This article is the second of a trilogy on the theme of vocation. Click here for the first article. Next week’s article is on the discernment of one’s particular vocation.
Probably the second most quoted non-biblical thought for Catholics after St. Augustine’s verse on our hearts being “restless until they rest in Him” is that of St. Irenaeus from the second century. I’m so confident you know it that I’ll just leave the end off for now… “The glory of God is man _________________.”
Yes, I knew you knew it! You’ve passed the test! You long for it too I’m sure…. a life “fully alive.” We feel it in the pre-dawn stillness when the coffee is fresh and the readings of the day whisper sweet everythings into our souls, or when the sky goes deep indigo just after the sun slips away for the day, or in the middle of the night when our unfulfilled dreams surface again. It is this existence, a life “fully alive,” that we strive to live for unceasingly.
But how does a person get there? How and when do we become “fully alive”? In last week’s post on “Which Vocation is ‘More Perfect’?”, we concluded – with the heavenly help of St. John Paul II – that the vocation which serves to make you, the personal subject, more holy is the vocation for you. Which life in grace allows you to love more selflessly, more heroically in His image. This is the subjective reality of vocation. But we ended with the provocative question, “Which vocation is ‘fuller’”, in the objective sense. For the Scriptures are clear that there is a “higher call.” Let’s dive now into this great mystery.
In his groundbreaking work on sexual attraction, discernment and human relationships, Love and Responsibility (published in 1960), the future St. John Paul II wrote that the human person “is not finally and completely satisfied simply by union with another human being. Considered in the perspective of the person’s eternal existence, marriage is only a tentative solution of the problem of a union of persons through love…” (Love & Responsibility, p. 253-254)
In other words, even the best of earthly marriages is not enough to fill the Grand Canyons of our aches and longings. We have an “eternal existence” awaiting us! The Venerable Fulton Sheen once wrote that as “husband and wife, all the love that you have is just a spark which is to lead you up to the flame which is God.” This truth about the human person in no way denigrates the vocation of earthly marriage. It simply places it in its proper context. Spouses who truly love one another in Christ, who see this “eternal” dimension of their beloved know that any attempt to look for an infinite well in that finite person’s heart is doomed to fail. They are at peace with the paradox of speaking of their “forever love” in married life and in the same moment voice the vow that put an expiration date on it; “till death do us part.”
This is an enigma without Christ the Bridegroom shining behind the stained glass window of their earthly spouse. With him, it all becomes clear. In the powerful verse from the song “Break in the Cup” by singer-songwriter David Wilcox, spouses recognize the fragility in their hearts and know “We cannot trade empty for empty. We must go to the waterfall. For there’s a break in the cup that holds love… Inside us all.” That waterfall is God!
In his theology of the body catechesis, St. John Paul II wrote that the celibate person “has the knowledge of being able …to fulfill himself ‘differently’ and, in a certain way, ‘more’ than through matrimony, becoming a ‘true gift to others.’” (TOB 77:2)
Celibacy for the Kingdom, like sacramental marriage, is a transposing of the Heavenly Marriage into the temporal world, and yet it contains a “more” as St. John Paul II puts it since Christ is the Bridegroom! Here there is no wedding veil of human flesh to communicate communion. The sign has become translucent under the golden beams of the Spousal Mystery. “‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” (Matthew 25:6) As Fr. Cantalamessa once wrote of Christ; “He is alive, he is close to us, more truly than the most enamored husband is close to his wife… the risen and living Lord, with whom I can speak, whom I can even kiss if I so wish, certain that my kiss does not end on the paper or on the wood of a crucifix, but on a face and on the lips of living flesh (even though spiritualized), happy to receive my kiss.”
If we have eyes to see, and hearts in love with Jesus, there is no stumbling block here. In truth, there is no division in the two vocations (cf. TOB 78:2-3), as they each are paths preparing us for Eternal Love. Rather than a competition they are a complementarity. But in Heaven we will see that the human person is ultimately oriented to Divinity, and celibacy more powerfully prepares us for this Great Mystery. In that eschaton, that end, the “virginal state of the body will manifest itself completely as the eschatological fulfillment of the ‘spousal’ meaning of the body.” (TOB 68:3) Heaven will be the experience “of both perpetual ‘virginity’ and perpetual ‘intersubjectivity’ of all human begins who will share in the resurrection.” (TOB 71:5)
This is certainly a paradigm shift if one has absorbed the cultural misrepresentation of what celibacy is, namely a negative, a reduction, a retraction of sexuality from the experience of being human. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The heart consecrated to Christ, completely, single-heartedly, has that unfiltered focus on the Bridegroom. The celibate is called to be a man or woman afire with love for the Bridegroom. “What does all this mean for the love of God?” Fr. Cantalamessa asks. “That the primary object of our eros, of our search, desire, attraction, passion must be Christ.”
May each vocation now live this spousal mystery, and each vocation now usher in the true vision of the Church, “breathing with both lungs” as it were. “And here, then, is who the Church is … a bride with her bridegroom. And it is not just a manner of speaking: they will be real and true nuptials! Yes, because Christ… has truly wed us and has made us, as a people, his bride. This is nothing more than the fulfillment of the plan of communion and love woven by God throughout history …” (Pope Francis, Oct 15, 2014)
To this fullness we have all been called!
By BILL DONAGHY