy is a witness to our life in Heaven, where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage. This is often discussed in terms of priestly or monastic celibacy, but it’s equally relevant to laypeople who are living out their vocations under circumstances where we don’t plan for or see much chance of marriage.

Living out lay celibacy in contemporary Western culture requires an especially demanding trust in God. We have to trust that He will care for us when our families won’t (and this is an esp pressing concern for gay people who have been rejected by their families of origin, or whose relationships to their families of origin are still strained). We have to trust that He will make our loneliness fruitful, that He will accept the love we long to give, that He will honor the sacrifices we make even if those sacrifices go unnoticed or face severe judgment by others. We are called to accept a way of life for which our society provides no structural support, and which our own churches typically ignore.

We do this because, among other things, we trust in the spiritual realities: the life to come, the world we do not yet see but to which our lives can stand as signposts. If I did not trust in Jesus and His promises I would have no interest in a celibate life. I’m poorly suited for it (more on this soon I think!) and don’t experience any perceived calling to celibacy. I’ve explored alternative, nonmarital vocations because I’ve had to. I don’t regret it–but I wouldn’t have done it without faith in God, belief in the Resurrection and hope in the life to come.

And we are not the only ones called to live in this difficult witness to the reality of the world to come.

The Church as Bride of Christ is part of our eschatology; She is the bride at the wedding feast of the Lamb. And the small-c church, the individual parish or community, can witness to this truth. The church can be a place where we see hints or promises of the Kingdom of Heaven. It can be the place where those who have sacrificed family and material well-being for the Gospel can find home, kin, belonging.

The fact that our churches so often fail in their communal eschatological witness doesn’t excuse you from your individual eschatological witness. But then, too, none of us can truly witness to the Kingdom of Heaven alone. There are no tables for one at the wedding feast of the Lamb. When we call our churches and Christian institutions to support those living out our vocations in lay celibacy, we aren’t only asking them to support us in this life. We are asking them to be a sign of the life to come.


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