“So, Greg, what’s it like being a bachelor forever?!”
There is at least one thing wrong with this question and it drives me nuts.
Now, to the asker’s credit, it is an innocent question from people who are just trying to make light (or sense) of a life of celibacy. To the outside world, the life of a celibate man, namely priests but others too, looks as though it is a permanent state of bachelorhood.
This could not be further from the truth.
We are not bachelors. We do not enjoy the freedom of a bachelor. We do not live like bachelors. We’re just not bachelors.
Note what I mean here by bachelor. I don’t mean a sexual deviant womanizer of whom primetime television has made us all too aware.
No, by bachelor, I describe an unmarried man who is generally uncommitted to things. He operates his own schedule, does as he pleases, joins and leaves clubs and groups as he pleases, goes out when he pleases, stays in when he pleases, and just generally lives for himself because he does not have anyone else in mind because he just doesn’t have to.
A bachelor, in the sense I describe him, is not necessarily unvirtuous or selfish, simply uncommitted to a permanent lifestyle. The bachelor has the freedom to live with his needs and desires as the forefront of his activities and work. Eventually, most men will reach a state in life in which they will have to lay down their comfort and freedom for something and (usually) someone else. This comes with the settling into a career, marriage, and children for most men.
When lived virtuously, this phase of adult life is not uncommon and certainly not a bad or inferior way of life by any means.
The seminarian does not live that life…or, at least, he shouldn’t. Not because it’s a bad way to live, but because it’s different than the life he’s been called to.
The seminarian’s life should be centered around something that isn’t himself: namely, the way of life to which he is called. That is, for now, the life of a seminarian. The life of a seminarian, as directed by the Church, should be centered around the development of the man into the image of a priest—a life of self-sacrifice, prayer, study, prayerful reading of the Scriptures, and a constant desire to serve rather than to be served.
These day-to-day activities of a seminarian keep him very busy, but all for a purpose: to become a better, stronger man in preparation for a vocation to the priesthood. This means that his time in prayer, his time studying, and his time in leisure are directed towards that goal.
These activities are not simply niceties or “good things to do” or in any way extraordinary. They’re duties; duties assigned by God through His Church. We are duty-bound to complete them. They are not simply for us.
This world does not like the concept of doing something “because we must.” This generation especially sees this outlook as a impediment on their freedom. It’s the generation of, “But why?”
It’s not an unfair question, but sometimes the answer is simply, “Because we must!” That is a good enough reason to do things.
We must study so we can form our minds, discover new gifts, talents, and interests and, more immediately, pass our classes. We must pray so as to grow closer to the Lord and build a relationship with him that will last and continue to grow throughout the rest of our lives. We must rest to keep ourselves sane and capable of continuing to do our duties.
And we must never do it for ourselves, but rather for God. We are allowed to enjoy those things and it’s a blessing when we enjoy doing the things we have to do, but they are duties nonetheless.
The seminarian must live according to the life he’s pledged to live because he is not his own anymore. He’s laid down his heart and his freedom to try on this lifestyle that one day, if God wills it, he will take on forever as a priest. He is then liberated in doing that duty and in being who God calls us to be: his faithful disciples.
The day that seminarians start living for themselves is the day that the rest of the world can say “goodbye” to whatever hope of fatherhood they hoped to find in the Church in the future because if seminarians don’t cut that from their lives now, it won’t go away and to be a good priest, one must sacrifice a lot. The life of a bachelor simply doesn’t allow for that.
This sacrificial lifestyle seems to be pretty extraordinary to people. It’s met with a lot of phrases like “Thank you for answering the call!” and “Wow! You guys do so much, it’s great!”
We appreciate the encouragement, but this affirmation is something that we, as seminarians, cannot allow to dominate our minds and bolster our pride.
Like I said before, we do what we do because God has asked us to. That’s our duty. That’s absolutely nothing extraordinary. That’s the standard.
A retired monsignor and former seminary rector came to preach at the seminary one day and he said to us, “Men, you should not be proud of yourselves for following the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are the standard below which you’re a jerk!”
I’d like to extend upon the good monsignor’s words.
To do what God asks of a person may seem extraordinary because it happens so very little in today’s world (much like adherence to the commandments). The truth of the matter is that it is not extraordinary—it’s an expectation.
So, the seminarian who does his duty is not entitled to anything or worthy of any praise for being extraordinary because he simply isn’t. He’s just as broken, wounded, and sinful as anybody else just trying to do the Lord’s will. Doing his duty in coming to seminary and doing his duty in living the way of life of a seminarian is imperative; it’s required.
We need the encouragement because it’s not always easy. We need your prayers because with them comes abundant grace which strengthen our resolve. But always understand that, for us, this is what we must do because God has asked. For some, this is a temporary life; one that will strengthen him for the wife he will one day hold and the children he will one day raise. For others, only by the grace of God, will they be called to lay down their lives in this way forever as priests patterned upon our great High Priest Jesus Christ.
Self-sacrifice. Prayer. Study. Prayerful reading of the Scriptures. A constant desire to serve rather than to be served. This is the life we’re called to pursue.
So, what is it like to commit to bachelorhood forever?
I pray that I never find out.
“Where surrender is to God, we get ourselves back ennobled and enriched.”
–Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “The Priest Is Not His Own”