An author recently asked me to write a priest’s story of “celibate love” for his book on marriage. But who would be interested in a non-physical “love story”? Don’t we unconsciously assume that a priests’ or nuns’ love is somewhat sterile, even love-less?
Rather than describing a priest’s love as “celibate,” I would describe it as “virginal.” Doesn’t everyone want to love a virgin? Don’t we all want to give our beloved a pure, virginal love? Here’s what I wrote, and let’s hope priests can at least aspire to the virginal love their celibacy signifies.
At age 22 I found myself studying literature in Oxford and singing in the local parish choir, where I met a young lady. She sang well, and invited me to her apartment for coffee and poetry reading. It was all very chaste, but not perfectly virginal, because I was thinking about her a lot more than about God. Of course, I couldn’t help but notice she was a woman, with a woman’s heart and a woman’s body.
One bitterly cold and foggy night, I was riding back from class on my bicycle. I came to a juncture in the Woodstock Road. Turning right, I would arrive at a cheery apartment where a lovely young lady would offer me hot coffee and pastries beside a bright fire, at which we would read beautiful poetry together. Turning left, I would arrive at the remains of Godstow Abbey. I liked to pray alone at this abandoned monastery beside the Thames, in whose bare ruined choirs the stars served for a roof and the grassy earth for a floor. It had been dissolved under the Elizabethan persecutions and stood on a broad moor in silent witness to the consecrated women who prayed and lived there from its establishment in 1133.
I turned right, and that has made all the difference. I spent an hour looking up to heaven from that roofless chapel, and then went home to read in my room. On that night, God showed me my heart’s longing. I desire to look through a chapel’s stone latticework into the stars more than through a hearth fire into the black eyes of a woman. The solitude of Godstow’s ruins on a windswept English moor are my love story, because this is where God drew me one foggy chill night.