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Sunday, December 21, 2003

A Tropical Christmas Season

We spent last week contemplating the celibacy of Mary and Joseph. Now we can spend it contemplating the relationship between celibacy and Eucharistic adoration.

“It is not good that man should be alone,” says Genesis 2:18. How many times have you heard someone quote that verse as the beginning of their attack on a priest’s vow of celibacy? They are right to quote this verse, because it lies at the center of the vow. As we saw last week, marriage is meant to be a divine training ground for life in heaven. Clearly, this training is necessary, since every person who has ever lived was created into a set of family relations: everyone has a mother and a father, parents and grandparents, although they may never have met. Most have brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, or nieces and nephews. No matter what your state in life as an adult, no matter what your knowledge of these things, these family relationships are there, making you what you are, either by their presence or their partial absence.

The existence of family is, therefore, as common as our experience of eating and breathing. Just as some of us have difficulty with the last two, some of us have difficulty with the first, but the relationship is there. And remember, relationship is key.

We can look at any aspect of God: His power, His omniscience, whatever it might be, but none of these things allow us to perceive the Trinity. Rather, the only thing that makes the Trinity of Persons clear is the relations within the Godhead. If the Father were not eternally begetting the Son, if the Son were not eternally begotten of the Father, if the Father and the Son did not eternally breathe forth the Spirit, there would be no Trinity. These three relations are what distinguish the Three Persons. If relationship is the defining characteristic of the Persons of God Himself, then we can safely assume that relationship is going to be of at least some importance to our own personhood.

In fact, our relations with God, with the angels, with man, these will be the only things that distinguish us as persons as well. As we saw from the Christmas meditation, these relationships depend not just on our soul, but on our flesh.

“Man is a person in the unity of his body and his spirit. The body can never be reduced to mere matter. It is a spiritualized body, just as man’s spirit is so closely united to the body that he can be described as an embodied spirit”. These words of John Paul II, in his Letter to Families, paragraph #19, tell us just how critically important the flesh is to us. God intended us to have relations with other persons not just as an intellectual exercise, but in the movement and press and sweat of our very flesh. This is why the Incarnation is so important to us, this is why “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist…” (1 John 4:2-3). The anti-Christ is described as the one who denies that God came in the flesh. The flesh is the key to discerning who belongs to God and who does not.

So, family is the divine training ground through which every living person must pass, and marriage is the divine training ground which the vast majority of people need in order to be prepared to enter heaven and participate in the life of the First Family, but what of celibacy? Celibacy only works when it is built on a relationship in the flesh, a relationship with a person. It is not good for man to be alone. That is why God gave us Himself in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the only thing that permits a celibate to be a celibate. Christ, substantially present in the Eucharist, is the Divine Person of the Son of God in the Flesh. He is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Every baptized person, whether male or female, is made a Bride of Christ by baptism. Why a bride? Because God is always the first principle, He is always the actor. Unless He penetrates us with grace, unless He sends us what we need, we cannot respond. He acts, we react, He moves, we respond. He is Bridegroom, we are Bride.

In the Mass, that is, in the Nuptial Feast, the Flesh of the Bridegroom enters the flesh of the Bride, and we are given life. We have, in that sacramental reception, one-flesh union. We live out the life of Trinity on a small scale, for the Son of God dwells within me, I am totally interpenetrated by Him.

Not everyone is given the grace to fully appreciate what this means. But, as Jesus said, some are given this grace (Matt 19:12). The men and women who choose celibacy because they recognize and want to constantly live the gift of heaven Christ gives us in the Eucharist have clearly chosen the highest possible way. Through their prayer life before the sacrament and in the reception of the sacrament, they live the ecstasy of heaven: they have a personal relationship with a divine Person in the flesh. We who are married need sex to help us understand Eucharist – celibates understand it directly.

But, for those who are unmarried and do not know or do not understand Eucharist, or who actively reject Eucharist, they fall under the sorrow implied in Genesis. It is not good for man to be alone. We are meant to be joined in marriage to another person: either we join ourselves to Christ through our union with an image of Christ, that is, a human spouse, or we join ourselves to Christ directly through a life of celibacy and Eucharistic adoration/reception. We can do both. We cannot refuse both.

Hell is being cut off from the communion of persons, being cut off from the Godhead. Just as Eucharist is a foretaste of heaven, so living the life of an unmarried person without knowledge of Eucharist is a foretaste of hell, for it is a life cut off from the in-the-flesh communion of persons.

If anyone wonders why fornication is so popular today, it is precisely because knowledge of Eucharist is so weak. We each know, instinctively, that we are to be in one-flesh communion with the divine Persons. But if we do not know the divine Persons, then we must settle for what we do know: human persons. If we cannot attain the sacrament of marriage, then we pretend to mimic it, because we know we are made for it, and we cannot live without it. If we cannot attain the ecstasy of heaven, then we settle for the pale sign of that ecstasy given here on earth in sexual communion. And, after having made so many concessions and after having cut so many corners, we remain unhappy and do not know why. We live the life of a walking corpse, with our hearts cut out of us, and wonder at how cold we have become.

Our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). We often remark on the fact that God was born in a stable. We rarely remark on the fact that He was born at the coldest time of the year. To One who is Love, the fire of our love must be cold indeed. It was cold on the Cross, but it was cold in the stable as well. "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” said the Christ (Luke 12:49). He walked among us, He and His mother the only living beings amongst a sea of walking dead and said, “Everyone must be salted with fire!” (Mark 9:49). He left the warmth of His mother’s womb for the cold welcome of the world. Now, He asks us to accept His warmth and find a place by the fire. Stay before the tabernacle today, and bask in the heat of the Son.

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