1. Introduction
  2. Chastity in the life of the Founder
  3. Founder's rules of conduct
  4. Chastity in the Constitutions and Rules
  5. Oblate spirituality and chastity
  6. Conclusion


There is a wealth of written material treating of a great many aspects of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In this present article, the issue will not be to present a theology of the vow of chastity, nor to summarize the fruit of the debates on this subject in the Church during the course of these most recent decades. Nor will it be an issue of giving practical advice or of setting forth an ascesis to live according to the evangelical counsels. The goal sought here is solely to present, based on the texts we actually have, the way Oblates have understood and still understand the vow of chastity in the context of their spirituality, taking into consideration the signs of the times while keeping in view the rules of conduct of the Church. Then, we will try to determine the bonds that exist between consecrated celibacy and certain elements of the Oblate charism. And finally, we will encourage our readers to reflect upon the possibilities offered by our spirituality to actually live this form of life so often challenged in our day.


In a letter treating of their son, Eugene, Charles Anthony de Mazenod, father of the Founder, wrote from Palermo, May 6, 1814: “He is solid as a rock and pure as a lily” [1]. At the time, Eugene was thirty-two years of age and had been a priest for two and a half years. Choice of the celibate life did not seem to have been difficult for him. Before his ordination to the diaconate, he wrote to his mother: “But in the case of the sub-diaconate, what is there to be afraid of? Is it the vow of chastity one takes? But in all conscience, think for a moment. [2]” For him, it is not a case of denying the goodness of marriage whose natural and supernatural qualities he acknowledges. “Marriage is holy, therefore, it cannot be an obstacle to holiness”, he wrote to his sister on the occasion of her marriage [3]. “Marriage is a good thing for those who are called to it” [4]. As for himself, he feels no attraction to it. On the contrary, “I have such an aversion and distaste for marriage that the very idea makes me ill” [5]. The marriage plans his mother had hatched for him a few years before already clearly revealed this discomfiture on his part [6].. Nowadays, we warn candidates to the priesthood not simply to “learn to live with” celibacy. They would have been obliged to warn the young Eugene to not simply “learn to live with” marriage merely for “family convenience”.

The young nobleman had never indulged in amorous exploits. In his contacts with young ladies his own age, he was so reserved that the friends of his group found it amusing and “he became the butt of some teasing about it” [7]. This kind of reserve on the part of a young man could provoke some astonishment. But very much in line with the spirit of the times, was most fitting for a young priest. Did he not write about himself: “I have nothing to correct in regard to women with whom, in general, I have only very distant relationships and then surrounded by many precautions” [8]. This reserve, however, is not an instinctive defense mechanism, but rather, no matter what one may think, a clearly chosen attitude.

In any case, he had always had a genuine abhorrence for all corrupted love and all coarse sensuality: He wrote from Paris in 1805: “[…] the mere sight of these things so vilely prostituted and their filthy admirers […] have kept me away for ever from the Royal Palace at those times that seem to be devoted to debauchery” [9]. We do have to point out here that Eugene de Mazenod was in no way a stranger to the secular social scene. In Palermo and Paris as in Aix, he had ample opportunity to make its acquaintance [10]. The reason why he was “solid as a rock and pure as a lily”, was not because he had lived a sheltered life, but rather that in all circumstances, he willed to remain true to himself. In any case, he attributes everything to the grace of God. He wrote in the notes of his retreat in preparation for the priesthood: “I wasted my patrimony, if not with the daughters of Babylon, as the Lord, with inconceivable goodness, has always preserved me from [that] kind of stain […]” [11].

In addition to his strength of character he had a deep yearning for friendship and love. However, the ideal he had and his expectations of it were so exalted that he hardly touched upon the realm of eroticism or sensuality. “There is nothing carnal mixed up with these desires which issue from the noblest part of my heart. This is so true that I have always disdained any relationship with women, for those kinds of friendships between the different sexes find their origin more in the senses than in the heart.” [12] The issue at stake here is not to determine the role played by his psychological dispositions, his education, his self-control, as opposed to the role played by grace. It seems, however, that his overall attitude allowed him more easily to make the decision to dedicate his life to an undivided love of God and of his fellow human beings. In any case, it grew to maturity and transformed itself into this “priestly charity” which, for him and so many Oblates after him, would become the driving force of their missionary commitment.

The Founder’s rules of conduct

To his mother, Eugene, the seminarian, wrote: “[…] the vow of chastity; it would […] be very easy for me to show its great advantages” [13]. It is unfortunate that he never did so. In contrast to the lavish praise and the detailed supporting reasons devoted to poverty and obedience in the 1818 Rule, in the case of chastity, he limited himself to this observation: “The virtue of chastity being most dear to the Son of God, and most necessary for an apostolic man […]” [14]. Significant as typical of the spirit of his time, but less convincing in our eyes, is his reference to “the purity of angels” [15], that the missionaries are called to imitate. He would not comment further on the “advantages” of chastity.

Rules of conduct of another kind are more frequent, even though they are few in number. They especially concern prudence in dealing with women and “utmost prudence” in the confessional. “Wherefore, in treating with persons of the other sex, they will use the utmost reserve” [16]. Visiting lay people in their homes required the permission of the superior who would appoint a companion. The Founder took the entire text of the Rule concerning chastity from the Rule of Saint Alphonsus Liguori and that of Saint Ignatius Loyola. From the time of the Founder to the time of the reworking of the Rule in 1850, the only thing added has been the explicit reference to the vow. In Circular Letter no. 2 addressed to the Congregation, when it came to speaking about this article of the Rule, he said: “What shall I say about the vow of chastity? To be true to this precious virtue, we must not consider it too much to observe faithfully all that the Rule prescribes in order to make us men of God, true religious. […] In addition, if one is not imbued with the spirit of mortification and penance, if one does not […] strive to dominate the flesh, […] one risks becoming the plaything of concupiscence […].” [17]

The Founder saw mortification as the most effective means of protecting the virtue of chastity. He complained “with astonishment and grief” that some people “misunderstanding the spirit of our Institute”, relegate the practices of mortification to the novitiate and the scholasticate, whereas they have a much greater need of this “protective measure” than the young people. [18] In this context, he reminds the reader once again of the article in the Rule: “It is forbidden to eat outside our own houses” [19]. And on this topic, he wrote: “Otherwise, would we not be exposed to the dangers that the Rule wants to help the members of the Institute avoid with regard to chastity […]?” [20]

It seems that the Founder had no reason to warn his Oblates about the dangers of the theater, shows and dancing. In his day and age, it was unthinkable that a religious should attend such events. On the other hand, he never ceased to beseech his sister, [21] his congregationists [22], the people of his diocese [23] to stay away from them because “Is it not at these shows that this demon, this vice of impurity, since we have to use the word, reveals himself with the fullness of his power?” [24]

As far as religious were concerned, the Founder considered another kind of admonition to be in order. March 16, 1846, he wrote to the novice master at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, James Santoni, telling him in what spirit the novices should live their vows: “Chastity obliges them not only to avoid everything that is forbidden in this matter, but to preserve themselves from the least harm that could befall this beautiful virtue. It is in accord with this principle that we hold in such horror the sensual tendencies that bear the stigma of particular friendships, to call them what they are, for they really wound this most delicate virtue that the slightest breeze can harm. Be inflexible on this topic […].” [25]

The Founder’s rules of conduct are above all encouragement to practice prudence, warnings of danger which he expresses in the form of concrete prohibitions. The best form of protection is to lead a pure religious life, solidly grounded in a “continual recollection of spirit”, and “to walk constantly in the presence of God”. In this regard, the spirit of mortification holds a place of particular importance [26]. “As for the rest, this article needs no further explanation.” [27] The dominant mindset of the times was: the less we talk about it, the better it is.

We can see then, on the positive side, how in the past things were simple and less worrisome, or on the negative side, how many valuable things were ignored and many rich resources remained untapped. The little that is said could easily leave us ill at ease. It all seems negative and charged with fear. One cannot deny that we are dealing here with a one-dimensional view of things and with a certain fixation on the dangers involved. We can be happy that it is now out-dated. On the other hand, the painful experience of the failure of a large number of our vocations to live celibacy for the Kingdom of God should keep us from being presumptuous and judging too harshly. The danger which exists today is a very real one. The saints spoke the language of their time, but their voice strongly urges us to scrutinize our own conduct. When the Founder tells us, “We have vowed to renounce ourselves by obedience, riches by poverty, pleasures by chastity” [28], we could perhaps think that he is only showing on side of that reality. But if we consider the context in which he sets these words, we soon discover in its requirements and its scope the basis of this attitude of renunciation: “Charity is the pivot on which our whole existence turns. That which we ought to have for God makes us renounce the world and has vowed us to his glory by all manner of sacrifice, were it even to be our lives” [29]. It is based on the essential and absolute character he attributes to charity that the Founder understood his own vocation to the religious life and his vow of chastity.

Chastity in the Constitutions and Rules

FROM 1818 TO 1966

For almost one hundred and fifty years, the text which specified how Oblates were to live chastity remained practically unchanged. It was contained in five very concise articles. Two reasons justify chastity: It was “dear to the Son of God and most necessary for an apostolic man”. His goal was a very elevated one: “to imitate the very purity of the angels”. The Rule only gave one practical bit of advice: “[…] with persons of the other sex […] the utmost reserve”.

In 1850, an addition was made stating explicitly that the Oblates commit themselves to chastity by vow. In the course of that same General Chapter, the wording of 1826 “angelicum puritatem fovere” was dropped and they went back to the original wording of 1818 in its Latin translation “angelorum puritatem imitari (to imitate the very purity of the angels)”. [30]

In 1910, already in the title of the paragraph, the virtue and the vow of chastity were clearly distinguished. And in the first article (217), in response to the norms of the Church issued in 1909 [31],the obligations flowing from the vow are listed. Practical rules of conduct end off the paragraph: prayer, mortification and especially (praesertim vero) devotion to Mary Immaculate help us to live the vow. [32]


In the history of our Constitutions and Rules, the new edition of 1966 was a qualitative change. In the case of chastity, it is enough to see the length of the text, which is much longer. The new edition contains six constitutions and five rules, almost all of them longer than the earlier five brief articles. This is how the new text came to be written.

a. A new context

During the decades that preceded the Second Vatican Council, human sciences determined with greater precision the importance of the corporal aspect of human beings and their sexuality. Knowledge of their biological and psychological structures was broadened. They did not limit themselves to a scientific explanation of the conditions, rhythm of growth and the maturation process of the human person. The results had an impact on education, formation and the other forms of knowledge as well. Social consciousness and the behavior that flows from it were modified as well, in the sense that there was an acceptance of the body and an elimination of sexual taboos. There was a stronger insistence on the right to an individual and free development, and much freer relations between the sexes. The equality of rights for women and their place in all areas of social life were its demands and themes that could not be ignored. All of this was not without having some kind of impact on religious life. The theology of religious life continued to develop. It raised the question of the value and the meaning of religious life in relation to other Christian vocations, marriage and family life in particular, of the significant value of the vows and of their relation to baptismal grace.

All of this created an urgent need for aggiornamento of religious life in the Church and led to a corresponding reformulation of the rules that govern it. Vatican II met the problem head on. The dogmatic constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium, no. 43-47) and the decree Perfectae Caritatis gave the supporting doctrine and pointed the way for renewal of the consecrated life. In the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Council made known its mind on the issue of celibacy. It was in this context and following the norms established by the Council that the General Chapter of 1966, drawing its inspiration from the Council texts, launched into a reformulation of the Constitutions and Rules.

In addition to the texts of the Council, the General Chapter had available a revised text that a commission had drawn up at the request of the 1959 Chapter. In the four constitutions which treated of the vow of chastity (no rules were forthcoming from the Chapter as in other places in this text), the authors of the document acknowledged that “the vow of chastity is not the enshrining of a taboo” [33]. Indeed, one can see the effort made to present the issue in a positive light, basing it on a solid motivation and taking into account the anthropological factors and a positive ascesis. In any case, a lot of emphasis was still given to the warnings to be prudent. In the apostolate with women, Oblates were advised to confine their zeal strictly to the demands of courtesy and of duty imposed by genuine charity: “suam navitatem iis continent limitibus quos urbanitas et officium authenticae caritatis postulent” [34]. In the definition of the obligation imposed by the vow, “the negative wording has been preserved to foster precision”: “to refrain from every act contrary to chastity”. [35]

b. A new “hierarchy of values”

Firstly, we must stress that, in contrast to the usual sequence in listing the vows, the vow of chastity now has the first place. In this regard, the text follows the presentation of the Council in the Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium, no. 43) which gives a place of prominence to chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of God. It is a “precious gift of grace which the Father bestows on some” and “an uncommon source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world” (Lumen Gentium, no. 42).

The commentators point out that this is the Church’s way of clearly expressing that she considers virginity freely chosen “as the foundation stone of the religious life” (R. Shulte). Indeed, poverty and obedience can be lived in various vocations, whereas, through virginity freely chosen for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, one abandons oneself to God in a particularly radical way. In an era when doctrine and teachers in the Church insist so heavily on the meaning and value of the call to sacramental marriage, it is rather important to present the vocation to celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven as a balancing element.

We can also state that this preference is in conformity with the Sacred Scriptures: “The New Testament gives evidence of a state of life consecrated to God, a life related to the charisms and which finds its expression especially in virginity” (Jean Danielou). Likewise, we can see in this preference the fact that the calling to the religious life is a vocation to love and not a renouncing of love because in virginity more than any other state, the issue is having an “undivided heart” [36]. Father Jetté commented: “It [the vow] is our response – a radical response – to the first commandment: ‘You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and with your whole self’ (Matthew 22:37). It is likewise a privileged expression of our love for our brothers and sisters here on this earth: […] Seen in this way, it is a response to the second commandment.” [37] It is true that Father Jetté is saying this in another context; but that does not constitute any less a valuable indication of the harmonious and spiritually significant place granted to chastity.

c. A renewed vision

“By making use of the theological language of the Council in preference to the language of the last century, a formulation that would inspire an attitude rather than dictating lines of conduct was sought, one that was positive rather than negative, encouraging rather than commanding.” [38] So what has been said in general about the Rule of 1966 holds true as well for the new formulation of the articles on chastity.

It is not so much a question of protecting oneself but rather one of growth: “He [the Oblate] will not be content merely to remain chaste, but will constantly develop the capacities for love placed in his heart by God” (Constitutions and Rules 1966, C 21).

It is less a case of angelic purity than it is of being a mature human being: “[…] selfless and sincere affection, open and profoundly human […]” (ibidem, C 22).

It is inserted in an apostolic context: “By religious chastity, [the Oblate] … dedicates himself directly to him [Christ] and to men, his brothers”, (ibidem, C 19), “to love men with the heart of Christ” (ibidem, C 23).

It becomes integrated into a lived ascesis:

– in community: “In developing maturity, community life plays a role of capital importance. Each member will contribute to community life to the best of his ability” (ibidem, R 42).

– in apostolic commitment in which the Oblates “will discover the full flowering of their personality and a genuine safeguard of their chastity” (ibidem, R 43).

– in prayer: “The missionaries […] will have recourse to prayer with all due diligence” (ibidem, R 46).

– in mortification: “[…] mortification, sobriety and custody of the senses” (ibidem, R 46).

– in a healthy balance between work and rest: “They will avoid excessive fatigue and nervous exhaustion, as well as idleness” (ibidem, R 44).

– in relationship with Mary Immaculate: “Mary Immaculate, Virgin and Mother, will be the Model and Guardian of his consecrated love” (ibidem, C 24).

Finally, the vow has value as a sign: “The Oblate will thus show forth the Church’s living faith in Christ, her only Spouse, and at the same time the apostolic fecundity of this mystical union. He will thus manifest to his fellowmen that perfect charity which will be fully revealed only in the heavenly kingdom” (ibidem, C 21).

We could summarize this new vision in a few words, using the three headings place in the margin along constitutions 19 to 21: “Chastity, vow, charity” or we could use the wording found in Father Maurice Gilbert’s commentary on this vow: “Chastity, a consecrated love”. [39]


a. Position taken on the proposed text

The Constitutions and Rules of 1966 came into force on an experimental basis. According to the admission of a number of people, they were not much put into practice. Seen as provisional and out of the ordinary, they did not have much impact on the life of the Oblates. No doubt the impact of 1968 added to this by questioning every rule, norm, authority or command, with the frequent result that they were ignored. All of that changed with the preparations for the 1980 Chapter whose main task was the approbation of a renewed and definitive text of the Rule. The whole Congregation was involved in this preparatory work. Taking into consideration the many recommendations they had received, the precapitular commission proposed a text to be submitted to the Chapter. [40] The reactions coming from more or less all over were passed on to the capitulants as a working document for drawing up a definitive text. The reactions to the text presented by the commission certainly did not reflect the whole spectrum of the spiritual life of the Oblates as it was being lived. They were informative enough to be worthy of being mentioned here. They offer a storehouse of information for anyone who wishes to comment on the text of the Rule.

Concerning the vow of chastity, we can discern the following trends of thought.

The Oblates wanted a text which would avoid giving any impression of a superior or elitist attitude with regard to consecrated celibacy, as if this state of life was without question the best and most pleasing to God. All the baptized are called to perfection and all vocations can give witness of the love of God and be signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Chastity, or consecrated celibacy, should not be presented in any way that might give the impression of wanting to downplay the dignity and importance of sacramental marriage which bears in itself the ability to be a sign which is equally valid.

What was clearly wanted, especially in this domain, was a theological language that was precise, accurate and spiritually encouraging. A good number of observations, expressed the desire that the word chastity be replaced by celibacy; in some others, on the other hand, the opposite was requested. The question of mortification was raised as well. A number of people tried to give it a more positive meaning. Also expressed was a clear and heavily supported desire to use inclusive language.

The importance of community and fraternal life in common was strongly stressed as a means of finding personal fulfillment in the celibate state. On the other hand, some questions were raised about the recommendation with regard to friendships.

The desire was expressed to clearly indicate that we choose this way of life, not only for the love of God, but for the love of our fellow human beings as well. That gives witness to the missionary spirituality of the Oblates. [41]

b. The new translation of the text

The Chapter accepted the draft presented by the precapitular commission as a working document. Each of the four parts of this text was reworked by a commission which was then to bring the results of their work in stages to the floor of the general assembly. We will treat of the modifications carried out by the Chapter only in as much as they represent insights on the essential aspects of the vow. We will not take into account purely linguistic or stylistic modifications, nor improvements designed to create a more accurate text.

c. Structural modification of the text

At almost the last minute, the Chapter decided in general assembly to unite parts I and II under the title “The Oblate charism” in order to make it very clear that, for Oblates,being sent on mission and religious life formed a single indivisible whole, that is, we are religious in order to be missionaries and that it is as religious that we are missionaries. This deliberately adopted spiritual innovation gave the vows a place in the overall structure – they form the first section of the second chapter entitled “Apostolic Religious Life”. It thus recognized a clear missionary value in them. So it was that the Founder’s expression from the first Rule, which states that chastity is “most necessary for an apostolic man”, [42] is in a certain sense reconfirmed. Echoing this Oblate tradition, the text on the vows begins with the words: “Our mission requires that […] through a gift of the Father, we choose the way of the evangelical counsels” (C 12).

“Through a gift of the Father”. It was by these words that the precapitular commission’s draft introduced the passage on the vow of chastity. In doing this, just like Vatican Council II, it was following a long-standing tradition: “[..] the precious gift of grace that the Father has bestowed on some people”. [43] The Chapter in no way wanted to detract from the weightiness of this statement. On the contrary, it was of the opinion that the indissoluble link which existed between the evangelical counsels, expressions of the radical gift of self to God as well as of the “following of Christ”, fully justified that as a whole they should be considered a gift from the Father. They, therefore, incorporated this statement in the text which treats of the vows in general.

“Mary Immaculate is the model and guardian”. This statement was set in the context of the vow of chastity in the 1966 text (C 24) as well as in the revised text. The addition of the words, “Virgin and Mother”, implicitly justified it. In this case as well, the Chapter of 1980 followed the suggestion of the precapitular commission to consider Mary as “model and guardian of [all] our consecrated life” (C 13). The meaning of Virgin Mother for a celibate life is in no way diminished. But the danger of a certain kind of mysticism inclined to consider Mary as a “surrogate spouse”, is lessened at the same time as light is cast upon the deeply Marian structure of a life lived in the context of the “following of Christ”. [44]

Let us note here that keeping a healthy balance between work and rest to avoid nervous exhaustion (R 44 from 1966 text) is no longer mentioned in the context of the vow of chastity but in an article which deals with apostolic community (R 25 of the 1982 text) [R 39b in CCRR 2000].

– Consecrated celibacy. Consonant with tradition, it is the word chastity which provides the heading for the articles which treat of this vow. In constitution 14, however, the Chapter changed the expression “vow of chastity” to “consecrated celibacy”. For the capitulants, it was perhaps above all due to a concern to keep the terminology consistent. The same result could have been obtained by doing the very opposite, using in a consistent manner the word “chastity”. It is obvious that here the Chapter took into account certain observations that were made. (See above) Correctly and consistently, it presented in parallel fashion the vocation to the sacrament of marriage and the calling to consecrated celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven. When it treats of vocation as such, the term “celibate” would seem to be more appropriate. “In our view, the less ambiguous term is that of “celibate”. Chastity, in fact, is a law which concerns all Christians, even married people. As for virginity, that is either a biological or a sacralized term too loaded with ascetical-religious meaning”. [45]

Laity and religious depending on one another The Chapter’s expansion of R 13 [R 18c in CCRR 2000]must be seen in the same context. It is not only we religious who, by being faithful to our vows, bring support and assistance to the married and non-married in their fidelity. We receive, in turn, help and encouragement from the example of the laity. The reason for this broadening stems from the recognition of the dignity of the other Christian vocations which all have perfect charity as their goal and are at the service of the vitality of all the members of the Body of Christ. The call to celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven and the strength necessary to follow this way are a gift of God and not only a result of “supererogation” on the part of people who are particularly holy. It does not lead to a “splendid isolation”, but rather to a fruitful exchange. This broadening, though not important in itself, nevertheless gives Rule 13 more weight since it is opposition to the narrow-mindedness and egocentrism of which the celibate person is often reproached.

Oblate Spirituality and Chastity

From what we have just said in the preceding section, it becomes quite evident that the text of the Constitutions and Rules of 1982 was composed in an atmosphere of careful consideration of the teachings of the Church and of a serious reflection on contemporary problems. Consequently, in this final section, we will not give this question any special treatment.

It is obvious there is not a specific Oblate chastity. All religious men and women are called to live a celibate life for the sake of the Kingdom and to train themselves in the practice of the corresponding virtues. The vow of chastity lends itself even less than the vows of poverty and obedience to an expression that would be characteristic of the Congregation. In any case, the sacrament of marriage and the ideal of Christian marriage and the family can be lived in a variety of ways which must be adapted to the times and social conditions. In the same way, the celibate life lived for the sake of the Kingdom will bear the mark of the spirituality of a religious community and its apostolic activity [46]. It is in this sense, based on the Constitutions and Rules that we will now try to give some indications which will permit us to progress in our reflection without in any way wishing to substitute for or play the role of a commentary on the Constitutions and Rules.

With regard to the basics, we will follow the lead of the commission for the revision of the Rule, as the General Chapter did for the most part. In his introduction to the first part of the Draft of the Constitutions and Rules which the commission submitted to the 1980 Chapter, Father Alexandre Taché wrote this about the vows: “First of all, the draft presents the evangelical counsels: the Gospel sources for each one; then, its sign value and its eschatological meaning, its community dimension and finally the object of the vow” [47]. In like manner, we will arrange our comments under four headings: 1. the Christological dimension; 2. the prophetic dimension; 3. the communitarian dimension, and finally, 4. the Marian dimension.


The first and determining reason for the choice of this form of life is the following of Christ, “who was chaste and poor and who redeemed mankind by his obedience” (C 12). The Oblates follow Christ in “radical discipleship”, (Heading for C 12), that is, the following of Christ is the condition sine qua non of their existence. It is “the call of Jesus Christ … [which] draws us together as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate” (C 1). The Oblates are “ready to leave everything to be disciples of Jesus” (C 20). “The community of the Apostles with Jesus is the model of our life” (C 3). “The cross of Jesus Christ is central to our mission” (C 4). “We [the Oblates] achieve unity in our life only in and through Jesus Christ.”(C 31).

“In answer” – It is not above all to achieve a greater interior and exterior liberty, nor for a good cause that we choose a life of vowed chastity, but before all else it is for the person of Jesus Christ. This choice is made “in answer to a special invitation from Christ” (C 14). “This invitation is plainly found in Scripture and the Christian tradition” [48],but it is equally a personal invitation which “manifests itself in a more immediate way through the desire or internal attraction to give oneself to Christ in view of God’s Kingdom” [49]. This shows from the very beginning the personal relationship that this vow, in particular, establishes between the Oblate and Jesus Christ and which does not, then, allow for a purely functional interpretation. In this way, the vow is put on the same level as the “Yes” that engaged couples exchange in marriage. Consequently, it calls for a life lived entirely in a “dialogue of love”. In fact, this invitation, like all vocations, is not a one time only act, but rather a continuing challenge that calls for an ongoing renewed response. It is an invitation to a lifelong friendship into which the novice must gradually enter (C 56), which forms the basis of the unity of the Oblate’s life (C 31) and which, in the spirit of the Founder, has as its final objective “to become other Jesus Christs” [50]. In this sense, we can also note the expression “the path of consecrated celibacy” (C 14) which Father Jetté explicitly mentions in his commentary, calling it “a point to be noted” [51]. Piet van Breeman also has some significant things to say along these lines: “It is a long and sometimes difficult path to travel, the path of becoming, for the sake of the Kingdom, unsuitable for marriage”. [52]

In a Congregation whose task is to be at the service of the Word, this “dialogic aspect” of the vows put forward by the Rule deserves to be further developed. In this context, we will notice that the moralists and psychologists willingly use the conceptual domain of language as a key for a more in-depth understanding of human sexuality as an expression of love. For the one who chooses celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, sexuality is not simply a foreign language, nor even a dead language. He too must learn to speak it in his own way. In this sense,too, the expression “in answer” (C 14) can be stimulating. [53]

Love become man – The evangelical counsels are an expression of the radical following of Christ. They enable the Oblate “to identify with him, to let him live in us. […] to reproduce in ourselves the pattern of his life” (C 2). The fundamental structure of Christ’s manner of being consists in the following: he lives entirely in union with the Father, and he is at the same time united with men, with his whole being, by his words and his actions. This is the structure of the Incarnation, of love become man. To live in God and to be present to others: There too lies the fundamental structure of the entire following of Christ to which the Christian, in virtue of baptism, is called and empowered, and to which the religious commits himself in a more radical and irrevocable manner. That is the import of the vow of chastity. “By this option we consecrate ourselves to the Lord and, at the same time, give ourselves to the people we serve” (C 15). “Consecrated celibacy […] is an affirmation of life and love; it expresses our total gift of self to God and to others […]” (C 16).

Obviously, this is not specific to the Oblate and applies to the contemplative Carthusian as well as to the active missionary. Nonetheless, the total gift of oneself to others and one’s availability to be at the service of others become for the Oblate the concrete content of all apostolate and of the spirit of the Congregation. Every religious chooses “consecrated celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom (C 14); but for the Oblate, this does not only mean “our personal commitment to Jesus Christ, while serving the Church and God’s Kingdom” (C 46), but also “to proclaim Christ and his kingdom” (C 5), “to proclaim the Kingdom” (C 11), “to proclaim God’s reign” (C 37), “to preach the Kingdom” (C 52). For the missionary Oblate, that means that his entire apostolic activity must be imbued with the love of God and others, a love which consecrated celibacy gives him the freedom to exercise. Experience reveals how our missionary commitment can come under the influence of psychological constraints, how selfish motives or ideologies can take over centre stage and how they can supersede or at least disturb the only genuine Christ-like motive, the motive of love. Thus, we can become “dictators over your faith” rather than “fellow workers with you for your happiness” (See 2 Corinthians 1:24). As a result, the missionary dimension of the vow of chastity becomes clear. Our decision to choose it becomes “a liberating choice” (C 15). The freedom in question is not merely a physical freedom, that is, a freedom of movement or a greater availability, but rather the internal freedom of “an undivided heart”. The wording of Constitution 16 shows clearly that what is at stake here is not merely the living of a moral imperative. It directs our gaze away from a casuistry based on fear and shows us the pathway to a love whose power unleashes life forces.

This “total gift” is perhaps the radical way of taking seriously the words of Christ: “cut off from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When it is lived in an authentic way, that is, when chastity becomes “priestly charity”, it makes a substantial contribution to the effectiveness of our apostolate. Sociological surveys are useful and even of very great value, and trying out new forms of evangelization and studying them is a necessity. But the former do not automatically lead us to be “close to the people” (C 8) and the latter remain ineffective when they are not supported by “the priestly charity of Jesus” [54]. It is to attain this charity that the vow of chastity seeks to liberate the Oblate. On the other hand, our apostolate has a purifying influence on us and encourages growth in our love of God and others. It enables us to be faithful to our celibacy: “We find support […] in apostolic commitment to all” (C 18).

“He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor…” (Luke 4:18). There lies the Christological aspect which shaped in a substantial way the charism of the Founder, and as a result, the charism of the Oblates. The term “poor” includes the lonely, the neglected, those who have given up on life and love. Is there any greater poverty than that of not being loved? The celibate life is a form of radical poverty which puts us in solidarity with all those men and women who suffer this kind of poverty. In his commentary on rule 13, Father Jetté wrote: “We are never alone in our consecrated chastity: we bear all our brothers and sisters on this earth” [55].It also enables us to share in the love of Christ who gives witness to all people that every individual is loved. Obviously, this presupposes that this love is not lived in an elitist manner or as heroic renunciation, but rather in a spirit of thanksgiving for “the gift from the Father” (C 12) and in the joy of answering the invitation extended to us by the Lord; as a “yes” which “is an affirmation of life and love” (C 16).

Chastity and inculturation – To speak of incarnation in the context of mission means to speak of inculturation. Inculturation of the evangelical counsels as an essential element in the following of Christ constitutes an essential part of full evangelization in the Church. The great number of priests and religious men and women in the young churches shows that the Spirit has been and still is powerfully at work.

In this domain, consecrated chastity has raised and continues to raise questions. This is not the place to treat of these issues. For the missionary, it is important to sustain the action of the Spirit and to make the call of the Lord heard by his fidelity to his vocation, as well as by making manifest the joy and the freedom it gives. This is not always easy to do. The missionary must be up to living his vow in the context of cultures, mentalities and customs which can vary considerably from what he is used to. It seems the Founder had already considered questions related to this issue. [56] At the first congress of scholasticate superiors held at Rome in 1947, the assembly was aware of this question and spoke of “a crisis of transition in the foreign missions” by referring to some difficulties in relation to the vow of chastity (loneliness, climate) and giving some examples [57]. The approved text of Rule 12, par. 2 [R 18b in CCRR 2000], gives a brief rule of practical conduct.

In any case, the problem was not limited to the mission ad gentes. In the Western world as well, the cultural, religious, moral and social milieu has undergone a significant transformation. The new text of the Constitutions and Rules attempts to address these issues by making a call to inculturate the gift of God in a changing world.


Today, when one engages in a discussion on religious life, one often has the impression that the prophetic stance of the religious life is reduced to a commitment to peace and justice. On this point, the basic text for the Oblates, Constitution 9, opens up broader horizons. “We are members of the prophetic Church. While recognizing our own need for conversion, we bear witness to God’s holiness and justice”. To give witness to holiness means to live one’s commitment in such a way that God’s holiness is communicated to all and as a result all ten of the commandments are held as holy: the life and dignity of persons, marriage and the family, creation and its fulfillment, power and dependency, ownership and sharing. The prophet reveals the lie in the person’s relationship to God, among people themselves and within each individual person. He stresses God’s rights without which people could not live as they should, and he gives witness to the primacy of love of God in all human activity. Not only does he give witness in word, but also by his actions and often through his very existence: marriaage or celibacy, witness or counter-witness, insult or consolation, sadness or joy: every bit of that can bear witness. In Jesus Christ, the Prophet par excellence, words, actions and existence form one prophetic reality.

A life lived according to the evangelical counsels is a prophetic gesture in the measure that it lays a radical foundation for the relations of the one who lives this life in harmony with the will of God and on the condition that it not be simply a witness in words, but an existential sign of God’s holiness, of the primacy of his love and the coming of his Kingdom. In this way, life itself becomes a challenge.

“The fact that prophecy’s first function is not that of foretelling the future is essential to its definition. It consists much more in giving witness to the reality of God before all in word and deed, in a manner that is at the same time challenging. Celibacy is basically only one of the three names given to God’s self-revelation to people and to the world. This special gift of the incomprehensible love of God for all has, so to speak, three facets: that is, poverty, obedience and consecrated celibacy.” [58]

Celibacy plumbs in a special way the depths of the body/spirit relationship of a person to become the prophetic sign par excellence of the primacy of the love of God.

In the case of the vows of poverty and obedience, this prophetic aspect becomes clearly obvious in the choice of words used: “Our choice of poverty compels us … to contest the excesses of power and wealth and to proclaim the coming of a new world… (C 20). “Challenging the spirit of domination, we stand as a sign of that new world […] (C 25). In the English translation of Constitution 15 on the vow of chastity, this approach is maintained: “challenge the tendency to possess and to use others for selfish purposes”,while in the French text it is more lackluster and focuses only on one’s personal attitude: “This choice [of celibacy…] helps us to master the tendency to selfish relationships”.

The other aspect of the prophetic dimension, that is the eschatological aspect, is presented in a prudent yet still clear way: “We live our celibacy as a sign of the perfect charity which will be fully revealed only in the Kingdom” (C 15). Celibacy remains incomprehensible, and ultimately, unacceptable without this vision of the coming of the Kingdom. This challenge is necessary precisely because this opening up to a broader future is easily lost on the modern and post-modern persons, and by this very fact, their understanding of celibacy tends to be less acute. In this sense, one can no doubt say that the sign value of celibacy surpasses or completes that of marriage. Both marriage and celibacy are signs of the love of Christ for his Church, signs of the intimacy and the fertility of this love. In addition, celibacy is a prophetic existence in as much as it points to the new family of those who do the will of God (See Matthew 12:46-50), the wedding feast of eternal life (See Apocalypse 19:9), and the resurrection of the dead (See Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35; C 16). [59]

The text of the Constitutions does not treat of the individual aspect of this eschatological vision, even though this is equally important for understanding the vows. In fact, it shows forth the loneliness, the poverty and radical powerlessness which are revealed in death and which harks back to the final fulfillment of love offered and received, in what is mine and what is yours, in the fullness of liberty and communion. Individual fulfillment and the coming of the Kingdom coincide for everyone, because it is then that God is “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).


It is impossible to determine without ambiguity what is understood as “communitarian dimension” in the line of thinking indicated above. We would like to understand it in relationship to the community of the Church, with the communities to which we are sent, as well as to the Oblate communities in which we live. Every charism is bestowed for the common good, and as a result, has a communitarian dimension. Consequently, we do not live our vows solely for God and for ourselves, but also and always in and for the Church, as an essential element of our mission. Moreover, Constitution 12 gives us a valuable spiritual thrust in this direction. “Community is the life-giving reality fashioned by the vows…”

This is obvious when we are dealing with poverty and obedience, but it is equally clear that celibacy makes possible an intensity of community life which is surpassed only by the family. On the other hand, psychology and human experience teach us that community life is a powerful support for celibacy [60]. Rule 11 [R 18a in CCRR 2000]stresses the importance for human maturation of living with others and for others. Father Jetté offers these comments on this passage: “If the Oblate is really happy and at ease in his milieu and deeply attached to one fellow Oblate or other, the changing needs of chastity within him will be met more easily [61]. We read as well in the main document of the 1992 Chapter: “Community living […] enables us to establish the truth within ourselves and to clarify our motivation. […] the community plays a role in bringing about healing and reconciliation” [62]. Even though this text does not treat of chastity directly, it confirms what was said before.

But the communitarian dimension goes deeper still. Through his vows, the Oblate takes on three bonds: a link to God through Christ, a link to the people of God which is the Church, a link to community, that is, the Congregation and through the Congregation, to his own immediate community. “Community is the life-giving reality fashioned by the vows which bind us in love to the Lord and to his people” (C 12). Belonging to a community becomes, so to speak, a part of his identity. We do not only live our vows with others who live them as well; we live them in common: “The group as such lives chastity, poverty, obedience, perseverance, if it wishes to fulfill its sign role in the Church and in the world; this goes beyond an individual practice of the evangelical counsels” [63]. The sign value becomes much more obvious through community. In community, we represent the Church; we are “a living cell in the Church” (C 12) and through celibacy lived in community, we give witness to “the depth of the Church’s covenant with Christ, her only Spouse, and to the spiritual fruitfulness of her union with him” (C 15). Thus the root and the fruit of consecrated celibacy are revealed: “To witness together ‘as a group’ to the Father’s love for us and to our enduring love for him” (C16). The Oblate’s chastity draws life from the call of Christ to this community [64] and frees him to exercise his charity in his community and to others.

For the individual Oblate, the way of living his chastity is, then, not simply a private affair. The personal contribution he makes is not only due to the Lord and to himself, but also to the community. First of all, to the community that is the Church, because when the root of apostolic love dries up and dies, the “living cell” becomes a cancerous abscess. Then, to the Oblate community, because it is only in this way that it is, according to the example of the Apostles, on its pilgrim way united radically to Christ, the Lord: “We are pilgrims, walking with Jesus in faith, hope and love” (C 31). Finally, to the community of those men and women to whom we are sent, because it is only in this way that we are truly “free […] for a love which reaches out to everyone” (C 15). [65]

Friendships that bind him in a special way to one or the other person in the community or outside of the community offer no hindrance to this. The Constitutions and Rules even recommend them with a certain insistence, contrary to what had been the custom among Oblates in days gone by, especially in the context of formation (rarely one, never two, always three). It is obvious that friendships can contribute to the development of the essential values which can foster both community life and the apostolate. They build a rampart against developing the bachelor mentality or becoming eccentrics, which is the opposite of being “apostolic men”. We have already mentioned how much the Founder valued friendship. [66]

Nevertheless, we have to point out that life as a consecrated celibate is lived in a tension between solitude and community life. It is precisely from this tension that celibacy draws the strength of its prophetic dimension. There is such a thing as fleeing into a relationship of two persons that, as it were, releases the tension on the bowstring and makes the salt of celibacy insipid to the point of losing all its value and of being thrown out as worthless.

Three criteria are useful in judging a friendship. Neither interiorly nor exteriorly should it separate one from the community; nor should it offer any obstacle for apostolic commitment; it should foster friendship with Christ. He is the one who bore all our solitudes to the point of ultimate “abandonment” on the cross. It is he who laid the foundation for all life in common through his Mystical Body.

“I shall not call you servants any more … I call you friends” (John 15:15). This profound friendship with Christ should be the distinguishing mark of every relationship and all communion. It is equally open to the one who, for whatever reason, has not succeeded in finding elsewhere friends in the proper sense of the word. It is in terms of this friendship that we should, especially and above all, commit ourselves. There is no need of fear or for excessive anxiety for all the rest: The rest will be given to us in addition. It is with this kind of friendship as a starting point that a true community will develop. It will enable the Oblate “to love others as Jesus loves them” (R 12) [R 18b in CCRR 2000]. [67]


Even if, in the Constitutions and Rules of 1982, Mary is not mentioned in strict relationship with the vow of chastity [68], we cannot entirely avoid speaking about her even in a short, incomplete article on Oblate spirituality and chastity. Mary is “the model and guardian of our consecrated life” (C 13). This obviously includes consecrated celibacy.

In the area of chastity, Mary is the model, especially as virgin and mother [69]. She reminds us that our gift of love such as it is expressed in the vow of chastity must become fruitful by offering Christ to the world (See C 10). Our consecrated love must not become something isolated from concrete human living, as for example, a sublimation of our ability to love into a totally supernatural realm. Nor must it be reduced to a tool to attain our own individual perfection. On the contrary, it must serve life in the concrete circumstances in and around us. “The normal atmosphere for chastity is not that of turning in on oneself or an attitude of selfishness, but rather that of openness to one’s neighbor and the gift of self to others”, writes Father Jetté. Through her maternity, Mary’s virginity was very concretely at the service of the Word of life. In the same way, celibacy consecrated to the service of life should grow into spiritual fatherhood, otherwise it will become like salt which has lost its flavor. [70]

Open to the Spirit – The tension between Spirit and flesh obviously cannot be reduced to the domain of genitalia, but it is in this context that Paul himself speaks of the works of the flesh while exhorting us to walk “guided by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).

In her virginal maternity, Mary is the spouse of the Holy Spirit. As such, she is for us Oblates, “in her faith response and total openness to the call of the Spirit, […] the model and guardian of our consecrated life” (C 13). For the one who is called, chastity is, on the one hand, the way to this Marian availability; on the other hand, chastity can only be lived by the power of the Spirit in view of producing “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). Our devotion to Mary must be such as to lead us to become truly spiritual men. In this way, it will help us to always have a deeper appreciation of this gift of God and will make it bear fruit.

“They will always look upon her as their Mother” – this heritage left to us by our Founder is a distinguishing element in our Oblate spirituality. To live the celibate life, a healthy relationship with one’s mother, after having experienced healing, is of great importance. Facing life with confidence, a mature affectivity, a healthy sensitivity, respect and modesty find in this their deepest roots. Mary cannot be a surrogate spouse or mother, but she can be “one of these beneficent intimate presences who keep us faithful to God most holy in all our sufferings and joys as missionaries” [71]. Such an intimate presence can help us live through the experiences of marginalization, of childhood trauma, to reach a genuine freedom to live a celibate life in peace and joy. Obviously, this presupposes that our relationship with Mary as our mother would not be lived in a childish fashion, but in an adult manner under the guidance of the word of God. [72]

This intimacy with Mary can take on a wide variety of forms according to the human character and spiritual profile of each individual. Where it is lived out in a healthy fashion, it will contribute to the intimacy of the friendship with Christ which is absolutely essential for the celibate person. Without this friendship, the vow would be unable to fully develop its power of freedom and happiness. Without the experience of an intimate relationship with the Lord, whom one encounters in life and in action one would have to make a psychological effort that would be beyond one’s strength. Constitution 36 tells us: “With Mary Immaculate, the faithful handmaid of the Lord, and under the guidance of the Spirit, we enter into closer union with Jesus Christ”.

Mary Immaculate – “To instill in them a great devotion to Mary Immaculate”, such was the advice given during the congress for superiors of scholasticates mentioned above [73]. To be sure, it would be lethal for Oblate spirituality to attempt to limit the richness of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception to one facet of moral purity no matter how this purity was understood. But there will always be some Oblates who will spontaneously find in this privilege of Mary’s a source of spiritual power, including an empowering in regard to their life of consecrated chastity.

This privilege was bestowed on Mary in view of the total gift of herself to Jesus as virgin and mother and enables her to be both at the same time with her whole person, spirit, soul and body. Her whole life was assumed into the “Yes”, of her Son [74]. Sin’s “No”, to God never touched Mary’s life. The consequences of original sin never brought disturbance to the untrammeled openness of her entire being to God and to God’s Reign. “A structurally ordered person” is the way the Oblate Marian Congress held in Rome in 1954 designated her [75]. “The Immaculate is a ordered person; it is that order which becomes a maternal principle for us.” [76]

What is called here “a structurally ordered person” can, no doubt, be seen in relation to what we today call “mature affectivity” or “the mature person”, even if the two concepts are not entirely correlative. We know how important the two are for the celibate life. Obviously, it is not just a devotion to Mary Immaculate that will make of our life of consecrated celibacy “an adult chastity” [77], but one can easily see that it can be useful to live it looking towards Mary Immaculate, and in a way, letting her lead us by the hand. [78]

The object of the concepts developed here is not to lead to a Marian devotion fixated on the aspect of chastity, but simply to indicate a few avenues of reflection showing the relationship between the vow of chastity and the Marian character of our charism.


Chastity is an area which is presently very much in ferment: In the context of an ever changing world, there is a positive effort to correctly understand the individual’s sexual identity and the relationships between partners; the overwrought atmosphere that exists in many areas of modern or post-modern society; the almost frantic suppression of taboos, on the one hand, and the quasi-inquisitional public condemnation of the failings of priest, religious men and women, on the other hand; the intense debate surrounding the celibacy of priests… In our day, these questions, among others, place ever greater demands on the discernment and formation of future priests and religious. It was not possible to address this whole question in the limited scope of this article. The document produced by the General Committee on Formation (Rome, 1994) speaks of the necessity of treating the phenomenon of homosexuality in the context of our vocation to the religious life and recommends that it be integrated into our program of formation in the form of a gradual psychosexual journeying with the individual. [79] We would like to underline and support these two recommendations.

Independently of this ferment surrounding chastity, we still have the obligation to reflect on what is essential. In my opinion, the following principles are decisive to achieve this end:

1) The basis of everything is and remains the Word of God.

2) The teaching of the Church shows us the way.

3) The primacy of love must always be respected.

4) Prayer and asceticism, missionary commitment and community are indispensable as supporting structures.

5) The mystery of Mary and the example of our saints provide light and encouragement. They teach us that when it is authentically lived as a response to the Lord’s call, “the gift of the Father” leads us to the heart of the following of Christ, that is, to “living our Christianity” which is an undivided love for God and for others. “Virginity does not exist simply to be the object of men’s admiration. The only thing which counts it to be laid hold of by Jesus Christ and to proclaim the message of his love.” [80]