Wearing white to a friend's wedding
This past weekend, I attended and participated in the wedding of one of my best friends.
It was a beautiful wedding Mass. The music was gorgeous, friends from all over the country had arrived in town for it, and you could see the depth and breadth of the love my friend had for her soon-to-be husband.
Also, in a moment of delicious irony, I was also wearing white on her wedding day since I was in my religious habit for the ceremony.
Standing there in my white Dominican habit, I was struck by three thoughts, back-to-back.
1. How wonderful it is to see this visible expression of God's own love for us as represented in the Sacrament of Marriage. God looks at us with the same intensity of love and through the sacrificial death of His Son, has proven forever and is proving even now, his magnificent love for us.
2. But then came the next thought: This is not an expression I will ever have myself. This is what I, and several other religious, like to call 'an experience of celibacy.'
As a religious, I am vowed to a life of celibate chastity. I will always in a sense, be looking 'from the outside in' on moments such as this one. Even if I preserve and become a Dominican priest, I am still on the outside. This type of intimacy, this type of love, is not one meant for me. And there is hot knife that pierces your heart at that realization.
3. And the most surprising truth of all: I am okay with this state of life I find myself in. More than okay, I find it good. This life is not a privation, it is not something harsh and dreadful I am placing upon myself like chains or heavy weights. Rather it is an unexpected gift of a different type of love and a different type of freedom.
Now, it can seem a little taboo, even in these days, to talk about celibacy and chastity, but I think it's important to put this conversation and these thoughts in context.
Several of the senior friars in our community remember, and have related with me, how in their own initial formation they recall celibate chastity always being referred to as "the other vow." It was seen as this dark and dreadful loneliness hiding in a corner, a lurking creature waiting just around the bend for anyone who might be considering religious life as their vocation.
Except...it's not. It's not terrible or dreadful or any of those things. And if it was dreadful, it would not be the type of chastity and celibacy that the Church has called us to. That chastity, that life that we as religious are called to proclaim, is and must always be built on love and never on fear or dread.
For all religious, and especially for Dominicans, the promise of celibate chastity acts as another facet to the Mystery of God that is Love. A love that comes into our hearts and into our communities.
As Dominicans, we will never have that physical intimacy that is proper to a married couple. I will never have that. But the intimacy of brothers, of a community, is our way of participating in the universal nature of God's love.
The married couple shows the exclusiveness of God's love. He desires all of us, not a piece or a part of ourselves, but our very being. He is the Lover and he wishes to make us his Beloved.
But we as religious show the breadth of his love, the universal nature of it, that brings all men and women, poor and rich, praised and persecuted, together into the embrace of love that is the Church.
Now, different religious would give different accounts of this in their lives, but during this wedding, I tried to imagine myself in a similar situation and failed spectacularly. I could see myself as the priest or the deacon, I could see myself lectoring, or serving or simply dancing at the reception, but I could not see myself being a part of a married couple.
And through reflection on this experience of celibacy, I came to realize that failure was no failure at all. Their path to love and to holiness, is not mine. And mine is not theirs.
This realization is a part of the curious grace of God that shapes and moves our lives and has brought me here to a place without fear. This event, this experience of celibacy, was not a vocation distraction, but rather a vocation clarification.
I do not fear poverty. I do not fear obedience. And, surprisingly, I do not fear celibate chastity, this 'other vow.'
After all, Jesus promised his burden was easy and his yoke was light. Once you let him fit that yoke to you, take your measurements and consider your own manner of life and calling, you realize how true that statement is. God's love is not limited to marriage, just as holiness is not limited to religious life.
God is so much grander than that and his love calls us into participation, the only question is this: How will you respond?
Written by Br. Dominick Jean, O.P.
For more on celibacy from our Constitutions see LCO 26, 28, 29
Dominican Friars of St. Louis, MO
The Dominican Friars living at St. Dominic Priory in St. Louis, MO are members of both the Central U.S. Province and the Southern U.S. Province. Our student friars go through their formation together at the St. Louis Studium, otherwise known as the House of Studies.