In consecrated celibacy we wish to love with the freedom, openness and availability that can be recognized as a sign of the kingdom
— Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, 5:44
Several months before taking Final Vows, I was engaged in pastoral ministry at Toronto General Hospital. As I headed toward the oncology ward, I found myself lost in the complex maze of this enormous hospital. I made a wrong turn and instead of arriving at my intended destination, I found myself right in the middle of the maternity ward. Facing me just past the large glass pane were 20 or so sleeping, crying, restless newborns. The sight of those tiny babies shook me to the core. I quickly retreated to a nearby staircase where it hit me like a ton of bricks—if I took Final Vows, I would never have a child of my own.
I found myself quite surprised by my feelings that day. I certainly knew “intellectually” that I was, by my vow of celibacy, freely renouncing the great blessing of children. Yet, I had not let my heart in on this truth. However in that moment, as in other similar moments, I found myself invited to deeper intimacy with God. I found myself asking God to not only comfort me, but to strengthen me so that I could be totally His.
The surprising and sometimes painful feelings of vulnerability one experiences in the face of life’s gifts and challenges happen often enough for all of us. But now I see how allowing my heart to acknowledge this vow of celibacy has brought me gifts that have surpassed what I originally asked. Since that unintended visit to the maternity ward years ago, I have been astonished by the blessings that come from a celibate life: the gift of companionship with my brothers in Holy Cross, the trust that others place in me simply because I am a priest, and the blessings of perseverance in prayer. In these “surprises” I find myself in awe of God’s gracious love for me and that He chose me to be His son and to serve Him in religious life.
I learned over time that celibacy is above all else a matter of the heart. By vowing celibacy, I have done so much more than promise not to marry or to have a family. I have promised to keep my love for God, neighbor, and myself alive by living with a generous heart.
I have promised not to hold my heart in reserve for certain experiences or just a few close relationships, for Jesus certainly did not. Jesus gave freely of His heart entering into every human struggle, including the struggle of surrender to the will of His Father.
I have promised to pray from the heart. More than simply choosing not to give my heart to another in marriage or to have any other human being as the center of my life, I have chosen to give my heart to God in imitation of Jesus who poured forth His heart to the Father in prayer. I am called not just to pray, but to pray like Jesus did, from the depths of my heart.
I have promised to live from the heart, giving and receiving hospitality by centering every relationship in my life within my relationship to God. Jesus lived an expansive and gracious hospitality, welcoming everyone He encountered into the heart of His relationship with God. I am called to live with a hospitable heart open to receiving and giving myself to others.
In Holy Cross we say that by our vow of celibacy we desire to reflect God’s love for us “by faithful and loving relationships with friends and companions in mission” (Constitution 5:47); “We also promise loyalty, companionship, and affection to our confreres” (Constitution 5:47); and seek to live in “single-hearted intimacy with God” (Constitution 5:43). In so doing we vow to live in awareness of the deepest desires that God has placed within our hearts.
I find that living the vow of celibacy invites me into a whole series of inter-related and dynamic relationships that demand the fullness of my heart. What more could one desire in this life! I live this surprising vow with joy when I live in the awareness of God’s great and tender love.
By: Fr. Tom Looney, C.S.C.
Final Vows: August 12, 1986
Ordination: June 13, 1987
To learn more about religious vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross:
- Read a reflection from Fr. Pat Neary, C.S.C., on the riches to be found in the vow of poverty.
- Read a reflection from Fr. Aaron Michka, C.S.C., on finding God's will through the vow of obedience.
- Check out posts on our vocations blog written by our men on the vows and their meaning.
- Read and reflect on Constitution 5, entitled "Consecration and Commitment", which treats the vows as we understand them and try to live them for God's glory in Holy Cross.
- Contact us in the Office of Vocations to talk about the vows and whether the Lord is calling you to them.