Celibacy Is a Particular Response to the Love of the Divine Spouse
Pope John Paul II
GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 28 APRIL
At the general audience on 28 April, the Holy Father continued his series of talks on virginity and celibacy freely chosen 'for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven'.
1. "There are others who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven." This is how Christ expressed himself in St. Matthew's Gospel (Mt 19:12).
It is natural for the human heart to accept demands, even difficult ones, in the name of love for an ideal, and above all in the name of love for a person. (By its very nature, love is directed toward a person.) Therefore in that call to continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, first the disciples themselves, and then the whole living Tradition of the Church, will soon discover the love that is referred to Christ himself as the Spouse of the Church, the Spouse of souls. He has given himself to them to the very limit, in the Paschal and Eucharistic mystery.
In this way, continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, the choice of virginity or celibacy for one's whole life, has become in the experience of Christ's disciples and followers the act of a particular response of love for the divine Spouse. Therefore it has acquired the significance of an act of nuptial love, that is, a nuptial giving of oneself for the purpose of reciprocating in a particular way the nuptial love of the Redeemer. It is a giving of oneself understood as renunciation, but made above all out of love.
2. In this way we obtained all the wealth of the meaning contained in the very concise, but at the same time very profound, statement of Christ about continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. But now it is fitting that we direct our attention to the significance that these words have for the theology of the body, just as we tried to present and reconstruct the biblical foundations for it "from the beginning." Christ referred to that biblical "beginning" in his conversation with the Pharisees on the subject of marriage, its unity and indissolubility (cf. Mt 19:3-9). He did this shortly before addressing to his disciples the words about continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt 19:10-12). This analysis of that "beginning" allows us to recall the profound truth about the nuptial meaning of the human body in its masculinity and femininity, as we deduced at that time from the analysis of the first chapters of Genesis (especially from 2:23-25). It was in just this way that it was necessary to formulate and specify what we find in those ancient texts.
3. The modern mentality is accustomed to thinking and speaking about the sexual instinct, transferring onto the level of human reality what is proper to the world of living beings, of animals. Now deep reflection on the concise text of the first and second chapters of Genesis permits us to establish with certainty and conviction that right from the beginning a very clear and univocal boundary is laid down in the Bible between the world of animals (animalia) and the man created in the image and likeness of God. In that text, though relatively brief, there is nevertheless enough to demonstrate that man has a clear awareness of what essentially distinguishes him from all other living beings (animalia).
4. Therefore, it is not at all appropriate and adequate to apply to man this substantially naturalistic category that is contained in the concept and in the expression of sexual instinct. It is obvious that such application can become the basis for a certain analogy. In fact, the particular characteristic of man compared with the whole world of living beings (animalia) is such that man, understood from the viewpoint of species, can not even basically qualify as an animal, but a rational animal. Therefore, despite this analogy, applying the concept of sexual instinct to man—given the dual nature in which he exists as male or female—nevertheless greatly limits, and in a certain sense diminishes what is the very masculinity-femininity in the personal dimension of human subjectivity. It limits and diminishes even what for both of them, man and woman, unite to become one flesh (cf. Gn 2:24). In order to express this in an appropriate and adequate way, we must use also an analysis different from the naturalistic one. It is precisely the study of the biblical beginning that obliges us to do this convincingly. The truth about the nuptial meaning of the human body in its masculinity and femininity seems to be a key concept in this area. It is deduced from the first chapters of Genesis (especially from 2:23-25), that is, the discovery at the time of the nuptial meaning of the body in the personal makeup of the subjectivity of man and woman. At the same time it is the only appropriate and adequate concept.
5. It is necessary to reread and understand Christ's words about continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven precisely in relation to this concept, to this truth about the nuptial meaning of the human body. His words were spoken in the immediate context of that reference to the beginning, on which he based his teaching about the unity and indissolubility of marriage. At the basis of Christ's call to continence there is not only the sexual instinct, which is in the category, I would say, of a naturalistic necessity. But there is also the consciousness of the freedom of the gift. This is organically connected with the profound and mature knowledge of the nuptial meaning of the body, in the total makeup of the personal subjectivity of man and woman. Only in relation to such a meaning of the masculinity and femininity of the human person does the call to voluntary continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven find full warranty and motivation. Only and exclusively in this perspective did Christ say, "He who is able to receive this, let him receive it" (Mt 19:12). With this, he indicated that such continence—although in each case it is above all a gift—can be also received. That is, it can be drawn and deduced from the concept that man has his own psychosomatic "I" in its entirety, and especially the masculinity and femininity of this "I" in the reciprocal relationship which is as though by nature inscribed in every human subjectivity.
6. As we recall from the previous analyses, developed on the basis of Genesis (cf. Gn 2:23-25), that reciprocal relationship of masculinity and femininity, that reciprocal "for" of man and woman, can be understood in an appropriate and adequate way only in the overall dynamics of the personal subject. Christ's words in Matthew (cf. 19:11-12) consequently show that this "for," present from the beginning at the basis of marriage, can also be at the basis of continence "for" the Kingdom of Heaven! Based on the same disposition of the personal subject, thanks to which man fully rediscovers himself through a sincere gift of himself (cf. Gaudium et Spes 24), man (male and female) is capable of choosing the personal gift of his very self. This is made to another person in a conjugal pact in which they become "one flesh." He is also capable of freely renouncing such a giving of himself to another person, so that, choosing continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, he can give himself totally to Christ. On the basis of the same disposition of the personal subject and on the basis of the same nuptial meaning of the being as a body, male or female, there can be formed the love that commits man to marriage for the whole duration of his life (cf. Mt 19:3-10). But there can also be formed the love that commits man to a life of continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt 19:11-12). Christ is speaking precisely about this in his overall statement addressed to the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:3-10) and then to the disciples (cf. Mt 19:11-12).
7. It is evident that the choice of marriage, just as it was instituted by the Creator from the beginning, supposes the learning and the interior acceptance of the nuptial meaning of the body, bound up with the masculinity and femininity of the human person. In fact, this very thing is expressed concisely in the verses of Genesis. In listening to Christ's words addressed to the disciples about continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt 19:11-12), we cannot think that this second kind of choice can be made consciously and freely without reference to one's masculinity or femininity and to that nuptial meaning which is proper to man precisely in the masculinity or femininity of his being as a personal subject. Furthermore, in the light of Christ's words, we must admit that this second kind of choice, namely, continence for the sake of the Kingdom of God, comes about also in relation to the masculinity or femininity proper to the person who makes such a choice. It comes about on the basis of full consciousness of that nuptial meaning which masculinity and femininity contain in themselves. If this choice should come about by way of some artificial "prescinding" from this real wealth of every human subject, it would not appropriately and adequately correspond to the content of Christ's words in Matthew 19:11-12.
Here Christ explicitly required full understanding when he said, "He who is able to receive this, let him receive it" (Mt 19:12).
Weekly Edition in English
3 May 1982, page 3
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