This year, we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the Congregation of the Mission by St. Vincent de Paul. We commemorate this milestone with this monthly series by Fr. Ray Van Dorpe, C.M., which explores the Vincentian vows and virtues.  

Very few people would dispute the fact that human beings need to love and be loved. At some point in the history of the human race, the need to produce offspring became less a matter of instinctual behavior and more of an emotional one. For millennia human love has been the basis for the propagation of our species. The Christian belief in the sanctity of family life and life in general is based on the need for loving relationships, and that these relationships are a true means to holiness. Human love is also the foundation of the sacrament of Matrimony. So, when discussing the vow of celibate chastity, people will often ask if this vow doesn’t fly in the face of these important Christian values. Why chastity?

For a disciple of Jesus Christ who wants to follow him in a more concrete and visible way, a life of chastity offers great opportunities. The good news is that, like Jesus, a person who takes a vow of chastity does not give up, suppress, or deny the need to love and be loved. In fact, in some ways, this vow increases the opportunities for having loving relationships. By not having a spouse at the primary focus of one’s love, like Jesus, the chaste celibate is more open to sharing his love with many more people in a freer and more inclusive way. Moreover, for a Vincentian, this freedom also enables him to pursue a more profound evangelization of the poor. Unencumbered by a spouse or family, he is free to pick up and go to wherever the poor need to be served.

Of course, chastity has its challenges. To have a healthy and joyful chaste life, a Vincentian has to work at building a life in which there is a balance of solid prayer, fulfilling ministry, appropriate recreation, regular rest, physical health, mental health, and solid friendships. To neglect or miss any one of these aspects will bring stress and may even cause a crisis in one’s commitment. St. Vincent wisely gave his confreres a strong community life in which to find support for their common vows, including chastity. He also pointed to the model of Jesus Christ.

“We have always loved the maxims of Christ and we want to put on the spirit of the Gospel. This is so we may live and act as Our Lord did, so that his Spirit may be apparent in the whole Company and in each missionary.” (Coste XII, 107-108).

Living the vow of chastity is especially challenging in the 21st century. To willingly exclude physical expressions of sexuality in one’s life is not understood by most people. Most western cultures today support sexual activity without the benefit of any commitment or restraint. People often find chastity puzzling, amusing, or even abhorrent. But for those who have been called to follow this way of life, it is a divine gift – a gift that is freeing, fulfilling, and loving.  Vincentians and others who take this vow understand this gift and embrace it!