IGNATIANS: MEN OF THE ETERNAL!
The saga of the return of Ulysses to his homeland touches deep chords within a man’s heart for we know that the “Shadowlands” of this life is not a lasting dwelling but a land through which we are meant to journey to our true and eternal home. Everything in this life naturally points beyond itself to its source and goal: infinite goodness, unfading beauty, eternal joy, to where it can finally be complete, where we can be one with the “Love that made the sun and the other stars”.
If the ultimate meaning and purpose of all on earth is undying life in Heaven, this life itself, sexuality, and priestly celibacy must also be seen in this light. You will understand sacred celibacy if you understand life and you will understand life if you grasp it as a journey with a destination. Nowadays, in our somewhat myopic society, Heaven seems unreal and irrelevant but our Lord Jesus Christ instituted a way to awaken men to its reality: sacred chastity. Since “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven”, chastity lived out by a priest or consecrated Christian can be a signpost for Eternity. During the Vigil of the Feast of the Sacred Heart in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said that
“A great problem of modern Christianity is that we no longer think of the future of God: the present moment of this world seems sufficient. … In this way we close the doors to the true greatness of our existence. The meaning of celibacy – as an anticipation of the future – is precisely to open these doors, … to show the reality of the future which we must live here in the present, and in this way bear witness to our faith. We truly believe that God exists … that we can found our lives on Christ and on the life to come”.
Celibacy – said Pope Benedict – is an anticipation “of the world of the resurrection.” It is the sign “that God exists, that God is part of my life, that I can base my life on Christ, on the future life.” For this reason – he continued – celibacy “is a great scandal.” Not only for today’s world, “in which God has no place” but for Christianity itself, in which “God’s future is no longer considered, and the now of this world alone seems sufficient.”
At first glance Heaven doesn’t seem too exciting: the pleasures of the body are far more immediately seductive. This is when we need to hack our way to reality by some hard reasoning. As C. S. Lewis wrote in Miracles:
“ The letter and spirit of scripture, and of all Christianity, forbid us to suppose that life in the New Creation will be a sexual life; and this reduces our imagination to the withering alternative either of bodies which are hardly recognisable as human bodies at all or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer “No,” he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it.
“We are in the same position. We know the sexual life ; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it. Hence where fulness awaits us we anticipate fasting. In denying that sexual life, as we now understand it, makes any part of the final beatitude, it is not of course necessary to suppose that the distinction of sexes will disappear. What is no longer needed for biological purposes may be exspected to survive for splendour. Sexuality is the instrument both of virginity and of conjugal virtue; neither men nor women will be asked to throw away weapons they have used victoriously. It is the beaten and the fugitivies who throw away their swords. The conquerors sheathe theirs and retain them.”
C. S. Lewis drove home his point in the novel Perelandra:
“A skeptical friend of ours called McPhee was arguing against the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the human body. I was his victim at the moment and he was pressing on me in his Scots way with such questions as “So you think you’re going to have guts and a palate for ever in a world where there’ll be no eating, and genital organs in a world without copulation? Man, ye’ll have a grand time of it!” When Ransom suddenly burst out with great excitement, “Oh, don’t you see, you ass, that there’s a difference between a trans-sensuous life and a non-sensuous life?” That, of course, directed McPhee’s fire to him. What emerged was that in Ransom’s opinion the present functions and appetites of the body would disappear, not because they were atrophied but because they were, as he said “engulfed.”
Therefore it is not a matter of despising this life and our sexuality. On the contrary, it is a vibrant love for life! When the Spanish writer, Miguel de Unamuno, was once challenged by a friend on his desire for eternity, he replied: ‘I don’t say we deserve a hereafter, nor that logic can demonstrate that there is one; I say we need one, whether we deserve it or not, and that’s all. I say that what is transitory does not satisfy me, that I am athirst for eternity, that I am indifferent to everything but this. I need it, I need it! Without it there is no more joy in living, and the joy of life has nothing more to say to me. It is too easy to insist: “You must live, you must be satisfied with life.” What about those who are not satisfied with it?”‘ The people who despise the world and life here‑below are not the ones who desire eternity; the reverse is true: they are the ones who do not desire it. ‘I love life so much’, the same author writes, ‘that the loss of it strikes me as the worst of evils. They do not truly love life, who enjoy it as it comes, without worrying whether or when they will lose the lot.’
Hence, the man who has made the superhuman sacrifice of marriage for the sake of continuing the salvific mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ is a man who loves not less, but more: more intensely, deeper, and more enduringly; not less people, but more; and with a love that will endure eternally.