4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Celibacy and its Purpose (1 Cor. 7)
Today I want to focus on our second reading from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians which discusses about marriage and our present age. In chapter seven of the letter, the suggestion that Paul offers (which he clearly states is a counsel and not a command) is that those who are unmarried remain so, and the married also remain. This stems from the last line of what we heard in last week's reading, “the world in its present form is passing away,” which immediately preceded today's section. The urgency of the Christian vocation is exactly what Paul is emphasizing: nothing is more important than our daily growth in our relationship with the Lord, in our growth in his grace. This is what we are all supposed to be focused on, married or not...and God gives each of us the specific things we need to help us live that out in our unique situations. John Paul II, when describing Paul's words in a few of his “Theology of the Body” Wednesday audiences, emphasizes that “Those who choose marriage and live in it receive a 'gift' from God, “their own gift,” that is, the grace proper to this choice, of this way of living, of this state [of life]. The gift received by persons who live in marriage is different from the one received by persons who live in virginity and choose continence for the kingdom of God; nevertheless it is a true :gift from God,” an gift that is “one's own,” destined for concrete persons, and “specific,” that is, adapted to their vocation in life.
However, what we hear today is simply the reality that many of you are probably very familiar with: a married man or woman is concerned about pleasing his or her spouse, and the unmarried is dedicated to the Lord and the things of the Lord. “'Pleasing the Lord' [in contrast to pleasing one's spouse], has love as its background... 'Being anxious about how to please God' is thus a contribution by man to the continued dialogue of salvation begun by God. ...Every Christian who lives by faith takes part in this dialogue.”
So what about the “unmarried” that Paul describes? Recalling especially himself, Paul points out that those who have not given themselves to another in marriage are more able to give themselves entirely to the Lord. This is why Fr. Bill and I are not married to an individual woman: because we are meant to be about the things of the Lord, ministering to his needs in the parish. And even more fundamentally, we are already married mystically to the church, who is the bride of Christ Jesus to whom we have been bound by our ordination.
Finally, both the married and unmarried Christians provide answers to each others' mysteries, as John Paul II also reminds us: “These two dimensions of the human vocation are not opposed to each other, but complementary. Both provide a full answer to one of man's underlying questions: namely, the question about the meaning of “being a body,” that is, the meaning of masculinity and femininity, of being “in the body” a man or woman.” If the married couples and the priests / religious are living out their vocations to the full, then all are edified by the other, since they teach us what it means to love another by giving oneself, and where we are destined to be forever with the Lord.
And both of these are received today from this altar. As we encounter heaven come down to earth, we also see in the cross and the Eucharist what love truly is: the self given for the other. Let us pray that whatever God calls us to, whether priests, consecrated religious, married, single, we may all allow the things of the Lord to be our solitary focus.