daily biblical sermons


THE CELIBATE LIFE IS THE HEAVENLY LIFE LIVED ALREADY AHEAD OF TIME IN THIS WORLD
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the 32nd Sunday of the Year, November 10, 2019
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14, Psalm 16, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5, Luke 20:27-38


 

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“‘In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven [brothers] had her as wife.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection’” (Luke 20:33-36).

 

 

We are now in the final Sundays of the liturgical year, a time when we think of the end of this age, the second coming of Christ, the bodily resurrection of the dead, and eternal life with God forever in glorious resurrection bodies. Today we also consider celibacy, since all will be celibate in heaven and in the world of the resurrection, as Jesus says today, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:34-36).

 

 

Today’s gospel is about a problem posed to Jesus by the Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It was a trick question, trying to make belief in the resurrection look ridiculous, because here is an example of a woman who had seven husbands, all of them brothers, each one having married her in succession and dying before having offspring, since, according to the Jewish practice, the brother of a deceased man, who left no offspring, was obliged to take the deceased man’s wife and marry her to raise up offspring for his brother.

 

 

Seven brothers in succession married her and died without leaving offspring. Therefore the Sadducees presented this problem to Jesus, saying, in effect, “If you believe that the dead rise, when this woman and these seven men all rise from the dead, and all of them were her husbands, one at a time, one after the other, which one of them will be her husband in the life of the resurrection, for a woman can only have one husband at a time, and if they are all raised from the dead, they will all be alive with her?”

 

 

Jesus answers this question by revealing something very important about the world of the resurrection, namely that there will be no more marriage. Those who are husbands and wives now in this life, when they die, will no longer have a sexual marriage relationship, living together as man and wife. Marriage is something of this world only that ends with death. If we are accounted worthy by God to reach the world of the resurrection of the dead, we will not be married, even if we were married in this present life.

 

 

We will then all be celibate, in a marriage with the Lord, with an undivided love of the Lord, loving him alone as the only spouse of our heart, with an undivided heart in our love of him so that all the love of our heart goes directly to him and is not shared with a human spouse.

 

 

This means that those that voluntarily choose to be celibate in this present life are therefore living, visible signs to their fellow Christians of the world to come. They are living examples in the midst of history, before the end of the world and before our individual death, that show everyone what the world of the life to come will be like.

 

 

The gift of celibacy is really the heavenly life lived already ahead of time in this world, and those that are celibate now are like mirrors for all other believers, showing them what their own life in the next world will be like, namely it will be a life totally devoted to God and to Christ with all the love of their heart, without any division of heart caused by love of a human spouse in Christian marriage.

 

 

This is why celibacy is a higher state of life than marriage, because it allows us to live this heavenly life already in this world, in which we can devote ourselves to prayer, meditation, contemplation, and total commitment to and love of God and Christ in every aspect of our life. Naturally we have temptations, since we are human beings, but a celibate must struggle against these attractions and temptations of the flesh and live faithfully as a spouse of the Lord alone in a faithful and exclusive nuptial and spousal relationship with Christ as the only spouse of his heart. In this way celibates can be an inspiration to their fellow Christians, helping them also to live a holier and more dedicated life on this earth. Married people can see mirrored in celibates their own future, since they too will one day be celibate with an undivided love of the Lord alone as the only love of their heart.

 

 

St. Paul contrasts marriage and celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34, showing the superiority of the celibate life over Christian marriage. He says, “I want you to be free from anxieties, the unmarried man [celibate] is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman [celibate] or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

 

 

St. Paul here teaches us that the celibate life is a life in which we are concerned, devoted to, and anxious about “the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32). The married man, on the contrary, “is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:33). So here is the contrast: celibacy is concerned about the Lord, whereas marriage is concerned about worldly affairs, namely how to please your wife. And St. Paul’s conclusion is, “His [the married man’s] interests are divided” (1 Corinthians 7:34). The married man is divided, he has a divided heart, because he is in love with his wife as well as with God, whereas the celibate is only in love with God, and his heart is not divided by the love of a wife.

 

 

So as to be equally concerned about the woman, St. Paul talks about her next, saying basically the same thing, bringing home and emphasizing his point. First he talks about the celibate woman: “The unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit” (1 Corinthians 7:34). This is what celibacy is all about; it frees your heart and your life to be only in love with the Lord and his work and about being holy both in body and spirit. But in contrast to this, “the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:34). So celibacy is clearly a higher state in life in which one is concerned about the Lord and his affairs, rather than about worldly affairs, namely how to please your husband or your wife.

 

 

To further bring home the point that celibacy is superior to marriage, St. Paul next talks about a young man  who marries his fiancée and then compares him to another young man who decides to remain celibate. St. Paul concludes, “He who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better” (1 Corinthians 7:38).

 

 

St. Paul makes this same point of the superiority of celibacy over Christian marriage still one more time by giving the example of a widow who is still young enough to remarry, which St. Paul says is something that she certainly has a right to do; but then he adds, “In my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is [celibate]. And I think that I have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:40). So she would be better off and happier to remain unmarried and begin to live a celibate life than to remarry and once again live a married life, simply because celibacy is a higher state of life than marriage.

 

 

During these final Sundays of the liturgical year, when we frequently focus on eternal life and the resurrection of the dead, let us also reflect on the celibate life as a foretaste and sign in this present life of the life after death and of the life of the world of the resurrection, for the celibate life enables us already in this present life to begin to live the heavenly life of the future in which we will be totally devoted to the Lord, in love exclusively with the Lord with a nuptial and exclusive relationship with him that excludes being in love with a human spouse.

 

 

This is the great beauty of the celibate life that has attracted many people in every age of the Church to devote themselves completely and exclusively to living already in the present world the future heavenly life of the world of the resurrection. Such a way of life is an inspiration and edifying example to all Christians, reminding them of the ultimate goal of their own life, which is to be celibate in a loving, exclusive, nuptial bond with God himself forever in heaven.

 

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