I may be a seminarian, but I’m a huge fan of romantic tales. I like movies with happy endings when the boy gets the girl. I enjoy hearing stories about how couples met or what they did on their anniversary. And one of my favorite things is watching friends of mine who, after years of dating, finally walk down the aisle.
I may come off as a sappy seminarian who likes lovey-dovey stuff, but I don’t think I’m necessarily the exception (for the record, I’m not all that sappy). There’s something about a love story coming to fruition or watching a couple in love that warms any person’s heart. One question I often get is, “What’s celibacy like?” To be honest, I find that question rather personal, yet I don’t know what kind of answer people expect from me. Just because a person chooses to live a celibate life, does not mean that their system gets rewired in any way. That person is still human and like any human, made to love and to be loved.
For the most part, seminarians experience a range of emotions on Valentine’s Day. There are those who forget it’s even approaching till posts on Facebook remind them that it is coming up, and, on the other end of the spectrum, other guys who prefer staying away from restaurants and movie theaters on that day so that they don’t have to be around couples being all lovey-dovey. Some find Valentine’s Day relatively more challenging in the first couple of years in seminary, often because they had dated before joining the seminary and the nostalgia hits them on that day. Others don’t find a big deal at all, as it comes and goes by pretty quickly, unlike holidays like Christmas that seem to go on for longer.
But what may surprise many people is that, to most seminarians (who are all intentional celibates), not being compelled to celebrate Valentine’s Day comes almost as a relief. We feel genuinely happy for friends who are dating or married, for whom Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate their love, yet many seminarians are glad to be freed from the demands and expectations that surround its commemoration.
Frankly, celibacy isn’t the cross it’s made out to be by some sections of the media. Even on a day like Valentine’s Day, you probably won’t find us celibates crying ourselves to sleep feeling all alone. There’s a degree of loneliness that comes and goes in any person’s life, no matter their vocation in life, and it’s no different for seminarians who are discerning celibacy and the priesthood. Celibacy is a sign of the radical choice that priests and religious make through their decision to be celibate for the kingdom of God. It is one that is accepted and lived joyfully by people who, having recognized their own natural human desires and needs, still opt to be celibate with a sense of peace in their hearts, knowing that the Lord has their back with any challenges that may arise from their choice of lifestyle.
It’s a bit more complicated for seminarians, since they are still on their journey toward the priesthood. As such, they are still growing in self-awareness and figuring out if that voice they hear in their minds is indeed the Lord beckoning them to become priests. This is why when it comes to a day like Valentine’s Day, seminarians have varied opinions about what it means to them (if it does at all, that is). To some (myself included), it serves as a reminder about why we’ve chosen celibacy and how we know that only the Lord fulfills us in the areas of our lives that we forego as part of the celibate life. Those who live in a religious community find it comparatively easier to live out a celibate life on account of the fraternity shared within their households. On Valentine’s Day, you’ll probably find many seminarians joking about it and pulling each other’s legs about how they have no plans on that day.
When it comes to celibates, we’ve opted to live for the Lord with an undivided heart and even though we share a unique bond with God, there are ups and downs even in that relationship. It’s usually rock-solid at its foundation because that base is built on many hours spent in intimate prayer with Him. Yet sometimes, we don’t feel the feelings we’d like to feel on a given day, causing us to feel a bit distant or frustrated. At other times, we may have sinned or done things we know we probably shouldn’t have, and we will find ourselves staying away from God momentarily out of guilt and shame.
So, what do seminarians do on Valentine’s Day? Honestly, not much. Some choose to hang out together and have some fun (which usually means food and sports). Others treat it like just another day and go about their daily routine as usual. Those who do find it a bit of a challenge use it as an opportunity to grow in their relationship with Jesus and spend a bit more time in prayer that day.
Over the course of our seminary lives, seminarians recognize that living a celibate life out of love for God and for the service of others is not just something we are compelled to accept, but it is something we desire for the sake of the Kingdom. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that we’re still men and we’re still very human. I know that I have personally had my share of questions and challenges with celibacy, especially around days that focus on romance and relationships. Yet, I also know that the grace I receive to live as a celibate is constant. Thankfully, you won’t find too many seminarians doing cheesy things like “celebrate Valentine’s Day with the Lord as He is their Valentine” or any such thing. Nevertheless, there’s something special in the relationship we share with the Lord. He is the love of our lives (Him and the Church), and it is this burning love that helps us be celibate for the Kingdom, one day at a time.