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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Priestly Celibacy – Eschatological Sign

When speaking about celibacy, St. Paul often becomes the point man in the argument. Nevertheless, the Gospels also give us much food for spiritual reflection.

Matthew 19:9-12 – “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” [His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Jesus explains that many misunderstand the true meaning of marriage. Next he talks about those who were born eunuchs, those made so by men, and those who embraced such a life for “the kingdom of heaven.” We hear angry debates these days about homosexuals and whether they were born with the disorientation or it was inflicted by others through trauma or seduction. At least for the so-called eunuch, both scenarios are true. Jesus is acknowledging that some men are naturally inclined to a negligible sexual drive. Some critics contend that he actually includes homosexuals in this category of eunuch since by nature or intervention, they can only live a moral or holy life if they abstain from improper sexual relations. Slaves who watched over harems were sometimes made into physical eunuchs by the removal of their testicles. A similar practice existed in the Western world where young boys were castrated to preserve their high pitched singing voices. Such a practice would rightfully be condemned today as a form of mutilation. Jesus did not approve of such procedures; he merely acknowledged that these interventions happened. His real emphasis was upon the spiritual eunuch or virgin or celibate. The celibate is a living and visible sign of what we shall become when this world passes away and sacramental signs make way for the beatific vision and divine unity.

Matthew 22:30 – “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.”

While we shall rise from the dead, like the angels, we will find our completion and union directly in God. There will be no more marriage or giving in marriage. We see this teaching also in Mark and Luke.

Mark 12:25 – When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven.”

Luke 20:34-36 – Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.”

Right now, in the mortal world, we must have children to insure the survival of the race. However, in the world to come there will be no more death. Like the angels, the number of men and women will be fixed. There will be no more propagation and thus no need for marriage. The celibate priest seeks a spiritual propagation through the conversion of souls. He finds his joy in the regeneration of new sons and daughters to the heavenly Father through spiritual adoption. Men and women will not become a homogeneous humanity in the risen life of the kingdom and neither shall we be strictly angels or ghosts. We shall share characteristics with angelic beings, no more suffering or death, friendship with God, etc.  But we shall be restored in body and soul.  Angels, properly speaking, were never born and have no physical bodies.  Just as not all angels are the same and they are ranked; it is my thought that maleness and femaleness will be ingredients in our demarcation. Of course, our matter has also been informed by our earthly life, our experiences, choices and perception. In other words, we will still have gender and our real selves will be resurrected; but it will be apart from marriage, the sexual drive and the generation of children. That plainly makes it all very different from how we currently understand, employ and struggle as physical-sexual ensouled beings. We count it as true because Christ has revealed it to us. Nevertheless, how it can be true and what it shall make of gender currently remains a puzzle to us. This is a far cry from the graphic and carnal afterlife imagined by many Moslem men in light of promises from the Koran. This makes the Catholic view one that is “in media res,” between a purely spiritual existence and one that merely mirrors, with some amplification, what we currently experience in the body.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you Fr Joe. I have carried that concern for some time and your comments have really helped! You are in our prayers.

  2. Hello Father, the teaching on marriage in heaven (or lack thereof) I find often makes me sad rather than happy. My wife of 15 years and I are very, very close both to each other and to the Church. I know that I must trust in the Lord’s plan and I maybe even being a bit selfish, but afterlife without her as my mate brings me sorrow. I believe she feels the same way. We don’t love in a dysfunctional way, but love that is the result of hard work, sacrifice and commitment. While not always “storybook,” we have experienced the beauty of the Sacrament over the years. What do you say to couples like us? I imagine you have dealt with this question many times and would love to hear your thoughts.

    FATHER JOE:

    Sacraments by definition are sacred signs instituted by Christ to give grace. Marriage has both a natural significance and the sacramental overlay. Should we find ourselves in heaven, the natural will pass into the supernatural and the Lord says that we will be akin to the angels, neither marrying nor giving in marriage. The sacrament passes away because we will now experience immediately the bond between Christ and his Church. Heaven or the communion of the saints is an eternal marriage banquet of the Lamb. That is the background to my response.

    I cannot say exactly how we will feel in heaven. Can we even imagine an existence where there is no more suffering or death? Have we ever had a moment when we did not struggle with concupiscence and temptation? That too will be behind us. There is a mystery here that we cannot fully know until it rushes upon us. However, I think there are a few things we can say. First, we will be “home” with all that this word signifies. Second, just as you know the joy of married life and union; nothing of this happiness will be lost. Indeed, I suspect that it will intensified by our union with Jesus and others among the saints. Your joy will be her joy, and vice versa. Third, your fulfillment in Christ does not mean that you will find yourselves separated. Clumsy attempts at union in marriage are only a scratching at the surface of the joy of union that awaits you. There will be a spiritual but more profound bond. The joy of heaven is that you get to share the risen life of Christ with your loved ones, forever. Human marriages die with the grave. But the love that was realized in marriages and families goes on forever. One bond passes away so that a more profound bond might replace it.

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