Last Sunday we began the liturgical year 2015. Pope Francis has declared this a “Year of Consecrated Life,” a year to think about the importance of religious life. We will explore that importance throughout this year.
Today let us begin with a quotation from St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio. John Paul is often called the “pope of the family.” No one has done so much to declare the dignity of the married vocation as John Paul. But that should not make us forget that, as John Paul himself says, “the Church, throughout her history, has always defended the superiority of this charism [of consecrated life] to that of marriage, by reason of the wholly singular link which it has with the Kingdom of God.”
Religious life reminds us that what marriage symbolizes is the marriage of the soul, and the Church, with Christ. It reminds us that marriage is at the service of holiness – that marriage is not a replacement for radical consecration, but a place where it is called out. We who are married need the witness of religious life to call us deeper into the true meaning of our vocation.
Let us pray for and encourage vocations to consecrated life. And let us keep ourselves close to them, that we may always be inspired by their necessary witness.
Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes it and confirms it. Marriage and virginity or celibacy are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the covenant of God with His people. When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning. . . .
In virginity or celibacy, the human being is awaiting, also in a bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the Church, giving himself or herself completely to the Church in the hope that Christ may give Himself to the Church in the full truth of eternal life. The celibate person thus anticipates in his or her flesh the new world of the future resurrection.
By virtue of this witness, virginity or celibacy keeps alive in the Church a consciousness of the mystery of marriage and defends it from any reduction and impoverishment.
Virginity or celibacy, by liberating the human heart in a unique way, “so as to make it burn with greater love for God and all humanity,” bears witness that the Kingdom of God and His justice is that pearl of great price which is preferred to every other value no matter how great, and hence must be sought as the only definitive value. It is for this reason that the Church, throughout her history, has always defended the superiority of this charism to that of marriage, by reason of the wholly singular link which it has with the Kingdom of God. . . .
Christian couples therefore have the right to expect from celibate persons a good example and a witness of fidelity to their vocation until death. Just as fidelity at times becomes difficult for married people and requires sacrifice, mortification and self-denial, the same can happen to celibate persons, and their fidelity, even in the trials that may occur, should strengthen the fidelity of married couples.
-St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, “On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World”