Ignatians: Men Vowed to Love Heroically – Love Loves Unto Purity

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“Love loves unto Purity” (George MacDonald).
 “I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them so that others may keep them.”  – Frodo before he boards ship at the Grey Havens (The Lord of The Rings).

One with Jesus Christ in His Heroic Mission through Sacred Chastity

In the Middle Ages, men often thought of Jesus as the Warrior-Hero and his passion and death not as a passive acceptance of suffering but as a daring act of courage by Christ the knight who sought to free mankind from Satan. “Hear now, lords, about great chivalry” was the opening line of  a 14th century French poem “How God’s Son was armed on the Cross”. Another author, the Chevalier de la Tour Landry described Calvary as follows:

“And thus for compassion and nobility the gentle knight fought and suffered five mortal wounds, as the sweet Jesus Christ did, who fought out of pity for us and all humanity. He had great compassion lest they fall into the shadows of Hell; thus he alone suffered and fought the terribly hard and cruel battle on the tree of Holy Cross. His shirt of mail was broken and pierced in five places, namely his five grievous wounds received of his free will in his sweet body for pity of us and all humanity.”[1]

In the stirring eighth-century Anglo-Saxon poem, The Dream of the Rood [Cross] that narrates the crucifixion of Jesus, portraying him as the hero, who in full control of the situation climbs Calvary Hill in order to combat and defeat his enemies by seizing the cross:

 “The young warrior stripped himself–he, God Almighty–strong and stout-minded; he mounted high gallows, bold before the throng, resolved to loose man’s bonds…”

            However “the young warrior” is not left alone in his battle for the world’s salvation. In the second part of The Dream of the Rood the events of Good Friday are told through the eyes of the Cross. It begins with the tree being cut down and although thinking initially that it was to bear the body of a criminal it discovers that it is the “God of hosts” who will rest on its wood:

“Much have I born on that hill
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,
King’s fall lamented. Christ was on rood.”

The Cross decided to become one with Jesus ; dauntless before the approaching pain he remained standing with his Lord; loyally he accepted the same nails as pierced the body of his Beloved; mocked and suffering he remained with him through the dark hours of that Friday afternoon:

“I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together.”

            It was this vision of Jesus the warrior-hero that inspired medieval warriors who viewed the risking of their own bodies in just warfare as their way of following Christ.  The chronicler wrote of that truly Catholic monarch, the courageous Saint King Louis IX that “as our Lord died for the love He bore His people, even so King Louis put his own body in adventure….for the very same reason.”

What else is priestly celibacy but the putting of your own body “in adventure”, into the following of the Hero and with the strength of “the young warrior” joining your sacrifice to his?

“It is the nature of love to bind itself” (Chesterton); it is the deepest nature of priesthood to bind itself in virginity. As the poet Tagore said: “chastity is a richness that comes from the abundance of love”. From the beginning of Christianity love for the Hero frequently, naturally, spontaneously overflowed in certain hearts in a way of life hitherto unknown: sacred virginity for love of God.  Beautiful young women from noble families  like St.Cecilia,  ardent young men like Anthony, Pachomius, Augustine and Benedict  felt the intense desire to give their hearts completely to Jesus Christ in a way that could only occur through giving their bodies “ in adventure” through  virginity. For “love loves unto purity” (George MacDonald).

It was the encounter with the Hero that initiated and sustained sacred celibacy: knowledge that gave birth to admiration, admiration that gave birth to love, love to closeness, and closeness to total self-giving in sacred celibacy.

The priest, like Christ the Hero who shed his blood for his bride, fully exercises his virility when he sheds his life-blood day after day for his bride, the Church, in all of the great and small daily activities.

Here is pure love, sublime love, the superhuman love of a virile heart.

It is not therefore some type of bachelorhood ( except in the mind of the one who either understands nothing about it or no longer loves) but is a focused, exclusive, intellectual, fiery self-giving to “the Love of Loves”, to” the Love that made the sun and all the other stars” (Dante).      The Ignatian who has chosen sacred chastity has done so not on account of less love in his heart but by virtue of a greater, more intense and powerful love.  Therefore the ultimate ground for priestly celibacy is love! The love of God from eternity to eternity, of Jesus Christ who loved you in the cradle, on the Cross, in the Resurrection and continues to love you in every nano-instant; who calls you – in total freedom – to be Alter Christus united to him no longer as a Christian among the lay faithful but as one set apart to represent him as Head of the Mystical Body, teaching, sanctifying, governing in His Name.  In love he has called you; with love and only for love he wishes you to be His.

To be celibate is not to drain yourself of love but to intensify those powers of love to their highest level by loving God. As the waters come together at the Niagara Falls to produce a tremendous cascading of energy at one point, so likewise with the channeling of virginity.  You are called not to love less but to love more; to love more deeply, passionately, tenderly, ardently with a consuming love that radiates and inflames all who come near you. You are called to love as father, friend, brother. All women should see in you a man deeply attractive because of this supernatural love that shows itself in the way you deal with them for they recognize that you see them as your sister in Christ.  You do not have one family but hundreds or thousands; you do not love one woman but many women whose souls you guide in confession and spiritual direction, whose children you baptize, to whom you give first Holy Communion, perform their marriages, give the viaticum and anoint for the final journey.

An eighteen year old who had decided to become a priest broke the news to his girl friend:  “I told her that I felt no human love could ever fill my heart; that I felt a need for a love that was divine, that only God could fill. I asked her if she could understand this.” Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher severed the relationship with his fiancée because he felt the call to love God through virginity: “God wants celibacy because he wants to be loved…I have need of something majestic to love…There was and there is in my soul a need for majesty, of a majesty that never will I grow tired and bored of adoring. In the world I have discovered nothing of that longed for majesty.”[2] As St.Augustine, no stranger to human love, said: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”  – and some are called to quench their restlessness, as much as it can be quenched this side of the Beatific Vision, through giving their hearts exclusively to God in sacred chastity.

Sacred celibacy flows from this pure spring of a love found only amidst the highest mountain ranges of the spirit. It all flows naturally when the supernatural  is not denied by sin, when the sacraments are lived, when prayer is daily and deep and when vigilance is a warrior’s fidelity to his word.

[1] OFFORD, The Book of the Knight of the Tower, (translated by William Caxton), p.141, quoted in RICHARD W. KAEUPER, Holy Warriors. The Religious Ideology of Chivalry, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009, p.129.

[2]SOREN KIERKEGAARD,  Diary, XI, A, 154,  quoted in RANIERO CANTALAMESSA, Virginity, Alba House, p.24.