Thursday in the Twenty-First Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 19:10-12

In Praise of Celibacy

A few years ago, I came to believe that the word “single” to describe those who are not married is an unfair designation; after all, do we call married people “doubles?”  I have come to this understanding for two reasons: 1) I’m not someone given to political correctness, but it just sounds, well, reductionistic.  I mean, it seems to me that reducing another human being to their marital or unmarital (Did I just invent that word?) state is unfair; after all, they may have many friends, enjoy their jobs and life, and just haven’t found that one whom God has chosen for them.  But more important, 2) “Single” does not say anything about sexual purity.  A married man is a “one-woman man” and a married woman is a “one-man woman.”  (We all understand that I am speaking of Christians.)  A person who is single is, according to Scripture, devoting him or herself to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).  We used to call never-married women “virgins,” not a bad idea, only it should apply to never-married men as well.  Of course, such a word would not apply to divorced or widowed people.

But a word that does apply to all “single” people is “celibate.”    “Celibate” tells us that someone is not married and living a sexually pure or “chaste” life.  If someone responds to me that such a word speaks too much about sex, I respond that it should speak to purity.  The fact that people would be embarrassed to be known by such a standard speaks more to the paganism of the culture we now live in.  (Times were when a girl wanted to be known as a virgin.  Now she’s considered “repressed” and needs to be “cured.”)

In this passage, Jesus has just finished telling his disciples that a husband is to live with his wife for the rest of his life.  It’s disappointing to hear their response: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”  In saying this, they show themselves no better than the Pharisees who asked the question in the first place.  Jesus ignores their stupidity and answers that not everyone can do this.  He uses the word “eunuch” which would be accurate for those men born without or those robbed (violated), but also uses the word euphemistically to describe those who choose such a lifestyle “for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven,” as Paul refers to in the reference above.  Such a life is honorable, even if unplanned.  In such a case, that person’s spouse becomes Christ, as he or she devotes his or her life to the Lord.  At least in the Church, it’s a much better word than “single,” which is taken from the anti-values of the world.  So if you are “celibate,” you’ve nothing to be ashamed of.  Rejoice and devote yourself to the Lord.

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