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in the Catholic Mystic Tradition


Questions and Answers


How do I undo a vow of celibacy? I made a personal vow not to have sexual relationships but it is too hard to keep. Now I am miserable. What can I do now?

Outline of the Answer
• Isaac and Rebekah
• Making a Vow
• Confusing Celibacy with Chastity
• Your Baptismal Vows
• Feeling Guilty?

A personal vow is not really a vow in the formal sense, so to undo it all you have to do is tell God that you made a mistake. God can forgive any of our mistakes; all He asks of us in return is that we learn from them in humility, so that we continue to grow in holiness no matter what mistakes we make.

Now, if you want to understand what a formal vow is all about, read the beginning of the story of Isaac and Rebekah:


Abraham had now reached a ripe old age, and the LORD had blessed him in every way. Abraham said to the senior servant of his household, who had charge of all his possessions: “Put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not procure a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live, but that you will go to my own land and to my kindred to get a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant asked him: “What if the woman is unwilling to follow me to this land? Should I then take your son back to the land from which you migrated?” “Never take my son back there for any reason,” Abraham told him. “. . . If the woman is unwilling to follow you, you will be released from this oath. . . .” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore to him in this undertaking.


—Genesis 24:1-9

Making a Vow

Although nobody knows what put your hand under my thigh actually meant to Abraham and his servant, scholars speculate that it may have implied that the servant would bring a curse—perhaps of sterility—on himself if he failed to fulfill his promise. And in this we see the whole point of making a vow.


First, a formal vow properly occurs between at least two human persons. Even though service to God may be a part of the vow, the contract stays between the persons directly involved. For example, religious vows are not made directly between an individual and God; the vows are made before a priest, the religious superior, and the entire community. In the above example from Genesis, the vow was made between Abraham and his servant.


Second, the vow serves to support an external mission; in the above example from Genesis, the vow supported the mission to procure a wife for Isaac.


Third, we see that the vow can be cancelled legitimately if for some external reason the mission is thwarted; in the above example from Genesis, the refusal of the woman to follow the servant back to the land of Isaac would release the servant from his vow.


Finally, the person making the vow understands that something bad—something very, very bad—will happen if the vow is merely abandoned, rather than cancelled legitimately.

Considering these three points, it should be clear that a personal vow of which you speak is really not a vow at all, for two reasons.

Confusing Celibacy with Chastity

First of all, you’re confusing celibacy with chastity.

Celibacy refers to being unmarried.


Chastity refers to abstinence from all sexual activity outside of Holy Matrimony and a commitment to the holiness of sexuality within matrimony.

Therefore, a personal vow of celibacy would not serve any external mission; you can live a Christian life whether you’re married or unmarried, and if you want to remain unmarried you do not need to make any vows—you just don’t get married. 

Your Baptismal Vows

Secondly, a “personal vow not to have sexual relationships” is redundant, because it is preempted by other vows you have already made, vows that serve a very serious mission: your baptismal vows to renounce Satan, to turn away from evil and sin, and to turn to Christ in chaste and holy service.

Read an excerpt from a writing about baptism
by Saint Basil

Through the indelible spiritual mark of baptism you became incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, against which “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail” (Matthew 16:18). Thus, at baptism, you were bound to the mission of attaining everlasting life, and you received Christ’s personal promise that nothing external would ever thwart that mission.

Now, should you so chose, you could fulfill this mission through the additional vows of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. But, if you don’t choose Holy Matrimony, you have no other option besides celibacy (Matthew 19:12-14). And celibacy must be lived in chastity because at the moment of your baptism you were pledged to live your life in chastity (Catechism of the Catholic Church § 2348).

Furthermore, you could take religious vows to fulfill your Christian mission within a religious order in celibacy, but ultimately these are formal vows, not a personal vow.

So, outside of Holy Matrimony, there can be no sexual relationships. And if you “undo” your baptismal vows and fail in your mission, well, then, just be warned: no sexual “partner” will be able to protect you when, at your judgment after death, the glaring light of divine truth illuminates the abhorrent unholiness of your behavior and you sink down, forever separated from God, into something very, very bad.

Feeling Guilty?

I don’t say this to make you feel guilty, because the true Catholic Faith has nothing to do with guilt. I say these things because they are true, and the true Catholic Faith is all about truth. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. Baptism is about life, and the only way to preserve that life is to remain faithful to your baptismal vows.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.
     Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

—From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great, pope
Office of Readings, December 25


Who wrote this web page?


What the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

The various forms of chastity

2348 All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has “put on Christ,” the model for all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.
2349 “People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.” Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence. . . .


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