Yesterday at the local bakery, while waiting for a loaf of baguette, a woman approached me and asked where my wife was. She meant well and was rather flustered, perhaps overly concerned with my apparent loneliness. Very quietly, I told her “We clergymen don’t take wives. I am celibate.” My verbiage left this woman rather confused! Poor dear, scratching at her hair, she answered, “So then, what do you celebrate?”
Since my baguette was taking longer than I expected, I figured to explain: “No madam, I said celibate, it means that someone does not marry and chooses to remain chaste for their lifetime.” At last, she understood. In horror, the poor dear cried out, “Oh, how unfortunate!”
After I received my baguette, while walking home, I realized that this woman’s attitude resembled most everyone else’s. And when dinner was finished, I decided to write something on this matter so others may be taught:
Do we not hear the Gospel and how Jesus passed the devious tests of the Pharisees? While the Jews concerned themselves with earthly things, who shall earn the wife of many deceased husbands, Our Lord drew towards heavenly matters: “For when they shall rise again from the dead, they shall neither marry, nor be married, but are as the angels in heaven (1)”. He does speak here of earthly unions, saying death shall dissolve the marriage bond… yet this does not dissolve the sanctity of marriage but beholds a new reality. In eternity, our human souls become espoused to none but the Lord God who crafted them. From His time in Eden, God had crafted holy matrimony for the blessing of humanity made in His image. He had sealed the marital bond with His charity and bestowed the gift of family, generations beyond, who will glorify His name.
Yet despite this great good, and let us declare it such great good, not all need belong to a husband or wife in this earthly stay. Hear the apostle: “The married man is anxious with pleasing his wife while a virgin is anxious with pleasing the Lord.” Think ye of such holy examples who undertook this: Mary Magdala who fled from impurity, John the Beloved, virgin and celibate, Joseph, Father of Christ, who lived out of godly fear, in marital continence. John the Messiah’s Forerunner and the prophet Jeremiah also pledged their flesh to God. This, the burnt-offering of the Levites prefigures: all is consumed, the whole body turned to ashes. Thus, Lord Jesus hath said: “He who loses his life shall gain life.” Many deem it gravest misfortune to be made a eunuch or mutilated, yet the one who who injures self for sake of the Kingdom is instead blessed, called “As the angels in heaven.”
May we say, “He that can take, let him take it (2).” True oblation is never forced. Duty cannot selflessly give, thus the error of the Pharisees who bound up sacrifice with law. The cross of Christ was never duty, no, Calvary’s offering was always love. Likewise, the man who forgoes marriage and creation of young does so from love. With a burning passion, he lays himself on the altar of chastity, ever hoping to consummate that supernatural union in heaven. In heaven, no marriage is known beside that with the Lord. A consecrated soul alone becomes as the bride of Solomon, choice, whitened, a heady wine, a hidden chord of sublime music, clad in gold, sweet as the lily, fair like the dove. Know, every brother, who delights in psalms rather than children’s’ laughter, is full of God’s delight. Know, every sister who gives not suck, goes out weeping yet returneth rejoicing, singing songs of joy. Know, every father who belongs to none, raises up by word of the Gospel, numberless descendants!
Blessed are the barren trees of Our Lord’s garden! By bowing down, they shed good seed and tend the saplings. They go to the sheep, made food for life anew. By restraining the flesh, they show us the angels. They mirror eternity, forever beloved and wedded to God, melded like wax beneath a burning flame, to Love Itself.
(1) Mark 12:25
(2) Matthew 19:12