Many years ago, before my ordination, I spoke with a priest in confession about some trouble I was having in a relationship. The priest listened calmly. Once I finished, he looked up and said in his typical witty fashion, “Sometimes, it’s nice just to go home and look at the pictures on the wall.” He always had a way of making me laugh.
St. Paul, speaking to the Corinthians, provides sound advice to both the married and unmarried. Marriage is a noble vocation. Noble, but also challenging, because much anxiety comes with it. There are concerns not only about one’s spouse and children, but also with financial security, jobs, mortgages, and most important, keeping peace with the in-laws. I am convinced there are far more married saints in heaven over the centuries than the Church has formally recognized.
Naturally, the unmarried have their share of anxieties too. However, notice that St. Paul highlights a great blessing that comes with this state in life. The heart is undivided. There are some, as Jesus says, who renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 19:12). In other words, some forego the beautiful sacrament of marriage to embrace Christ with an undivided heart, i.e., to love him generously through a life of service to his Church.
Marriage and celibacy/virginity are two ways of living and expressing our covenant with Christ. And they complement each other well. Marriage, for its part, reveals the depths of God’s love for each and every person. In marriage, spouses invest so much of their lives in each other. There is something quite beautiful and holy about husbands and wives sacrificing for each other and their children day in and day out. Sacramentally, they give us a window into God’s love for the human race, and more particularly, Christ’s love for the Church.
Celibacy/virginity, on the other hand, reveals the breadth of God’s love for all people. St. Paul reminds us that the Lord wills everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim. 2:4). Priests and consecrated religious, foregoing the beauty of marriage, devote all their energy to building up God’s kingdom by generously serving his Church. As such, they give us a window into the primacy of God’s kingdom and remind us that God must be our first and deepest love.
In short, marriage reveals the depths of God’s love for each person, while celibacy/virginity reveals the breadth of God’s love for all people. Together, marriage and celibacy/virginity reveal the totality of Jesus’ love expressed on the cross, a love that conforms us to Christ.
Regardless of our vocation, St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminds us that love is at the heart of every vocation. “I understood,” she says, “that love comprised all vocations, that love was everything, that it embraced all times and all places … in a word, that it was eternal!”
In our prayers each day, we can ask Jesus for the grace to love as he loves: freely, faithfully, generously and joyously. The more we receive Christ’s love and share his love in our vocation, the more fulfilled and happier we will be. Or better, the greater saint we will become.
St. Thérèse, pray for us!
Father Andrie is pastor of St. Therese in Deephaven. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, Jan. 31
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Category: Sunday Scriptures
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