This is the one I’ve been dying to share with you. Christopher West has been criticized for emphasizing the marriage part of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, but he really does glorify the beauty and importance of the celibate life as well. He may focus more on marriage, but I believe that’s just because the world needs that message even more.
**Anything in quotes that is not otherwise credited is from Christopher West, either the text of the study guide or loosely transcribed from his talk.
To review: Christopher West has been walking us through the Cliff’s Notes to JPII’s 129 talks collectively called The Theology of the Body. We’ve been seeking to answer two questions:
- What does it mean to be human? (A: to love as God loves. We’ve covered origin, history, and destiny – done.)
- How do we live our lives to find true happiness? (coming up: celibacy for the kingdom, marriage, specific questions of sexuality and happiness in marriage)
See all the TOB posts HERE.
“Some have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 19:12)
First we need to understand the meaning of the word “eunuch.” A eunuch, according to West, is someone who is physically incapable of sex or procreation. Therefore, a “eunuch for the kingdom” is someone who is capable, but freely decides to forego sex and procreation. One would do this “in order to devote all of his energies and desires to the union that alone can satisfy.”
“Those who are celibate for the kingdom share the same vocation to love [as God loves] as those who marry, but manifest this same vocation in a different manner.” Scripture is bookended by two marriages – the union of man and woman in Genesis and the union of the Church and God in Revelation. God makes it clear that the ultimate goal is not human marriage, but the marriage of the Lamb.
Those who choose the marriage of Christ and His Church while here on earth, “skipping” earthly marriage so to speak, “boldly proclaim that ‘the kingdom of God is here.’ They are fostering the children of God, not rejecting their sexuality. That word is overused in our culture such that its meaning has been watered down and misappropriated. “Sexuality” has been reduced to a verb, something we do. In reality, it simply means our male-ness or female-ness. Celibates don’t trade in their sexuality, their male- or female-ness – Rather they “live out of the ultimate meaning of our lives and what is to come.”
“The one who…adequately ‘grasps’ the call to [celibacy] for the kingdom of heaven…preserves the integral truth of his humanity without losing along the way any of the essential elements of the vacation of the person created ‘in the image and likeness of God.'” (Theology of the Body 77:1)
In other words, God is the eternal exchange of love, and we are called to participate in that exchange. Humans can choose marriage or celibacy to achieve that:
“Celibacy for the kingdom points to the authentic development of the image and likeness of God, in its trinitarian meaning, that is, in its meaning precisely of ‘communion.'” (TOB 77:2)
For those who choose marriage, it’s important to remember that we cannot seek (or find) our ultimate fulfillment or ultimate satisfaction in our spouses. Heaven must retain that role. If we expect ultimate anything from marriage, husbands and wives will argue and feel bitter about their relationship.
Because we are built to long for the infinite life of Heaven, anything here on earth falls short by definition. Marriage is a Sacrament, and the definition of a Sacrament is a foreshadowing of the Heavenly mystery. We don’t have Sacraments in Heaven because we don’t need them anymore; we’re there with God!
Is Celibacy Better Than Marriage?
The world often sees the Church’s views on marriage and celibacy as crazy:
- On the one hand we limit sex to one person
- On the other, some people totally give it up
In the eyes of the sex-saturated world, seeking only temporal pleasure, that is, by definition, crazy!
What we know that they don’t: sex is not the ultimate fulfillment. Those folks who are looking for their savior in bed are sorely disappointed. If there really is nothing better than sex in the world and beyond, is this a life worth living?? That’s what the world would have us believe, that this is the end. Good thing there IS something better:
“He who marries…does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.” (1 Corinthians 7:38)
West says that many who read this verse think that “if celibacy is so good, then marriage (or sex) must be so bad.” Not the mind of the Church!
“The ‘superiority’ of continence (abstinence) to marriage never means, in the authentic tradition of the Church, a disparagement of marriage or a belittling of its essential value.” (TOB 77:6)
In other words, the Church puts such high value on celibacy precisely because she places such a high value on that which celibates sacrifice – marriage. West reminds us that if you sacrifice/give up something you hate (think Lent), it is not a sacrifice. If you give up what you love, that thing has so much more value to you when you sacrifice it.
“Celibacy is exceptional because marriage remains the common calling in this life.” Rather than saying celibacy is “better” than marriage, since that makes a negative statement only speaking of what you’re giving up. So what does a celibate person get that married people don’t?
They participate in the Marriage of the Lamb! Of course they’ve chosen the better part!
One caveat to the “better”: we must remember that for each person, what is “best” or “better” is not objective, but subjective, depending completely on the life to which God calls them. Your chosen vocation, whether to marriage or celibacy for the kingdom, is the best place for you. We must all prayerfully discern what “gift” God has given each one of us.
For example, West tells us that he discerned that he is clearly called to marriage. He can’t get mad at God for not giving him the call to the priesthood just because that’s the “better” part. Many parts, one body.
Discern and live your vocation with joy!
An Affirmation of Sexuality
[to be continued…]
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