Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Marriage and Religious Life - Part 3


            I concluded last week’s reflection on marriage and discernment by stating that “the question is not whether one is called to marriage or not, but which marriage is one called to?”  This week’s reflection will explain the meaning of that surprising statement, demonstrating that religious life points us to the ultimate marriage between God and man in heaven.  As a reminder to our readers, this is the third part in a four part series and this reflection will be more meaningful if one has read the first two parts (see e-letters of 10/10/12 and 10/15/12).
In Matthew 22:30, Jesus boldly declares to the Sadducees that “in the resurrection they [man and woman] neither marry nor are given in marriage….”  At first glance, these words of Christ seem to undermine everything we have said about the greatness of marital love.  However, as we’ll see, they actually reveal the ultimate fulfillment of it!
Let’s return to the gospel from the 27th Sunday in Ordinary time, Mark 10:2-16.  In this passage, the Pharisees approach Jesus seeking “to test him” by asking him whether divorce is lawful.  After they remind him that Moses allowed divorce, Jesus reminds them that this was a temporary concession made because of the hardness of their hearts and that “from the beginning of creation” God made the marriage bond between man and woman indissoluble.  The reason for this is that “from the beginning of creation” the sacrament of marriage has existed to point us to the ultimate marriage, the marriage of Christ and His Church.  And, in heaven, this ultimate marriage is fully realized; the sacrament of marriage gives way to reality!  The sacrament is no longer needed!  This is where religious life comes in!
In Matthew’s version of the same gospel passage (Mt 19:1-12), after Jesus restored the permanence of marriage according to God’s original plan, his disciples concluded that it was better not to marry because of the difficulty presented by Christ’s teaching.  But, Jesus takes the discussion to a whole different level:  “Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given.  For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who haven been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  He who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Mt 19:11-12, RSV).
I don’t think I need to explain what eunuchs are!  But, in the Christian tradition a eunuch “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” is someone who freely forgoes the earthly sacrament of marriage in anticipation of heaven, where men and women “neither marry nor are given in marriage.”  In Perfectae Caritatis, the Vatican II document on the appropriate renewal of religious life, the Church teaches that “for ALL CHRIST’S FAITHFUL religious recall that wonderful marriage made by God, which will be fully manifested in the future age [heaven], and in which the Church has Christ for her only spouse” (PC, 12).  Again, Genesis 2:18 tells us that “it is not good for man to be alone.”   Religious who faithfully live the vow of chastity reveal that the ultimate fulfillment of solitude, the ultimate communion that all men desire, is found only in union with God.  This is the Church’s understanding of religious or consecrated life, a life that already participates in the ultimate marriage between Christ and His Church in heaven.
So, again, I pose to you the question, “which marriage are you called to?”  Put another way, are you called to the sacrament of marriage which is an image of the ultimate marriage of Christ and His Church, of God and man?  Or are you called to religious life, to freely surrender the earthly sacrament of marriage so as to anticipate and already participate in the wedding feast of heaven? As you begin or continue to ponder that question this week, stay tuned for next week’s final installment of our four part series on Marriage and Religious Life!

God bless you,

Fr. Isaac Mary Spinharney, CFR
St. Joseph Friary
Harlem, NY