“How can you be a nun? You’re the most boy-crazy girl I know!”
My good friend first jokingly teased me with this question when we were both still teenagers. I was in the earliest stages of my discernment at the time, and I couldn’t give her a good answer to her question.
That was nearly two decades ago. I like to think that I’ve matured a lot since I was a boy-crazy teenager, and that I’ve come to understand how the complex parts of my personality can all enrich my relationship with God. Over the years, I have become convinced that God used my teenaged feelings to steer me toward my vocation. In fact, being “boy-crazy” actually influenced my first experience of “call” to the Catholic Sisterhood.
I was a teen who deeply desired to please God. I remember praying for guidance regarding my attraction to a certain boy while alone in my bedroom one night. As I prayed, I heard a very intense answer. Like a song stuck in my head on repeat, over and over I heard, “Be a nun.” I tried to ignore this phrase, but it only got louder. I knew it was coming from a very deep, very true part of me. In awe and fear, and feeling very confused, I started to sob. As I have shared before, I didn’t know any nuns or sisters growing up, so I had a lot to learn. It was only later that I discovered that what I was really called to was Catholic sisterhood and not nunhood.
I never disagreed with the “boy-crazy” label my friend gave me. She had heard me speak about my feelings for several cute boys through all the drama of junior high and high school, so she could make a good case. In fact, she is the only person who also remembers my first “boyfriend” from our childhood. When Junior Prom came, we double-dated a set of twins. Then during college, we continued to giddily share our secrets about boys with each other.
Really though, I wasn’t all the way boy-crazy in the way that you might think. I didn’t really date that much. I was always very clumsy at it, and I felt that being a “girlfriend” never really occurred naturally for me. Even with a little dating, I came to recognize that I frequently and quickly developed deep, affectionate feelings for others. I would get very excited (and at times, somewhat dramatic) due to the goodness and beauty that I saw in other people. I had to accept that, for me, falling in love over and over again would probably be a pattern throughout my whole life.
Still, I found myself dealing with an even stronger pull to Catholic sisterhood. Even with all my affection for others, I found that my eagerness to serve and love God and live in community was much more intense. God tends to have a clever and mysterious way of making the right things happen.
When I entered my community, I brought all the dynamics of my personality right along with me, including my friend’s question about my being boy-crazy. That vocational question, and other early struggles, gradually evolved like the shorelines of the sea. My journey has been rich and blessed and full of many experiences. I have been with my community for enough time for me to now know that this lifestyle is the best fit for me. I have a deeper understanding of who I am and what I really want. I have come to understand that the vows of religious life suit me well. I’ve already shared about the realities of living the vows of poverty and obedience, so I now will voice how celibacy works for a “boy-crazy” celibate woman like me.
Celibacy works for me because it permits my love to be inclusive and expansive, like God’s love. Celibacy is a prophetic call that speaks of the Kingdom of God, where we are told that we will be free of any attachment, even marriage. (Mk 12) More than a “no,” it is a “yes” to God’s love. I am freed to experience the solitude and silence that nourish my relationship with God. It frees me from being attached to a particular person or place and allows me to be itinerant and go where God needs me.
I am allowed to love in a way that feels unlimited, as I can celebrate the beauty of any person that God puts in my life. In turn, I am honored to experience God’s affectionate love through all sorts of human relationships. Being a consecrated celibate means that my love is not focused mostly on one particular person, or family. Instead, I try to be an instrument of God’s love for all of God’s people, for the entire church, and the wider human community. Even with its challenging nature, I find that it is powerful. I am humbled that this is my vocation and I get to give my whole life, my whole body to God in this sacred way.
Even as a vowed celibate, I am still a woman who is boy-crazy, who falls in love over and over again, a woman who gets very excited and enamored about the beauty of others. But, more than that, I am people-crazy with love. You see, as I grow in my relationship with God, I am challenged to love like God loves. On my best days, I find myself loving all sorts of God’s people and getting excited and joyful about the beauty and goodness I see in almost everyone.
In the end, it turns out that the vow of celibacy is such a great fit for me, because I am much more than boy-crazy: I am people-crazy in love.
[Sr. Julia Walsh, FSPA, is a high school religion teacher and blogger; read more of her work at MessyJesusBusiness.com.]