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Chastity for the sake of the kingdom

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 16 November 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. According to the Second Vatican Council, the precious gift of "perfect continence, out of desire for the kingdom of heaven," is outstanding among the evangelical counsels. This is a gift of divine grace, "given by the Father to certain souls, (cf. Mt 19:11; 1 Cor 7:7), whereby they may devote themselves to God alone the more easily, due to an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-34).... Perfect continence for the love of God is an incentive to charity, and is certainly a particular source of spiritual fecundity in the world" (LG 42). Traditionally, three vows are usually spoken of--poverty, chastity and obedience--beginning with the discussion of poverty as detachment from external goods, ranked on a lower level with regard to the goods of body and soul (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol., II-II, q. 186, a. 3). The Council, instead, expressly mentions consecrated chastity before the other two vows (cf. LG 43; PC 12, 13, 14), because it considers chastity as the determining commitment of the state of consecrated life. It is also the evangelical counsel that most obviously shows the power of grace, which raises love beyond the human being's natural inclinations.

2. Its spiritual greatness stands out in the Gospel, because Jesus himself explained the value he placed on commitment to the way of celibacy. According to Matthew, Jesus praised voluntary celibacy after he asserted the indissolubility of marriage. Since Jesus forbade husbands to divorce their wives, the disciples reacted: "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry." Jesus answered by giving a deeper meaning to the phrase, "It is not expedient to marry": "Not all can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it" (Mt 19:10-12).

3. In affirming this possibility of understanding a new way, which was that practiced by him and the disciples, and which perhaps led those around them to wonder or even to criticize, Jesus used an image that alluded to a well-known fact, the condition of "eunuchs." They could be such because of a congenital imperfection or because of human intervention. But Jesus immediately added that there was a new category--his!-- "eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." It was an obvious reference to the choice he made and recommended to his closest followers. According to the Mosaic law, eunuchs were excluded from worship (Dt 23:2) and the priesthood (Lv 21:20). An oracle in the Book of Isaiah had foretold the end of this exclusion (Is 56:3-5). Jesus opened an even more innovative horizon: the voluntary choice "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" of this situation considered unworthy of man. Obviously, Jesus' words did not mean an actual physical mutilation, which the Church has never permitted, but the free renunciation of sexual relations. As I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Redemptionis Donum, this means a "renunciation therefore--the reflection of the mystery of Calvary--in order 'to be' more fully in the crucified and risen Christ; renunciation in order to recognize fully in him the mystery of one's own human nature, and to confirm this on the path of that wonderful process of which the same apostle writes in another place: 'Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day' (2 Cor 4:16)" (RD 10).

4. Jesus was aware of the values renounced by those who live in perpetual celibacy. He himself had affirmed them shortly before when he spoke of marriage as a union of which God is the author and which therefore cannot be broken. Being committed to celibacy does indeed mean renouncing the goods inherent in married life and the family, but never ceasing to appreciate them for their real value. The renunciation is made in view of a greater good, of higher values, summed up in the beautiful Gospel expression of the "kingdom of heaven." The complete gift of self to this kingdom justifies and sanctifies celibacy.

5. Jesus called attention to the gift of divine light needed to understand the way of voluntary celibacy. Not everyone can understand it, in the sense that not everyone is "able" to grasp its meaning, to accept it, to practice it. This gift of light and decision is only granted to some. It is a privilege granted them for the sake of a greater love. We should not be surprised then if many, who do not understand the value of consecrated celibacy, are not attracted to it, and often are not even able to appreciate it. This means that there is a variety of ways, charisms and roles, as St. Paul recognized. He spontaneously wished to share his ideal of virginal life with everyone. He wrote: "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each," he adds, "has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another" (1 Cor 7:7). Moreover, as St. Thomas observed, "The Church derives a certain beauty from the variety of states" [1] .

6. For his part, the individual is required to make a deliberate act of will conscious of the duty and the privilege of consecrated celibacy. This does not mean simply abstaining from marriage, nor an unmotivated and almost passive observance of the norms imposed by chastity. The act of renunciation has a positive aspect in the total dedication to the kingdom, which implies absolute devotion to God "who is supremely loved" and to the service of his kingdom. Therefore, the choice must be well thought out and stem from a firm, conscious decision that has matured deep within the individual.

St. Paul states the demands and advantages of this dedication to the kingdom: "The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord, but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. The unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit, but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband" (1 Cor 7:32-34). The Apostle does not mean to condemn the married state (cf. 1 Tim 4:1-3), nor "to lay restraint" on anyone, as he said (1 Cor 7:35). But with the realism of experience enlightened by the Holy Spirit, he speaks and counsels--as he wrote--"for your own promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord" (1 Cor 7:35). This is the purpose of the evangelical counsels. Faithful to the tradition of the counsels, the Second Vatican Council states that chastity is "the most suitable means by which religious dedicate themselves with undivided heart to the service of God and the works of the apostolate" (PC 12).

7. Consecrated celibacy has been criticized over and over again in history, and many times the Church has had to call attention to the excellence of the religious state in this regard. One need only recall the declaration of the Council of Trent [2] , which Pius XII cited in the Encyclical Sacra Virginitas because of its magisterial value [3] . This does not mean casting a shadow on the married state. Instead we must keep in mind what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with his will. Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce each other" [4] .

The Second Vatican Council warns that accepting and observing the evangelical counsel of consecrated virginity and celibacy requires sufficient "psychological and emotional maturity" (PC 12). This maturity is indispensable.

Hence, the conditions for faithfully following Christ on this point are: trust in God's love, and prayer to him stirred by the awareness of human weakness; prudent and humble behavior; and above all, a life of intense union with Christ.

This last point, which is the key to all consecrated life, contains the secret of fidelity to Christ as the one bridegroom of the soul, the only reason to live.

[1]   Summa Theol., II-II, q. 184, a. 4
[2]   cf. DS 1810
[3]   cf. AAS 46 (1954), 174
[4]   n. 1620; cf. RD 11"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française, qui êtes présents ce matin. Je salue en particulier le groupe des prêtres de Laval venus à Rome avec leur Evêque, Monseigneur Billé, et je leur souhaite un bon pèlerinage. Je salue avec grand plaisir la délégation d’officiers, d’élèves officiers et d’hommes d’équipage du porte-hélicoptères “Jeanne d’Arc”; je leur souhaite la satisfaction de servir utilement leur patrie et la joie de découvrir la présence de Dieu dans leur vie. Sur chacun de vous, mes chers amis, j’invoque le soutien de la grâce du Seigneur. Que Dieu vous bénisse et vous garde!

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the pilgrim groups from Sri Lanka, Canada and the United States. I thank the American Veterans Administration - National Medical Musical Group for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Ai fedeli giapponesi

Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Cari pellegrini giapponesi di Kyoto, spero che questo vostro pellegrinaggio romano diventi una buona occasione per camminare insieme con il Successore di Pietro nel cammino della Chiesa universale verso il 2000. Avanti con la fiducia in Dio.

Vi benedico di cuore. Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mit meinen besten Wünschen für Euch und Eure Lieben in der Heimat erteile ich Euch allen von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Queridos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora con afecto a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de España y América Latina. En particular a los miembros de las Comunidades Neocatecumenales de Albacete y Alicante, a los que exhorto a testimoniar con valentía la fe profesada ante la tumba del Príncipe de los Apóstoles. Para todos vosotros y para vuestras familias y seres queridos, imparto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

A todos vós, especialmente aos membros da Associação “Pró-Vida” de São Paulo e aos Representantes das Câmaras do Comércio do Brasil: o meu “ obrigado ” pela vossa presença, com votos dos melhores ęxitos no serviço que prestais à vida, em sua dimensão individual e social e nas suas várias etapas, desde o seio materno até ao seu termo natural. A força de Deus vos assista, a Virgem Mãe vos guarde!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Pozdrawiam wszystkich, którzy tu przybyli, zarówno z kraju, jak i z emigracji, a w szczególności następujące grupy: młodzież i wychowawców Technikum Budowlanego z Krakowa-Nowej Huty; parafię Najświętszego Ciała i Krwi Chrystusa z Zawiercia; parafię św. Antoniego z Gliwic oraz grupę osób z Petersburga; grupę z Fundacji Kresowej z Gorzowa Wielkopolskiego; grupę turystyczną Sigma-Travel z Warszawy i wszystkich innych obecnych tutaj uczestników audiencji.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Il mio cordiale benvenuto va ora a tutti i pellegrini italiani; in particolare ai numerosi Gruppi corali della Diocesi di Pescara-Penne, accompagnati dai rispettivi maestri, amici e familiari.

Con affetto saluto, poi, i bambini, i consacrati ed il gruppo di medici dell’Opera “Piccola Casetta di Nazareth”, la quale celebra 50 anni di fedele servizio alla famiglia e alla vita nascente.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Il mio pensiero va, quindi, ai giovani presenti, ed in modo singolare a quelli della Diocesi di Teramo-Atri, venuti a Roma per iniziare la preparazione della prossima giornata mondiale della gioventù. A voi tutti, cari giovani, auguro di accogliere sempre il materno invito di Maria: “Fate quello che il Signore vi dice”.

Con viva amicizia saluto voi, cari malati, invitandovi a guardare fiduciosi a Colui che regna dall’albero della Croce. Sappiate offrire a Lui con grande fede le vostre sofferenze.

E voi, cari sposi novelli, che saluto con tanta cordialità, alimentate la vostra vita grazie all’incontro quotidiano con Cristo, principio e sorgente dell’autentico amore.

Vi accompagni tutti la mia Benedizione!

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