Sebastian James was 16 when he decided he would be celibate for the rest of his life.
He was at a Christian retreat when he says he felt the Lord call him to give him his “whole life”.
“It was a clear calling. I don’t doubt it for a second that [the Lord] offered this as an opportunity. A bit like the rich young man in the gospels, when he’s living the commandments, and he asks ‘What else can I give you?’ and Jesus says to ‘give all that you have and follow me’. It was almost like that” (though Seb says he certainly was having more trouble than the rich young man just following the commandments!)
“It was like [Jesus] was saying, ‘You don’t have to do this to make me happier, Seb. But if you want to, you can give your entire life to me.”
“And I said yes. I just felt like this is what I’m supposed to do. This is outrageous, and it’s crazy. But I really can’t get it off my heart.”
I don’t think I’m missing out by not having a natural family. I have a very big spiritual family.
When Seb told one of his mentors on the retreat about his decision, he was encouraged to take a few days and keep praying about it. Christian retreats, said the mentor, can give you a spiritual high that might wear off somewhat. But it didn’t.
At 32, Seb has been celibate for half his life. He wears a ring on his left ring finger, partly as a reminder for himself and partly as a public sign that he is not “available.” He is a member of Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic society (or Prelature) that focuses on serving God through their everyday actions. He lives with a group of men who have also committed themselves, within Opus Dei, to a life of celibacy.
He says that as he’s grown older, the desire to have a family has become more apparent. “A natural family, that is,” he corrects himself.
“I think celibacy is a life of service. It’s a different type of service than the service you give in marriage. You’re still looking after a family, but it’s more of a supernatural family.
“But I don’t think I’m missing out by not having a natural family. I have a very big spiritual family. And my main focus in those relationships is how I can get that person closer to God.”
Seb is keen to talk about his life and commitment, because he thinks there are more people who could do what he’s doing. In fact, he believes God is calling more people to consider it.
“In Matthew 19:12, [the Lord] says ‘there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others – and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’
“I think more people have to be willing to hear our Lord and ask themselves whether he is calling them to this life. Because it is a beautiful gift. And you gain so much by having Christ purely and truly as your focus.”
He believes it is braver to get married in the current cultural climate than to remain single. “And I’m absolutely edified when I see people [marry] and make that decision.”
He says his decision wasn’t “brave” because he has been blessed with “the gift of celibacy.”
“It’s a life of service and sacrifice. And you do need to be willing to make that sacrifice. But I’ve realised, too, that God will give me the grace to do it.”
I always come back to the reality that I’ve made a commitment to someone. And for me, that’s Jesus Christ.
There have been a few women along the way that Seb has met and come to know who he could see himself committing to and spending a life with.
“I still feel attracted to women in a physical, biological sense. But with God’s help, I don’t need to act on that.
“Like any person who’s made a commitment to anyone, I always come back to the reality that I’ve made a commitment to someone. And for me, that’s Jesus Christ. My yes was yes. It was 100 per cent yes. I know he’s understanding of my human nature, but at the same time I said I wanted to give him my entire heart. So as long as he can sustain me in that commitment, I’ll continue to do it.”
Plenty of people might be eager to tell Seb what he’s missing out on. Some who don’t know him well try to set him up, or hint at a nice woman he might like. But he’s keen to stress that there is more to be gained in his singleness.
“I think you gain a real encounter with Jesus. You’re more open to him nourishing you on every level. When you’re married, I think you rely on your spouse and your children to enrich you in many ways. But as a celibate person, all your happiness and joy can stem from your love of Christ and your relationship with him.
“I still have temptations. And I start to think of ‘what ifs’. What if I did go with this girl that I met five years ago? Or what if I did have children of my own? But if you refocus and reassess when you’re being tempted and realise what’s happening, you know you just have to focus on the Lord. It’s just a passing, fleeting moment.
“Anyone who’s made any sort of commitment will face some temptation. But you don’t have to give in to those – especially if you rely on the grace that Christ can give you.”