This post is the second of two posts on the Consecrated Life this week, when the World Day for Consecrated Life and Bishop Loverde’s Mass for Consecrated Life fall, during this Year of Consecrated Life.
Brothers and sisters:
I should like you to be free of anxieties.
An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord,
how he may please the Lord.
But a married man is anxious about the things of the world,
how he may please his wife, and he is divided.
An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord,
so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.
A married woman, on the other hand,
is anxious about the things of the world,
how she may please her husband.
I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction (1 Cor 7:32-35).
By: Sr. Clare Hunter
I’m betting if St. Paul were alive today, that headline would have appeared pretty quickly on Sunday, and he and Pope Francis would commiserate over a cappuccino. Whether Pope Francis, or St. Paul, I hope we realize that there is always a context and a presumed fundamental theological truth that is behind what they say, controversial as the headline might seem. As these words from St. Paul were read at Mass on Sunday, many may have been uncomfortable, or even confused by St. Paul’s seeming “anti-marriage” advice. Further readings of St. Paul’s epistles quickly teach us that he has a well formed understanding of the goods of marriage. He exhorts husbands and wives to live marriage as intended by God, in the imitation of Christ, the Bridegroom who gives his very life for His Bride, the Church. He is not a man denouncing marriage, rather, he is calling us to the very heights of it.
We know that men and women are created for union — with God, and with each other. Spousal language is the core of our scriptures, the love story of a God who gives everything for His chosen Bride, His people. Our only response to this generous and loving God is to give our lives to Him. We know that the purpose of our lives on earth is to prepare for the final and eternal union with our Creator. Our commitments of love on earth are to transcend into a deeper, inconceivable union with the Trinity, saints and angels in heaven. It is through our vocations, through a spousal gift of self that we become more capable of union in eternal life. For most, this will be within marriage. Men and women who will need to be “anxious,” or a better translation, “concerned” about the things in the world. Of course we need husbands and wives to be concerned about each other and their family. But St. Paul is reminding us of the words of Christ, of a higher call, where one is living heaven on earth.
While Jesus Christ speaks of the permanence of marriage between a man and a woman, He also reminds us that marriage is temporary, and will not be in heaven. Furthermore, he speaks of those who will renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 19:12). Those who renounce marriage, who enter into consecrated life and the priesthood, remaining virgins and live celibately, are to be for the world a witness, the lived reality on earth of the spousal union with Christ in heaven.
We often speak of the beauty of the complementarity of men and women, and the particular way in which the male and female body, as opposites, can come together to make one, to bring forth new life. Certainly there are innumerable aspects of complementarity in nature, as well as in relationships, experiences and vocations. What might seem a counter-intuitive, complement relationship, is one that must be understood and lived if we are to live our vocations more deeply and perfectly. The Church has been eloquent in speaking of the essential complement relationship between marriage and virginity or celibacy. Priests and consecrated religious have a vested interest in upholding the sacredness of marriage as one man, one woman, just as married couples need faithful and holy men and women to live consecrated virginity or celibacy, two complement responses to the invitation to unity with God. I invite you to read the prophetic words of St. John Paul II in his encyclical, Familiaris Consortio, on this complement relationship.
Marriage and Virginity or Celibacy
Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage, but presupposes it and confirms it. Marriage and virginity or celibacy are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the covenant of God with His people. When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning.
Rightly indeed does St. John Chrysostom said: “Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be particularly good. It is something better than what is admitted to be good that is the most excellent good” (38).
In virginity or celibacy, the human being is awaiting, also in a bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the Church, giving himself or herself completely to the Church in the hope that Christ may give Himself to the Church in the full truth of eternal life. The celibate person thus anticipates in his or her flesh the new world of the future resurrection (39).
By virtue of this witness, virginity or celibacy keeps alive in the Church a consciousness of the mystery of marriage and defends it from any reduction and impoverishment.
Virginity or celibacy, by liberating the human heart in a unique way, (40) “so as to make it burn with greater love for God and all humanity,” (41) bears witness that the Kingdom of God and His justice is that pearl of great price which is preferred to every other value no matter how great, and hence must be sought as the only definitive value. It is for this reason that the Church, throughout her history, has always defended the superiority of this charism to that of marriage, by reason of the wholly singular link which it has with the Kingdom of God (42).
In spite of having renounced physical fecundity, the celibate person becomes spiritually fruitful, the father and mother of many, cooperating in the realization of the family according to God’s plan.
Christian couples therefore have the right to expect from celibate persons a good example and a witness of fidelity to their vocation until death. Just as fidelity at times becomes difficult for married people and requires sacrifice, mortification and self-denial, the same can happen to celibate persons, and their fidelity, even in the trials that may occur, should strengthen the fidelity of married couples (43).
These reflections on virginity or celibacy can enlighten and help those who, for reasons independent of their own will, have been unable to marry and have then accepted their situation in a spirit of service.
Please join Bishop Loverde for a Holy Mass celebrating all the Consecrated Men and Women in the diocese on Feb. 7 at 5:30 p.m. in the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, in Arlington.