Celebacy, Chastity and You

34 And Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Lk 20:34-36)

Marriage is for this world only. It does not exist in the heaven, nor in the Resurrection. This comment from Jesus is addressed to the Sadducees, who did not believe in a resurrection; they attempted to trick Him up with a theological quandary about a person who had been married several times in this world: to whom will she be married in the Resurrection. Jesus chided them and said there is no marriage in the Resurrection. We will be more like angels. That said, Jesus nevertheless leaves us with an important teaching about marriage: it is for this world only. In fact, what is the purpose of marriage, from a Christian perspective?

This mutual interior formation of husband and wife, this constant zeal for bringing each other to perfection, in a very true sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, can be said to be the very first reason and purpose of matrimony. (Pius XI, encyclical Casti Conubii, 1931)

The primary purpose of matrimony is for the Christian husband and wife to help each other reach the perfection of the interior, or spiritual, life. Now we can see why marriage is a thing for this world only. While we don't know everything about life in heaven, or after the Resurrection, most understand that our loves and relationships formed in this life will maintain in the kingdom to come. Husbands, wives, children, parents, friends - we will be united again and in an even more satisfying way than in this world. Nevertheless, there will be no more room to grow in the spiritual life, therefore, no more need for marriage, following the logic of the above magisterial understanding.

Now let’s look at two words casually thrown around by Christians: celibacy and chastity. Chasity is the avoidance of sex. All Christians are called to lives of chastity, including those who are married. Married couples are called to chastity, save only in cases of life-generating acts of sex, for the purpose of procreation and the unity-affirming love that goes hand in hand with procreation. First, please note that it is impossible to know with certainty whether any given sexual act will result in procreation, so the best we can do is be open to new life in any given sex act. Second, also note that when a couple opens themselves to the generation of life in any given sexual act, they necessarily also open themselves to a life of raising a child together – therefore, sex is an affirmation of the matrimonial vow, of the covenant oath to remain together for life. Within these limitations married Catholic couples can enjoy sexual activity, while still living lives of chastity. (Why be chaste? Read HERE)

Of course, outside of marriage, a Christian is called to a completely chaste life. For those called to the matrimonial state, such chastity is temporary. For those called to the religious life, such chastity is willingly permanent. But then we have priests and this thing called celibacy. Celibacy is not the same thing as chastity. Celibacy is defined as the non-matrimonial state. When used in regards to the clerical life, celibacy refers to a permanent characteristic of a priest’s life (as opposed to a temporary celibacy that everyone experiences prior to marriage). Per our quote above from Pope Pius XI, a priest gives up the assistance and support of a spouse as he grows in his spiritual life – this is the greater sacrifice he gives to the Church, greater even than a life of chastity.

And it is a life of celibacy that we will live in heaven and after the Resurrection, much like that of a priest, much like that of the angels as Jesus noted above. Like all aspects of our lives in heaven, this aspect can be lived here and now if we choose, if we want to choose the greater way (cf. Lk 10:42). The priest has chosen this greater way, has chosen to live more like the angels; his spiritual life is rich in all of its aspects because he acts in persona Christi (cf. CCC 1548). Like Christ, his bride is the Church, whom he loves and serves with complete fidelity as the most devoted of husbands.

Let’s review what we’ve learned: