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The Unmarried Person Is Anxious to Please the Lord

83 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 30 June 1982 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Saint Paul, in explaining in the seventh chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians the question of marriage and virginity (or continence for the sake of the kingdom of God), tries to give the reason why one who chooses marriage does well, while one who decides on a life of continence or virginity does better. He writes: "I tell you this, brothers, the time is already short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none...." And then: "...those who buy, as though they had no goods; those who deal with the world, as though they had no dealings with it, for the form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties..." (1 Cor 7:29-32).

2. The last words of the text just quoted show that in his argumentation, Paul is also referring to his own experience, which makes his reasoning more personal. He not only formulates the principle and seeks to justify it as such, but he ties it in with personal reflections and convictions arising from his practice of the evangelical counsel of celibacy. The individual expressions and phrases testify to their persuasive power. The Apostle not only writes to his Corinthians: "I wish that all were as I myself am" (1 Cor 7:7), but he goes further when, referring to men who contract marriage, he writes: "Yet they will have troubles in the flesh, and I would want to spare you that" (1 Cor 7:28). However, this personal conviction of his was already expressed in the first words of the seventh chapter of the same letter, referring to this opinion of the Corinthians, in order to modify it as well: "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote, it is well for a man not to touch a woman..." (1 Cor 7:1).

3. We can ask here, what "troubles in the flesh" did Paul have in mind? Christ spoke only of suffering (or "afflictions"), which a woman experiences when she is to deliver a child. However, he emphasized the joy that fills her as a reward for these sufferings after the birth of her child, the joy of motherhood (cf. Jn 16:21). Paul, rather, writes of the "tribulations of the body" which spouses expect. Would this be an expression of the Apostle's personal aversion with regard to marriage? In this realistic observation we must see a just warning for those who—as at times young people do—hold that conjugal union and living together must bring them only happiness and joy. The experience of life shows that spouses are not rarely disappointed in what they were greatly expecting. The joy of the union brings with it also those "troubles in the flesh" that the Apostle writes about in his letter to the Corinthians. These are often troubles of a moral nature. If by this he intends to say that true conjugal love—precisely that love by virtue of which "a man...cleaves to his wife and the two become one flesh" (Gn 2:24)—is also a difficult love, he certainly remains on the grounds of evangelical truth. There is no reason here to see symptoms of the attitude that later was to characterize Manichaeism.

4. In his words about continence for the sake of the kingdom of God, Christ did not in any way try to direct his listeners to celibacy or virginity by pointing out to them the troubles of marriage. We see rather that he tried to highlight various aspects, humanly painful, of deciding on continence. Both the social reason and reasons of a subjective nature led Christ to say about the man who makes such a decision, that he makes himself a eunuch, that is, he voluntarily embraces continence. But precisely thanks to this, the whole subjective significance, the greatness and exceptional character of such a decision clearly springs forth. It is the significance of a mature response to a particular gift of the Spirit.

5. In the letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul does not understand the counsel of continence differently, but he expresses it in a different way. He writes: "I tell you this, brothers, the time is already short..." (1 Cor 7:29), and a little later on, "the form of this world is passing away..." (1 Cor 7:31). This observation about the perishability of human existence and the transience of the temporal world, in a certain sense about the accidental nature of all that is created, should cause "those who have wives to live as though they had none" (1 Cor 7:29; cf. 7:31). At the same time it should prepare the ground for the teaching on continence. At the center of his reasoning, Paul places the key phrase that can be joined to Christ's statement, one of its own kind, on the subject of continence for the sake of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 19:12).

6. While Christ emphasized the greatness of the renunciation, inseparable from such a decision, Paul demonstrates above all what the kingdom of God must mean in the life of the person who has renounced marriage in view of it. While the triple parallelism of Christ's statement reaches its climax in the word that signifies the greatness of the renunciation voluntarily made ("...and there are others who have become eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven": Mt 19:12), Paul describes the situation with only one word: the "unmarried" (agamos). Further on, however, he expresses the whole content of the expression "kingdom of heaven" in a splendid synthesis. He says: "The unmarried person is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord" (1 Cor 7:32). Each word of this statement deserves a special analysis.

7. The context of the word "to be anxious" or "to try" in the Gospel of Luke, Paul's disciple, indicates that one must truly seek only the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 12:31), that which constitutes the better part, the unum necessarium, the one thing necessary (cf. Lk 10:41). Paul himself speaks directly about his "anxiety for all the churches" (2 Cor 11:28), about his search for Christ through his concern for the problems of the brethren, for the members of the Body of Christ (cf. Phil 2:20-21; 1 Cor 12:25). Already from this context the whole vast field of the "anxiety" emerges, to which the unmarried can totally dedicate his mind, his toil, his heart. Man can "be anxious" only about what is truly in his heart.

8. In Paul's statement, the unmarried person is anxious about the affairs of the Lord (ta tou kyriou). With this concise expression, Paul embraces the entire objective reality of the kingdom of God. "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it," he himself will say a little further on in this letter (1 Cor 10:26; cf. Ps 24:1).

The object of the Christian's concern is the whole world! But Paul, with the name "Lord," describes first of all Jesus Christ (cf. Phil 2:11). Therefore the "affairs of the Lord" signify in the first place the kingdom of Christ, his Body which is the Church (cf. Col 1:18) and all that contributes to its growth. The unmarried person is anxious about all this. Therefore Paul, being in the full sense of the term the "Apostle of Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:1) and minister of the Gospel (cf. Col. 1:23), writes to the Corinthians: "I wish that all of you were as I myself am" (1 Cor 7:7).

9. Nevertheless, apostolic zeal and most fruitful activity do not yet exhaust what is contained in the Pauline motivation for continence. We could even say that their root or source is found in the second part of the sentence, which demonstrates the subjective reality of the kingdom of God: "The unmarried person is to please the Lord." This observation embraces the whole field of man's personal relationship with God. "To please God"—the expression is found in ancient books of the Bible (cf. Dt 13:19)—is synonymous with life in God's grace and expresses the attitude of one who seeks God, of one who behaves according to his will so as to please him. In one of the last books of Sacred Scripture this expression becomes a theological synthesis of sanctity. Saint John applies it only once to Christ: "I always do what is pleasing to him [the Father]" (Jn 8:29). Saint Paul observes in his letter to the Romans that Christ "did not please himself" (Rm 15:3).

Between these two observations all that makes up the content of "pleasing God" is contained, understood in the New Testament as following in the footsteps of Christ.

It seems that both parts of the Pauline expression overlap. In fact, to be anxious about what "pertains to the Lord," about the "affairs of the Lord," one must "please the Lord." On the other hand, one who pleases God cannot be closed in upon himself, but is open to the world, to everything that is to be led to Christ These evidently are only two aspects of the same reality of God and his kingdom. Paul nevertheless had to distinguish them in order to show more clearly the nature and the possibility of continence "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."

We will try to return to this subject again."

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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers pèlerins de langue française,

Vous venez donc de Marseille, de Gadagne, de Béziers, de Saint-Just d’Arbois, et aussi d’autres pays. Et parmi vous se trouve un groupe de Sœurs de Notre-Dame des Apôtres. Merci à tous pour votre visite! Et tous mes souhaits pour le profit spirituel de votre pèlerinage à Rome.

Depuis quelque temps, à l’occasion de ces rencontres familiales du mercredi, je m’efforce d’aider les participants à mieux saisir le sens et la richesse du conseil évangélique qu’est la continence volontaire à cause du Royaume des cieux.

Au chapitre septième de sa première Lettre aux Corinthiens saint Paul s’exprime très clairement au sujet du mariage et de la virginité: “Celui qui se marie, fait bien; celui qui ne se marie pas, fait mieux”. Ce disant, l’apôtre se réfère certainement à sa propre expérience de célibataire. Il ose même dire aux chrétiens de Corinthe - en songeant aux époux qui connaissent “les tribulations de la chair”, c’est-à-dire les tracas de la vie conjugale: “Je voudrais que tous les hommes fussent comme moi!”.

Bien avant l’apôtre Paul Jésus avait parlé de la continence volontaire. Il avait surtout mis en relief la grandeur du célibat et le caractère exceptionnel d’une pareille décision, s’expliquant seulement comme une réponse mûrement réfléchie à un don de l’Esprit Saint.

Assurément, saint Paul ne comprend pas autrement ce conseil évangélique, mais il le présente différemment. Il cherche à démontrer que “celui qui n’est pas marié a souci des affaires du Seigneur, des moyens de plaire au Seigneur, tandis que celui qui s’est marié a souci des affaires de ce monde et cherche à plaire à sa femme”. N’oublions pas que ces expressions “avoir souci de”, “chercher le Royaume” sont souvent employées par l’évangéliste Luc, disciple de Paul, pour caractériser le souci et la recherche du Royaume de Dieu, considéré comme “la meilleure part”, “l’unique nécessaire”, “la volonté de plaire au Seigneur” en le préférant, Lui, et en se consécrant exclusivement à son œuvre de retour des hommes et des choses vers Dieu. Nous poursuivrons encore cette méditation. Mais je vous invite à prier souvent pour ceux et celles qui ont suivi cette voie évangélique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear brothers and sisters,

My cordial greetings go to all of you who have assembled here today from different parts of the world. In past weeks I have been speaking about the relationship between marriage and continence for the Kingdom of heaven, presenting Christ’s teaching and also the explanation of Saint Paul. This Apostle explains why a person who chooses marriage does “well”, while one who decides on a life of virginity or celibacy does something “better”. On the one hand, Christ emphasized the greatness of the renunciation that is involved in a mature decision to accept the Holy Spirit’s gift of total continence for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Saint Paul, on the other hand, explains what the “Kingdom of God” means in the life of man. One of the phrases he uses is this: “The unmarried person is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord”. For Saint Paul “the affairs of the Lord” is the same as saying “the Kingdom of God”. Saint Paul is thus proposing apostolic zeal as a motive for celibacy, but even more important is the second part of his phrase: “To please the Lord”. The Apostle is also proposing a personal relationship of striving to please God alone as another more profound reason for embracing virginity or celibacy. We shall speak again in the future about this theme.

I offer a special greeting to the group from South Africa, the members of the Denis Dalton Choir of Moklakeng, Soweto. In welcoming you today, I assure you of may affection in our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you all!

Ai pellegrini tedeschi

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Euch allen gilt mein herzlicher Willkommensgruß zu dieser Audienz. In euch grüße ich zugleich eure Angehörigen und eure Pfarrgemeinden in der Heimat. Möge Gott durch diese Rompilgerfahrt euren Glauben stärken und eure Liebe zur Kirche vertiefen.

In unseren allgemeinen Überlegungen betrachten wir die Lehre des hl. Paulus über Ehe und Jungfräulichkeit. Der Apostel sagt, daß heiraten ”gut“, nichtheiraten jedoch ”besser“ ist. Er begründet seine Vorliebe für die Ehelosigkeit mit dem Hinweis auf die Vergänglichkeit der Welt: ”denn die Gestalt dieser Welt vergeht“ (1 Cor. 7, 31). Sodann weiß er darum, daß wahre Liebe zwischen Ehegatten eine Liebe ist, die mit vielen Prüfungen und Schwierigkeiten verbunden ist. Diese möchte er seinen Glaubensbrüdern und -schwestern ersparen. Der wichtigste Grund für den Vorzug der Ehelosigkeit aber ist der folgende: ”Der Unverheiratete sorgt sich um die Sache des Herrn, wie er dem Herrn gefalle“ (Ibid. 7, 32). Der Verzicht auf die Ehe wird nur dadurch wirklich wertvoll, wenn er um des Herren willen oder, wie Christus sagt, ”um des Himmelreiches willen“ geschieht.

Von Herzen grüße ich noch einmal alle anwesenden Pilger aus Deutschland, aus Österreich, der Schweiz und den Niederlanden und erteile euch und allen, die euch verbunden sind, meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Queridos hermanos y hermanas,

Al comenzar estas palabras en español, saludo cordialmente a cada persona y grupo de dicha lengua. En particular a los jóvenes y estudiantes de los varios colegios y parroquias y a los Pueri Cantores de Basauri. A todos expreso mi sincera estima y afecto.

Continuamos nuestra reflexión sobre la virginidad y el matrimonio en la enseñanza de San Pablo. El, haciendo referencia a su experiencia personal, indica que querría que los otros imitaran su ejemplo de virginidad. Sin embargo, consciente de que el estado normal del hombre es el matrimonio, advierte a los casados de que tendrán las tribulaciones de la carne, es decir, que en el amor verdadero y fiel no sólo hay felicidad y alegría, sino que las obligaciones morales que comporta, lo hacen difícil y exigente.

Como Cristo mismo, que invita a hacerse eunucos por el reino de los cielos, San Pablo alienta a pensar en la transitoriedad del mundo creado. Y entonces abre, en una estupenda síntesis, la hermosa panorámica de la continencia: “El célibe se cuida de las cosas del Señor, de cómo agradar al Señor”.

Lo cual equivale a decir que el célibe se preocupa del reino de Dios, de la Iglesia, del servicio a los hombres, de la elevación del mundo. Y ante todo se preocupa de agradar a Dios, de hacer su voluntad, de vivir una vida santa. Dos aspectos que forman parte de la misma realidad: el amor a Dios y a su reino.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Amados peregrinos e ouvintes de língua portuguesa,

Ainda na atmosfera da festa de São Pedro e São Paulo, a todos saúdo, com afecto, desejando-vos saúde, paz e graça de Deus. Continuamos a reflexão, com São Paulo, sobre a continência perfeita “por amor do Reino dos céus”. Na sua Carta aos Coríntios o Apóstolo procura indicar as causas pelas quais alguém se decide a abraçar este estado de continência, na virgindade ou no celibato.

Partindo da verificação - sem maniqueísmo - de que o matrimónio não é isento de tribulações, sobretudo de ordem moral, São Paulo refere-se à transitoriedade deste mundo temporal e enaltece a total disponibilidade para preocupar-se e dedicar-se “às coisas do Senhor”, àquilo que agrada a Deus, como motivações de escolha da virgindade ou do celibato, que comporta inevitavelmente uma renúncia.

“Quem não é casado cuida do modo como há-de agradar ao Senhor”: preocupa-se com a realidade objectiva do Reino de Deus, mediante o zelo apostólico e a dedicação generosa; mas tem de viver a realidade subjectiva do mesmo Reino de Deus - a vida em graça - com a caridade a ditar abertura para o que leva ou deve ser conduzido a Cristo.

Exortando-vos a pedir para a Igreja e para o mundo, invocando São Pedro e São Paulo, a graça de testemunho da fé e do amor consagrado, dou-vos a Bênção Apostólica.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Drodzy Rodacy!

Nazajutrz po uroczystości Apostołów świętego Piotra i Pawła pragnę - w duchowej obecności Matki Jasnogórskiej - powtórzyć te słowa: “Panie, do kogóż pójdziemy? Ty masz słowa życia wiecznego” (Io. 6, 68).

Te słowa wypowiedział Szymon Piotr wówczas, kiedy wielu opuszczało Chrystusa, nie mogąc pojąć zapowiedzi ustanowienia Eucharystii (Cfr. ibid. 6, 22-71).

Słowa te często powtarzał, przemawiając do nas, zmarły Prymas Polski, kardynał Stefan Wyszyński.

Słowa te powtarzam w dniu dzisiejszym z uwagi na wczorajsze święto Apostołów - a także z uwagi na tysiacletnią wieź naszej Ojczyzny ze stolicą świętego Piotra.

Z Jego duchowym dziedzictwem.

“Panie, do kogóż pójdziemy? Ty masz słowa życia wiecznego”!

Słowa te zostały wypowiedziane w momencie krytycznym.

W takim momencie człowiek nieraz lepiej widzi to, co ostateczne i niepodważalne: to, na czym jedynie moźna i trzeba budować doczesność.

W tych słowach zawiera się ostateczna podstawa naszej tożsamości: jesteśmy tym, kim jesteśmy, dzięki słowom żywota wiecznego; one ostatecznie stanowią o nas: o każdym z nas - i o naszej Wspólnocie.

Pośród doświadczeń naszego czasu chcemy tym bardziej być wierni słowom żywota wiecznego.

I dlatego też: dziękujemy Ci, Pani Jasnogórska, za tysiącletnie dziedzictwo świętego Piotra na naszej ziemi!

Ed ecco il testo del discorso polacco del Papa in una nostra traduzione italiana.

Cari connazionali!

All’indomani della solennità dei santi apostoli Pietro e Paolo desidero - nella spirituale presenza della Madre di Jasna Góra - ripetere le parole: “Signore, da chi andremo? Tu hai parole di vita eterna” (Gv 6, 68). Simon Pietro pronunciò queste parole quando molti lasciavano Cristo, non potendo capire l’annunzio dell’istituzione dell’Eucaristia (cf. Gv 6, 22-71).

Le stesse parole ripeteva spesso, parlando a noi, il defunto Primate di Polonia, Cardinale Stefano Wyszynski.

Le ripeto anch’io in questo giorno, tenendo presente la festa degli Apostoli di ieri ed anche tenendo presente il millenario legame della nostra Patria con la Sede di san Pietro, col suo patrimonio spirituale.

“Signore, da chi andremo? Tu hai parole di vita eterna”!

Queste parole sono state pronunziate in un momento critico.

In simili momenti l’uomo spesso vede meglio ciò che è definitivo ed inattaccabile: ciò su cui, unicamente, si può e si deve costruire la temporaneità.

In queste parole si racchiude il definitivo fondamento della nostra identità: siamo quelli che siamo, grazie alle parole di vita eterna; in definitiva esse decidono di noi: di ciascuno di noi - e della nostra comunità.

Tra le prove del nostro tempo vogliamo essere sempre più fedeli alle parole di vita eterna.

E perciò: Ti ringraziamo, Signora di Jasna Góra, per il millenario patrimonio di san Pietro nella nostra terra!

Ai fedeli italiani

Saluto i partecipanti al Convegno Nazionale della FIAS: Federazione Italiana Assistenza ai Sacerdoti. Il tema da loro trattato in questi giorni è assai impegnativo per tutti: “Il Popolo di Dio per i suoi Sacerdoti”; tutta la Comunità ecclesiale è invitata a prendere maggiore coscienza dei problemi dell’assistenza familiare e pastorale dei sacerdoti soli, anziani e malati. Il Signore ricompenserà certo largamente chiunque si dedica a questo settore. Ed io sono lieto di benedirvi.

* * *

Un cordiale saluto rivolgo ai Membri del Distretto 207 del “Rotary International” dell’Emilia-Romagna e della Toscana, i quali hanno realizzato, con le loro generose offerte, una “clinica mobile”, destinata ai campi profughi che si trovano al confine fra la Thailandia e la Cambogia, e data ai Padri Camilliani Italiani, che svolgono il loro apostolato missionario tra quelle popolazioni. Desidero esprimervi, carissimi, il mio sincero compiacimento per la vostra umana e cristiana solidarietà nei confronti dei fratelli sofferenti, dando una risposta concreta ai miei continui e pressanti appelli, perché sia dato il necessario, tempestivo aiuto ai profughi.

* * *

Rivolgo un particolare saluto al pellegrinaggio della diocesi di Casale Monferrato, guidato dal Vescovo Monsignor Carlo Cavalla. Cari fratelli e sorelle, so che voi rappresentate qui una Comunità diocesana impegnata nella preparazione del suo 25° Sinodo, che è stato indetto col motto: “Camminare insieme per rispondere alla chiamata di Dio”. Mi compiaccio vivamente per l’iniziativa e per il tema scelto. Soprattutto vi assicuro il mio ricordo al Signore, affinché il vostro impegno sia continuamente illuminato e corroborato dalla grazia di Cristo e dia frutti abbondanti e saporosi per una vita cristiana ed ecclesiale sempre più luminosa.

Intendo soprattutto salutare, tra voi, il gruppo di ragazzi handicappati, che fruiscono della vostra amorevole assistenza e ai quali mi sento spiritualmente molto vicino. In pari tempo saluto tutti gli ammalati, assicurandoli del mio affetto ed invitandoli ad attingere dalla Croce di Cristo forza e conforto.

Tutti vi benedico di gran cuore.

* * *

Saluto poi i partecipanti al pellegrinaggio della parrocchia della Madonna della Pace di Menaré, in diocesi di Vittorio Veneto, auspicando che la visita a Roma vi porti ad essere, come raccomandava san Pietro, “forti nella fede”.

* * *

Il mio saluto va ora ai giovani ai quali desidero ricordare le figure dei santi Pietro e Paolo, che ieri abbiamo festeggiato. Il loro amore a Cristo testimoniato fino al martirio, la loro fede ardente e l’entusiasmo con cui hanno annunciato il messaggio evangelico, rafforzi la vostra fede, sostenga la vostra volontà e vi aiuti ad essere autentici cristiani, sempre e, pertanto, anche nel periodo delle vacanze che stanno per incominciare per molti di voi.

* * *

Anche agli Sposi novelli, venuti da tante parti in pellegrinaggio a Roma, giunga il mio cordiale saluto, insieme alla mia parola esortatrice, che ripete ciò che san Pietro e san Paolo già scrivevano ai primi cristiani: “Crescete nella grazia e nella conoscenza del Signore nostro Gesù Cristo” (2 Pt 3, 18); “Il Signore della pace vi dia egli stesso la pace, sempre ed in ogni modo” (2 Ts 3, 16).

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