Celibacy is a kind of loneliness. In religious life we sometimes try to deny this--even to the point of using our denial as a selling point in our pastoral care of vocations: 'Community life is there to fulfill our needs for intimacy, for human relationship.' Perhaps it's true to some degree on the natural level--if you live in a good house--but in the end it won't get you there. Anyone who comes to religious life with the hope that it will supply his emotional needs is going to be sorely disappointed.
Celibates need to get lonely; it is the way into the Heart of the vocation. I remember when I first entered religious life at the age of twenty-two, full of the zeal of the convert and without a clue. In those days I looked upon my celibacy as something I was doing. It was this heroic privation and agonistic struggle I was accepting for the glory of God.
Some years later I now realize what a tremendous vainglory and immaturity it all was. Seeing more clearly, and perhaps a little more attuned to the subtleties of the Spirit and the Providence of God, I realize that my celibacy has not been my doing at all. It is a relationship into which God has been inviting and drawing me for a long time. Even before I could even consent to my desire for baptism, God was drawing me--in spite of myself--into this exclusive relationship.
In fact, it has required me to know well my own life as a lonely person, for in my own vow of chastity I have found the redemption of my loneliness. That's the thing: if you want to be celibate you have to consent to that searing and disorienting feeling of being terribly lonely. You have to sit in it and let in sit in you. You have to resist all of the ways that would-be celibates medicate themselves against the loneliness with alcohol, anonymous sex, pornography, mania for control, overwork, eccentric and pointless hobbies, and even the internet.
You have to refuse to medicate yourself, but instead feel the pain and find in it a path into the Wounded Heart of Christ Crucified. It is the only way that loneliness gets turned into the solitude where God speaks to the heart and gives you anything you might have to say the suffering world.
Via non est nisi per ardentissimum amorem crucifixi, said St. Bonaventure. There is no other way but through the burning love of the Crucified.
This whole dynamic strikes me sometimes on nights when I lock up the church. The parish priesthood is a very social job; in the course of a weekend I might interact with a few hundred people. But at the end of day there is nobody left, and in the big church in which you have experienced so much light and sound and humanity, it is only dark and quiet and lonely. But the loneliness of it is quickly transformed by a realization that this moment is your truest identity, as you stand in the obscurity of the Presence of the One who--in his inscrutable mercy--has always been so jealous for you.