Witnessing to a Kingdom Not of This World

by Fr. David Songy, O.F.M.Cap.

In this sexually confused era, a religious vow of chastity could seem a curious anomaly, an unlikely virtue. A closer look at the Capuchin charism of chaste celibacy might be helpful.

This first requires an examination of chastity in general. Consider the fact that when Jesus said, "There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:12), he was not addressing priests or religious.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states this clearly: "All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has "put on Christ," the model for all chastity.

All Christ's faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity" (n. 2348).

Chastity flows from baptismal grace. As a Christian matures sexually and emotionally, this grace expresses itself according to that person's state in life, offering a unique path of holiness.

Like Christ, each Christian is invited to express affection in a fruitful manner. Marriage, single life, priesthood, and consecrated life are multiform expressions of grace.

Saint Paul VI expressed this beautifully for married couples in Humanae Vitae, describing a chastity whose affection (unitive aspect) is also fruitful (procreative aspect). With Christlike love, couples donate themselves fully to each other and generate new life. Even those unable to have children express a love that is fruitful by nature.

Baptism also endows the single man or woman with the grace to express affection in a fruitful manner. God presents each of His children with a particular opportunity to love. It would be a mistake for any Christian to think that chastity requires only abstaining from sexual sin.

Priests profess a vow of celibate chastity, becoming spouse of the Church, spiritual fathers, and signs of the Kingdom of God. Their expression of affection bears new life in the many souls entrusted to their care.

A religious vocation flows from a charism, i.e., a particular manifestation of the Spirit, approved by the Church and inviting members to a unique form of celibate chastity. To understand the nature of this virtue within a religious community, one must consult its official documents.

The Capuchin Constitutions begin with a generic description of the vow of chastity: "The reason for leading out life in chastity is the preferential love of God and of all peoples; in a unique way, in fact, in confers a greater freedom of heart through which we are able to cling to God with an undivided love and to become all things to all peoples (1 Cor 7:32-34; 9:22)."

However, the Constitutions then describe how the Capuchin charism of celibate chastity is distinct: "By always guarding and cultivating this gift, our fraternity becomes a splendid sign of the mystery through which the Church is united to her only Spouse. (Eph 5:22ff; 2 Cor 11:2; Mt 19:11; 1 Cor 15:28, cf. LM X 1). The charism of celibacy . . . prophetically proclaims that kingdom in our midst and offers a witness to the future life in which those who have risen are brothers to one another before God Who will be all in all for them (cf. LM VIII 1).”

Notice the difference between priestly celibate chastity and Capuchin celibate chastity: A priest expresses affection as spouse of the Church and a sign of the Kingdom. A Capuchin fraternity has this spousal nature. The Capuchin fraternity witnesses to the Kingdom of God.

Capuchin chastity, like every form of chastity, is not simply the avoidance of inappropriate affection. Rather, every friar "puts on Christ" in the fervent embrace of fraternal life.

The community expresses the virtue, similar to a couple expressing this virtue through marriage. Capuchin chastity is a commitment to loving the brothers first, which – like marriage after the honeymoon – quickly shifts from idyllic to mundane.

We admire couples who fully embrace the challenges of fidelity through "good times and in bad." In a similar way, a fraternity that loves each other faithfully, despite crisis and suffering, testifies to the love of Christ.

Every expression of true Christian chastity is a sign of a Kingdom not of this world. Marriages can last a lifetime. It's okay to have many children. One priest has fatherly affection for hundreds of souls. And Capuchin community gives hope: that strangers can become best friends and that barriers of race, politics and ideology are meaningless. If the brothers live celibate chastity as a fraternal charism, individual failures in fidelity will dwindle.

Yes, that's unconventional.

(Capuchin Fr. David Songy, STD, Psy.D, is the director of St. Luke Institute, an education and treatment center dedicated to healthy life and ministry for priests, deacons, and religious. Learn more at www.sli.org)