St. Paul wrote:
May the Lord encourage your hearts and strengthen them. (II Thessalonians 2:17)
A person might well tell himself: “If only the Redskins could have a good season and make it past the wildcard game–that would satisfy me. True happiness would fill my heart then.”
But then the Redskins could, in fact, march through a 16-0 season, and actually manage to beat the Seattle Seahawks in a playoff game for the first time this millennium. Some exciting moments. But: True, enduring happiness–if this happens? No.
A young lady might say to herself: “If only Keith Urban would have a concert nearby, and I could get a backstage pass, and maybe actually touch one of his sweaty t-shirts after the show, then I would really attain nirvana.”
But then Keith Urban might actually have a concert nearby; he might even come to Floyd Fest, and give out tons of backstage passes, and let people touch his sweaty t-shirts. But total nirvana at that moment? Don’t think so.
Total happiness, total peace. We do not find it in this life. We long for it. Sometimes intensely. But all we can do now, at this point in time, is to believe in it, in total happiness and total peace. We can hope to receive it as a gift from God, when everything is said and done.
Our faith, our hope rest on solid ground, because the Christ of God promised us this blessedness. He revealed that a divine kingdom awaits those who follow Him. But: We believe in, and we hope for, what we do not see. So we need encouragement, as St. Paul wishes us to have.
A lot of young people look forward to happiness in marriage. As well they should—because marriage involves wonderful blessings. Companionship and support. An extended family and a widened social life. Hopefully, friendship and good humor. Sex and, God willing, children. Great blessings.
Most young people hope for these good things and seek them somewhat ardently. Some young people use Facebook to pursue a worthy marriage. God smiles when young ladies try to make the right moves to find a good man. He laughs with delight at young men angling towards situations where they might find Mrs. Right.
But the danger of discouragement lurks both to the right and to the left for young people seeking happiness in marriage. On the one side, romances and chick flicks and the Valentine’s-Day industry cultivate the fantasy that we can find the elusive total nirvana with the right guy or the right girl.
On the other hand, the various desecraters of marriage mock it as a legal fiction, or as a curse involving nothing but unpleasant in-laws and a ball and chain, or as a free-love arrangement that we can take or leave as we please. But marriage is none of these things.
Marriage gives us an image of the Final Consummation, the eternal moment of infinite fruitfulness. Marriage makes mothers and fathers, who make more sons and daughters for God. So marriage has the blessings of great holiness and hopefully at least some enjoyment. At the same time, marriage does not equal heaven. It is a great good—one of the greater goods in this world. But the spiritual building we live in has floors above the married state.
The Lord always has a plan. We read a gospel passage about marriage and the kingdom of heaven at holy Mass Sunday. And two weeks ago we had our annual priests’ conference. This year the conference focused on priestly celibacy.
Will Pope Francis change the rules and allow for married parish priests? Or will our Church continue with the ancient practice? Only God knows the answer to these questions. Pope makes decisions like this, not you or me. Anyway, even if the rules change, that doesn’t mean I’m going to say Yes to the first person who proposes to me. I’m way too old to get married.
All such discussions aside, none of us can get around one fundamentally significant fact. Our Lord Jesus lived a life of celibacy—a life of incandescently holy celibacy. And this holy celibacy of Jesus Christ gives us some serious encouragement, when we try to put our lives on earth into perspective.
Something is coming, something greater than what this world can contain. A beauty and a glory beyond our imagining. It is coming. The unveiling of the face of God.
In His Sacred Heart, the Lord Jesus always beheld this coming glory. His Heart was consumed with the beauty of God. And that made even something as lovely as marrying a wholesome, thoughtful woman—it made such a move on His part unnecessary, really quite impossible.
This world, with all its disappointments, with all its sweaty t-shirts that do not give us nirvana—it will pass away. Something we cannot see now will then ravish our eyes. A banquet, a dance, an angelic chorus, a nuptial. Marriages will altogether cease then—not because marriage is evil, but because The Marriage will be consummated, the marriage for which everything has been made: God Himself will marry His beloved.
In the meantime, the Holy Church–which is, after all, made up mainly of married people gathered in faith around the sacred ministrations of a celibate man, like the disciples gathered around the ministrations of the celibate Christ—this holy Church finds very profound encouragement for faith and hope both in the lives of Christian couples who persevere through thick and thin, and in the silent testimony of those of us who renounce a marriage on earth for the sake of the great marriage that is the Kingdom of heaven.