July 7, 8 & 9, 2017
The monks of Mepkin welcomed Sister Sara Fairbanks, an Adrian Dominican Sister, for a series of presentations having to do with living healthy celibate chastity. At present, Sister Sara is the vocation director for her congregation whose administration is located in Adrian, Michigan. For the previous 20 years Sister Sara served as a professor of theology at Barry University in Miami, Florida. We were fortunate to have had Sister Sara come to teach classes in theology for our men in formation in the past and that experience drew us to consider to have her speak on this important topic.
The program over three days consisted of an opening presentation on Friday evening that was an overview of contemporary church teaching on sexuality, situating living healthy celibate chastity in a current understanding of relationship with God and others as a sexual human being. Obviously God gives us the gift of gender and the capacity for relationships with others. As fully human beings we are capable of physical intimacy. Believing oneself to be called by God to live one’s life foregoing this physical expression of love requires a maturity in both the emotional/psychological arena as well as in the spiritual arena. This means we do not deny that as is true for everyone else, it is true for us,we have a generative energy that will need to find expression. As responsible adults we want to channel this generative energy correctly. With references to many authors and the wealth of material available on this topic, Sister Sara laid a foundation for her presentations on Saturday and Sunday.
- On Saturday morning Sister Sara invited us to reflect on “Seven skills for intimacy with God:
Attentiveness to God
Asking God the right questions
Listening to God in all the circumstances of life
Self-disclosure of the heart
Right thinking about God
Spiritual freedom through indifference
Finding God in the silence of our hearts
Beginning from the position: “Since God brought all creation into existence, human flourishing and fulfillment are only realized in our intimate relationship with God.” Sister Sara went on to say that: “Our vow of consecrated celibacy is rooted in this profound truth. The heart of our celibate sexuality is our love relationship with God and with all the things God loves. God IS our central commitment. The skills for intimacy with God are primary for healthy lives of consecrated celibacy.” The session developed each of the seven skills emphasizing that being attentive to God calls us to a deep commitment to prayer and the prayer we offer is not so much with a God we have in our thoughts as a God who is present to us and with whom we are relating. God’s love is real and personal. There is a religious dimension to all our experience.
- Saturday afternoon, Sister Sara proposed that we work in small groups to share our own vocation stories, how we came to understand the call to celibate chastity, and to share, if we could, how that commitment has matured and deepened over time. Working with ten questions to help us get started, each group followed discovered which topics generated more interest for that group and so conversations in each group were understandably different. When we returned to the large group, a representative from each group gave a summary of his group’s conversation for the community.
- In the evening on Saturday, Sister Sara met with those in formation for an open conversation on the themes of the weekend. Certainly the question from the afternoon session: “Is there a need for Consecrated celibacy today?” received attention.
- On Sunday afternoon Sister Sara spoke with us on “Seven skills for intimacy with oneself”. Saying we have to resist any thinking or any teachings from our past that bring us to believe that attending to oneself or one’s own needs is selfish, Sister Sara brought us through reflecting on these seven themes:
Reverence for self
Welcoming and feeling our feelings
Managing our conflicted values
Taking charge of one’s life
Each of these themes was explored in such a way as to invite each monk to consider what might improve self-care in order to foster a stronger relationship with God allowing each one to then enter into all his other relationships from a healthier place. Self-reflection that is overly harsh or negative is not helpful. Self-reflection entered into from God’s unconditional love can promote healthy growth, ultimately benefiting not only the individual but all with whom the individual interacts.
Sister Sara’s efforts to bring us to see that healthy celibate chastity is grounded in living in a healthy way – spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, etc. were well received and much appreciated by the community.