AUGUST 17, 2007: MATTHEW 19:3-12

THEY HAVE RENOUNCED MARRIAGE FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. WHOEVER CAN ACCEPT THIS OUGHT TO ACCEPT IT. Jesus, it would seem, had chosen for his closest collaborators, men who were of a more practical bent rather than those given to scholarly matters. Although Matthew himself was more highly educated and, as a tax collector worked with more intellectual matters, yet dealing with money assured that he too was down to earth. Todayís gospel reveals this aspect of the apostles character. When Jesus taught that marriage requires fidelity to one woman for a lifetime, rather than perceiving this demand as a challenge to cultivate a deeper, more spiritual love relationship, or fancying some romantic image of undying love, they conclude that it is too restrictive. Better not to marry at all than to get tied down for life with somebody who may well prove troublesome or worse- this was the one of thinking that characterizes their spontaneous reaction.

When I was much younger and naive this reaction by the holy apostles of our Lord surprised me greatly. As a Catholic I had never thought of marriage any differently than what our Lord here describes. It had never even crossed my mind that my father might decide one day to divorce mother; she and he were an inseparable pair. Still less did it ever occur to me that he might take up with another woman. So thoroughly had the teaching of Jesus been inculcated by the Church over the centuries that what struck the apostlesí as an extraordinary demand, very difficult to live had come to seem natural, even the only possible way to conceive of marriage. In intervening years and after listening to many men and women as they discussed their married life, I have come to a the conviction that the demands of a lifelong fidelity to any one person is indeed an achievement possible only to someone who has struggled through to a more selfless way of life, the fruit of considerable self-denial made in the course of daily choices.

The final words of todayís passage continue to confront all Christians with a decided challenge: THEY HAVE RENOUNCED MARRIAGE FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. WHOEVER CAN ACCEPT THIS OUGHT TO ACCEPT IT. Nothing could be stated more definitely than this exhortation to dedicate oneís life and energies so totally to the cause of Godís kingdom as to renounce the deeply rooted urge to be united with a companion of the opposite sex. This course is set forth here by our Lord not merely as an invitation but in stronger terms, as a obligation, provided only that the person possesses the capacity to follow through with the demands of such a solitary life. For even though the unmarried individual might live in community and be active in society, yet the absence of fulfillment of the deep-seated desire for sharing at an intimate level the values and hopes that form the center of our very self, leaves one with a sense of solitude.

This solitary self, however, accompanies every human person throughout life. It is assuaged only partially and temporarily even in the happiest of marriages. Experience reveals that the happier the marriage the greater the solitude when mental incapacity, so common in the aged, and death intervene. This solitary feature of our personal existence is an expression of our being created in the image and likeness of God. This fact has resulted in our capacity for the absolute, unlimited Being after whose likeness we are fashioned. Karl Rahner, developing the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas, has described this characteristic as the very basis for our relationship to other persons as well as to God. He states the matter in these terms: "The original and ultimate experience of God constitutes the enabling condition of, and an intrinsic element in the experience of self." (Theological Investigations13, 125) He goes on to add that "without this experience of God no experience of the self is possible." Clearly, it is the self alone that can relate to another as person.

This line of thinking expresses in more modern terms the presuppositions of our Lordís teaching in todayís Gospel. Union with God alone is the only complete fulfillment of the human person, whether married or single. Even lifelong marriage is, accordingly, a provisional union, however helpful, for it will someday terminate with death. The greater good is to employ all the force of desire in the service of the kingdom to the greater glory of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit united in One Divine Nature, in an eternal union.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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