Continuing with my series of extracts from Totally Devoted – my book which is due out on September 10th, here I briefly touch on the contentious issue of celibacy, which ALWAYS gets raised when people talk about monasticism with me.
At times in the past, when similar waves of passionate expression have come, and when empire has seemed to threaten the very existence of the church, history documents the rising of monastic movements. These movements, which were essentially uprisings of passionately dedicated men and women intent upon on a new level of radical discipleship, found their expression in monastic and religious orders.
The new monasticism appears different in many ways to those previous movements. But in its commitment to community, prayer, love of God and determination to follow the teachings of Jesus, it continues to share many of the essential characteristics, which were historically demonstrated in willingness to give up everything the world has to ‘offer’ in return for the privilege of following Jesus Christ.
As things take shape in this new monastic era, the old model of single sex monasteries, where chaste brides of Christ (of either sex) would live in cloistered seclusion is largely not being replicated. I believe the reasons for this are complex; they may include the fact the church has hardly been forthright in teaching the virtue of lifelong celibacy.
Moreover, the way that sex is used to sell everything from cars to chocolate bars leaves society so soaked with sexual imagery that young people are encouraged to marry simply in order to stay sexually ‘pure’. Alongside this I’d suggest that a culture of fear has developed relating to separation from the world, which has led (for good or ill) Christians to be more integrated with society. By the time many people reach the point of considering a monastic way of life, they are often already married and committed to a family life.