Page last updated at 12:27 GMT, Monday, 26 April 2010 13:27 UK

Why I chose to live a celibate life

Fr Stephen Wang

Many people might find a life without sex unthinkable, but for serving priest Fr Stephen Wang it is a choice that gives a freedom of heart.

On 13 July 1997 I made a lifelong commitment to celibacy. In a chapel overlooking Lake Albano on the outskirts of Rome I promised to remain unmarried 'for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind'.

I had a real sense of peace that day, but a few months earlier I had been in turmoil. I knew all the theory. Catholic priests were following the example of Christ - celibacy gave you a freedom to serve others, etc. But it hadn't become real for me.

I was wrestling with all this one afternoon that spring. I realised that I had been seeing celibacy in negative terms: 'No' to marriage, 'No' to sex, 'No' to children - when in reality it was a profound 'Yes'.

It was a way of putting Christ at the centre of your life, of giving your whole heart to those you would serve as a priest. It was a way of loving others with a generosity that wouldn't be possible if you were a husband and father. Celibacy wasn't a negation or a denial - it was a gift of love, a giving of oneself, just as much as marriage could be.

There are struggles - times of loneliness, sexual desires, dreams about what marriage and fatherhood would be like

My experience over the years has confirmed this. Yes, there are practical aspects to celibacy. You've got more time for other people, and more time for prayer.

You can get up at three in the morning to visit someone in hospital without worrying about how this will affect your marriage. You can move to a bleak estate in a rough part of town without thinking about how this will impact on your children's schooling.

But celibacy is something much deeper as well. There is a place in your heart, in your very being, that you have given to Christ and to the people you meet as a priest.

You are not just serving them, you are loving them as if they were the very centre of your life - which they are. I think Catholics sense this. They know that you are there for them with an undivided heart, and it gives your relationship with them a particular quality.

It's true that you can't speak from experience about every aspect of human life. But you gain an awful lot of understanding from sharing in people's lives over the years. Husbands and wives will confide in a sympathetic priest.

You end up drawing on this experience as you preach and counsel people. Besides, people want a priest because he will show them the love of Christ, and not because he has lived through all ups and downs that they live through.

There are struggles. Times of loneliness, sexual desires, dreams about what marriage and fatherhood would be like. I don't think most of this is about celibacy - it's about being human.

STEPHEN WANG
Catholic priest in Diocese of Westminster
At 25 went to Rome to train
Ordained at 31
Currently dean of studies at Allen Hall Seminary, London

The husbands I know struggle with the same things, only they dream about what it would be like to have married someone else! What matters is trying to be faithful, instead of pretending that another way of life would be easy.

You need balance in your life, you can't be giving all the time - this was emphasised in our training. You need affection and human intimacy.

I've got some wonderful friends. I get home to see my family every couple of weeks. I escape to the cinema now and then. And I pray. Not to fill the gaps, because some of them can never be filled, but because the love of Christ is something very real and very consoling.

I've been incredibly happy as a priest over these 12 years. I don't think about celibacy a lot now - it's just part of my life. But I'm aware that it gives me a freedom of heart that is a unique gift.

It helps me stay close to Christ, and draws me closer to the people I meet each day.




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