Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

25 August 2012

You Could Use A Complement

The readings from Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time (Year II) pointed to God’s providential purpose for our past and our future.  Not surprisingly, the readings also related to the life-states of marriage and celibacy.  Together they form the peanut butter and jelly of ecclesial life; their common purpose enhances their distinct flavors and their power to nourish and delight a hungry Church.

Ezekiel speaks for God’s tender care for Israel.  From her beginnings she was no thoroughbred.  She certainly didn’t look the part, and received no royal regard from her neighbors.  But the Lord, like a suitor, doted on Israel: “I spread the corner of my cloak over you to cover your nakedness” (16:8), an act of the marriage-minded (cf. Ruth 3:9).  From this covenant flows a series of lavish acts of mercy that win the Bride great fame.

In time (who knows how long?) the Bride’s many adornments go to her head—which she soon fails to use—becoming the Jane for every John and the shrine for every false idol.  The Lectionary discreetly omits the detailed catalogue of her sins and their consequences, preferring to jump to the Lord’s astounding promise of restoration.

The Lord Jesus refers the Pharisees to “the beginning”—Genesis—for the basis of the unity and indissolubility of marriage.  According to NAB footnotes, the Mosaic concession of divorce was limited to porneia, specifically the violation of certain blood or legal relationships.  Elsewhere in the New Testament, the Greek term takes on more extensive meaning: unchastity, prostitution, and idolatry.  The Divine Bridegroom is faithful (cf. 2 Cor 1:18 et al), and so He will not desert His Bride even if she should forget or deny the covenant.

The Apostles, married except for one (according to Tradition), are brought to a moment of desperation.  The very idea of forever, faithful, and fruitful seems futile, worth rethinking.  “If that is the case with a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Mt 19:10).  Just as Jesus refuses to backpedal in the “Bread of Life Discourse” of John 6, He does not try to calm the querulous apostles.  Celibacy is for those “to whom that is granted,” and the gift requires personal acceptance: you have to sign for it.

By choosing God’s choice of non-marriage, priests and consecrated religious are not exempt from the struggles of our faithfully married counterparts.  We were warned.  My bishop directed rather convicting words to me and my classmate over ten years ago when he ordained us deacons: “Look upon all unchastity and avarice as worship of false gods; for no man can serve two masters.”

(The Bishop said what he said, and then he ordained us.  The following year, he advanced us to the presbyterate.  Neither of us would claim flawlessness in thought, word, and deed regarding the evils just now mentioned, or any other.  Praise the Divine Mercy that works in and through earthen vessels, liberating the repentant from the tyranny of the past for the sake of a splendid future!)

Celibates, too, must constantly return to “the beginning” to discover who made us, and what for.  The answer to both: Love.  The chaste celibate bears witness to the Kingdom of Heaven, the end and aim of human existence: “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30).  By no means does this “higher love” rob earthly love of its significance; instead the celibate’s joyful life is meant to encourage faithfully and fruitfully married people that they’re going in the right direction.

It hasn’t always been easy for me to remember my First Love.  The temptations of “the world, the flesh, and the devil” clamor for my attention all the time.  In this respect I presume to identify with the married couples I encounter and serve.  What’s more, I look to faithfully and fruitfully married people for encouragement along my appointed path to the Kingdom.  Husbands and wives and children are the primary reason for my consecration.  I exist to serve them by proclaiming the Gospel to them, celebrating the Sacraments for them, and caring for their souls.  In turn, their sacrificial fidelity and fruitfulness challenge me to deeper prayer and generous apostolate—lest celibacy devolve into easygoing bachelorhood.

So let’s stick together, celibates and spouses.  Together we demonstrate the complementarity of the spiritual and the material.  Together we remind people who (for whatever reason) are unmarried that life must be directed toward God and neighbor—with clear intention and with palpable delight.  Already the Church can announce that “the wedding day of the Lamb has come, His bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7).

For further reflections on this topic, see:

Mark Shea on the Celibate Priesthood
Pope Benedict XVI on the Relationship of Celibates and Spouses

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