Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Marriage and Celibacy: Reflecting Images
Transcending all my classes at Denver Seminary was the phrase, “already but not yet.” In a sense, the student could forget all else, but “already but not yet” was too critical to escape the mind and lips of the Christian. We know that redemption has been offered to us as a gift from God through the blood of Jesus Christ (cr. Jn. 3.16). The second person of the blessed trinity took on flesh so that the entire human being both body and soul could be restored into its original integrity. In other words, Christ has come so that we may love and be loved as we were created to love! This truth of the Gospel message articulates the “already” of the phrase already but not yet.
We also recognize that even though we have been baptized into Christ’s death, have received His real body and blood through the Eucharist, and have been sealed with the Holy Spirit through confirmation, we still do not always love the way we desire to love. As St. Paul beautifully confesses, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7.15). What St. Paul humbly expresses reflects the “not yet” element of the phrase. While salvation in Christ is offered to each and every person here and now, its full effects will not be felt until He comes again. Our king has conquered death and is currently standing before the throne of God in heaven, continually offering supplications of Himself for all the sins committed in the world (cf. Heb. 8.1-3; 9:11-14). However, he will come back to us one day to fully inaugurate His kingdom He established upon the cross. This is a cursory reflection of what lies behind the theological phrase, already but not yet.
The point of application is in the inner integrity of the tension in the phrase already but not yet. Both the already and the not yet must be retained for the Gospel to maintain its salvific potency. A Christian who solely focuses on the “already” is doomed to scrupulosity, becoming a slave to the external law from which we were freed from in Christ. On the other hand, the Christian who restricts the faith to “not yet” rejects the salvific power of the cross for humanity resulting in an existential crisis. We can never be better than we are since we will always be a product of our fallen nature says the “not yet” Christian. The “both/and” Christian understands that there is real power in the cross for healing, but is still fully aware of his/her disordered desires that remain even after conversion.
The most concrete reality of this phrase is made manifest in the relationship between marriage and celibacy. Like already but not yet, marriage and celibacy must be held closely together for the power of the Gospel to be made manifest. In fact, marriage expresses the not yet of the kingdom of heaven while celibacy expresses the already of Christ’s inaugurated kingdom. In the truth and personal beauty of marriage, we image the inner life of the Trinity and the marriage of Christ and His Church through our intimate true communion of persons. In this image, we have hope that the sacrament of marriage will one day be fulfilled when are fully lifted up into the eternal exchange of love within the Trinity. Thus, marriage expresses the not yet of the kingdom, but a hopeful not yet!
On the other hand, celibacy in a sense bypasses the sacrament of marriage to taste more immediately that which marriage beautifully and mysteriously points toward. In the renunciation of conjugal love, celibacy in fact reveals the inner truth and divine direction of the conjugal act which is complete gift of self from God to man and man’s complete gift of self to God! Thus, a Christian who discerns one’s vocation in complete exclusion of celibacy risks reducing the sacrament of marriage to an end rather than a means to complete and eternal communion with God. Marriage is no longer a sacred bond which expresses God’s own love, but rather simply something a couple does when they like each other “enough.” On the other hand, a Christian who discerns celibacy in complete exclusion of marriage risks scrupulosity and its negative effects because they have lost the image of the hope that stands before them; the hope of being raptured with God’s divine love!
It is safe to conclude then that a proper understanding and appreciation of marriage is most fully met with a proper understanding and appreciation of celibacy (and vice versa). In and through celibacy, marriage is seen to be a sacred place whereby a male and female can give of themselves completely and entirely without reservation thus imaging the unseen divine exchange of love within the Trinity. In addition, the reflection of marriage in the mirror of priestly celibacy expresses not only a call to physical fatherhood and motherhood through gift of self, but also spiritual fatherhood and motherhood. We are called to teach our children the faith.
We are blessed at St. Toms to have such wonderful priests who joyfully embrace their vocation. I pray that everyone who has embraced the vocation of marriage may look to strengthen their marriages even more through the lens of celibacy which has been graciously presented to us through Father Kevin and Father Peter. Their sacrifice lends us the opportunity to perfect our weaknesses! In the same way, may the wonderful marriages of St. Tom’s continue to transform and strengthen their priestly vocation. May God be praised!