Week 4 Celibacy and Virginity

 Week 4 Celibacy and Virginity  Comments Off on Week 4 Celibacy and Virginity
Mar 282017

Annus Mirabilis (Remarkable Year)

By Philip Larkin

Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen sixty-three

(which was rather late for me) –

Between the end of the Chatterley ban

And the Beatles’ first LP.*


Up to then there’d only been

A sort of bargaining,

A wrangle for the ring,

A shame that started at sixteen

And spread to everything.


Then all at once the quarrel sank:

Everyone felt the same,

And every life became

A brilliant breaking of the bank,

A quite unlosable game…

Philip Larkin, Collected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)

*(The UK ban on D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover was lifted in 1960 when the publisher, Penguin Books sued and won. Within weeks, the book sold over 3 million copies. The Beatles first LP in the UK was “Please, Please Me,” released in 1963.)

Whether self-revelatory or “tongue in cheek,” or perhaps a mixture of both, this work by the prominent English poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985) speaks to the response of many to the so called “sexual revolution.” Think of phrases from the era such as “free love” and “make love, not war.”

It was brought about by a confluence of factors: the rise in the self-preoccupation of “Baby Boomers,” the “do your own thing” generation (this is in contrast to the “Greatest Generation” a term coined by Tom Brokaw that referred to those of the World War II generation who put their emphasis on being of service.) There was much rebellion by the “Baby Boomers” against the “up tight” values of their parents.

The resultant counter-cultural movement included a significant increase in the use of recreational drugs, disdain for the Cold War and the War in Vietnam, the rise of feminism, the “pill” and other forms of artificial birth control, the sex researchers Alfred Kinsey and the partnership of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Freudian psychology which claimed that repressed sexual feelings were the primary cause of mental health issues, the rejection of Church teachings as being “prudish” and “Victorian,” and so forth.

There was also alienation between the sexes and cross gender sexual experimentation claimed to relieve people of much shame. Remember the line? “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”

Larkin wrote of:

A shame that started at sixteen

And spread to everything,                  

Then all at once the quarrel sank:

Everyone felt the same,

And every life became

A brilliant breaking of the bank,

A quite unlosable game…

Larkin implied that the “sexual revolution” eliminated shame from people’s lives—at least their sex lives. Freewheeling sex was a “quite unlosable game…”

No fault divorces came into vogue. Marriage was scorned in many quarters. (Think today of the people who choose to co-habitate rather than to be married. How often have you heard the phrase—“I don’t need a piece of paper to show my commitment”? The implication is that folks will stay together until something better comes along.)

In the Church, post-Vatican II era vocations to the priesthood and religious life declined sharply. It was a most challenging time.

It was an atmosphere of changed views about human sexuality, one that stressed “recreational” more than a “procreational and permanently committed unitive” view of sex. This was something that Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae and Pope St. John Paul II in Theology of the Body challenged. They articulated very carefully the Church’s historic and consistent stand.

Consecrated Celibacy and Virginity

The Catechism states: “People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.” Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence. (CCC #2349)

Scripturally, virginity was not esteemed for its own sake in Old Testament times. It became a desired state with the arrival of Christ and the ushering in of the New Covenant. Following the example of the Blessed Mary, ever virgin, John the Baptist, St. Paul and Jesus himself, the Church deemed that perfect continence—defined as the firm intention to abstain from all sexual pleasure licitly in marriage or illicitly— was a great virtue.

Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is rooted in the recognition of Christ as the center of one’s life. Our bond with him takes precedence over all other bonds—including those of the family. Perfect celibacy means total consecration to Christ in body and soul, of which the supreme example is our Virgin Mother. 

When St. John Paul writes of celibacy and virginity, he is being specific about people who are living “consecrated lives” in one or both states. It’s a general standard of the Church that all unmarried people are to refrain from sexual activity outside of marriage, but those who are consecrated do so intentionally and specifically for the Kingdom of Heaven. Pope Benedict XVI wrote that celibacy cannot mean “remaining empty in love, but rather must mean allowing oneself to be overcome by a passion for God.” (YOUCAT # 258)

Pope St. John Paul turns to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12 verse 18 and following:

18Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and put this question to him, 19saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘If someone’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.’ 20Now there were seven brothers. The first married a woman and died, leaving no descendants. 21So the second married her and died, leaving no descendants and the third likewise. 22And the seven left no descendants. Last of all the woman also died. 23At the resurrection [when they arise] whose wife will she be? For all seven had been married to her.” 24Jesus said to them, “Are you not misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God? 25When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven. 26As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, [the] God of Isaac, and [the] God of Jacob’? 27He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled.” (Mk. 12:18-27)

As Mark informs the readers, the Sadducees rejected belief in the Resurrection, holding that the soul perishes along with the body at death. Their question is designed to prove that belief in the resurrection leads to absurdity. The idea of seven brothers marrying the same woman, leaving no descendants, leads Jesus to scoff at them and indicates that their ignorance is based on two errors in thought; they understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God.

First, they misunderstand God’s power in being able to restore the dead to life and to give them a completely transformed existence. He points out that life in heaven is transformed, not just a continuation of this life. Those who have risen from the dead will not be married.

Second, the Sadducees do not understand the scriptures. God is the God of the living and not the dead, and these living are whole beings who will be tended and all their needs will be provided; there is a different kind of wholeness in resurrection that does not include a sexual/matrimonial bond. It is union with Christ—when the faithful will miraculously and mysteriously become fully part of his Body. Consecrated virgins and/or celibates are committed to this ultimate wholeness that is found in Christ, in the Kingdom.

St. John Paul emphasized a basic Church teaching: the purpose of intentional, consecrated virginity and celibacy is for the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven. He writes: The question of the call to an exclusive donation of self to God in virginity and celibacy thrusts its roots deep in the Gospel soil of the theology of the body. To indicate the dimensions proper to it, one must bear in mind Christ’s words about the beginning, and also what he said about the resurrection of the body. The observation, “When they rise from the dead they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mk.12:25), indicates that here is a condition of life without marriage. (From the Holy Father’s general audience of March 10th, 1984.)

As Christ revealed through his own example, this consecrated life is an especially effective way to glorify the Kingdom of Heaven.

Key for St. John Paul was this passage from Chapter 19 of Matthew: 12Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.

Since marriage remains the normal or ordinary vocation, celibacy will always be the extra-ordinary vocation. Christ does not gloss over the difficulties of the celibate life. When men and women with normal, and noble, human inclinations for marriage choose to forego marriage for the sake of the Kingdom, they will struggle. For this reason, a celibate person must continually renew the source of his or her motivation.

At the forefront of this motivation is the awareness that celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is a “charismatic” gift. In other words it is a “chrism,” a special gift, an empowerment by the Holy Spirit.

Celibacy must be grounded in prayer, not only by the individual celibate, but also by his/her larger community. It is critical that celibate priests, religious and others consecrated to this life style be supported, primarily through the prayer of others.

The Holy Father wrote: The question of continence for the kingdom of heaven is not set in opposition to marriage, nor is it based on a negative judgment about the importance of marriage…Christ appeals to another principle…but in view of the particular values which is connected with this choice and which one must discover and welcome one’s own vocation. For this reason Christ says, “Let anyone understand this who can’ (Mt. 19:12)…One can say that the choice of continence for the kingdom of heaven is a charismatic orientation toward that eschatological state in which human beings ‘take neither wife nor husband’. (TOB 73:3, 4)

Celibacy is intended to help one focus on the Kingdom. St. Paul wrote of this in the 7th chapter of 1st Corinthians: 32 I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. 33But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

One must keep in mind that St. Paul was expecting the Lord Jesus to return in glory any moment, and one ought to be focused on that. Marriage causes distractions: everything from raising children, to dealing with in-laws, to trying to figure out how to pay the bills. A consecrated virgin or celibate does not have those domestic issues that often cause anxiety.

John Paul comments on Jesus’ statement in Mark 12:25: When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven.

“This way of existing as a human being (male and female) points to the eschatological “virginity” of the risen man, in which, I would say, the absolute and eternal spousal meaning of the glorified body will be revealed in union with God himself, by seeing him “face to face,” glorified moreover through the union of a perfect intersubjectivity that will unite all the “sharers in the other world,” men and women, the mystery of the communion of saints. Earthly continence “for the kingdom of God” is without doubt a sign that indicates this truth and this reality. It is a sign that the body, whose end is not death, tends toward glorification. (TOB 75:1)

(This will be explored more fully in the next section.)


St John Paul taught that the charismatic choice of continence for the kingdom of heaven is linked, in Christ’s words, with the highest recognition of the historical order of human existence relative to the soul and body. On the basis of the immediate context of the words on continence for the kingdom of heaven in man’s earthly life, one must see in the vocation to such continence a kind of exception to what is rather a general rule of this life. Christ indicates this especially. That such an exception contains within itself the anticipation of the eschatological life without marriage and proper to the “other world” (that is, of the final stage of the “kingdom of heaven”), is not directly spoken of here by Christ. It is a question indeed, not of continence in the kingdom of heaven, but of continence for the kingdom of heaven. The idea of virginity or of celibacy as an anticipation and eschatological sign derives from the association of the words spoken here with those which Jesus uttered on another occasion, in the conversation with the Sadducees, when he proclaimed the future resurrection of the body. (Pope John Paul II General Audience, March 10, 1980)