Of Celibacy and Fatherhood

There is something about the monastic life that has drawn my curiosity, interest and affection for thirty years. I am currently reading, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. In it I find a kind of singularity of purpose and devotion which made Mother Teresa such a remarkable figure. In 1942 she took a secret vow “never to refuse God anything under pain of mortal sin.” It was this sober pledge which drove her to give herself to the destitute and dying to amazing extremes, and made her a world renowned example of humility and service. Hers was a beautiful and a severe oath, one that I in my Protestant, family-man mindset press toward, but cannot walk out to the extent that my brothers and sisters under vows of celibacy are able.

Author and blogger Carl McColman described to a Cistercian monk the communal aspects of the “new monasticism” cropping up among Evangelicals. “Are they celibate?” was the first question out of the monk’s mouth. For this Cistercian brother, celibacy is a watershed vow, distinct from any intentional religious community of non-celibates – no matter their commitment to other noble Christian practices. To join a community of men or women who have solemnly sworn never to marry in order to be singularly devoted to Christ, creates a dynamic not available in any other religious gathering.

Paul seems to reflect this to the Corinthians when he says, “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided.” (I Cor. 7:32-34). As a father and husband I can attest to the fact that there is a divided nature to my devotion. I cannot make even small decisions without giving at least some thought to its impact on my wife and kids. In some ways, I look enviously on the freedom to make the kind of vows Mother Teresa and others have made, without regard to the impact on spouse or child. This is not an excuse for half-hearted devotion on my part; it is simply a reality I face day in and day out.

Without diminishing one lick the respect and admiration I have for monks, nuns, friars and Catholic priests, there are aspects of the devoted life in marriage and parenting which require a grace that is not required of the celibate.

For instance, the few married persons I know who have undertaken week-long retreats of silence have done so in their late fifties after kids have moved out. For many monks and nuns, it is a regular part of the freedom and privilege of a celibate life. There is a burden of responsibility to spouse and child that comes with marriage, more intense than any other human relationship. And while it also comes with its share of joys, this burden chokes “self” like nothing else I know, and can produce real spiritual fruit.

I began this blog Sunday at 3pm and it is now 11pm, not because I am slow, but because I can only get a sentence or two down before caring for some child’s need. I have been “on-call” for seventeen years now, and expect this to be a reality for some time. There are fresh levels of pain and death that come with the pressure of being a husband and dad. The ability to hurt or to be hurt is powerfully unique in the husband-wife and the parent-child relationship. It has become for me a spiritual quest, a holy devotion, a vow-driven commitment to four people people that will not abate because of geography or time for the rest of my life.

When my personal desire for an unfettered chasing after Christ is seemingly hindered by my responsibility to Janine and my three children, I will leverage it as an act of worship with the focus and devotion of a monk.

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