Continence for the Sake
of the Kingdom Meant to Have Spiritual Fulfillment
General Audience, March 24, 1982, St. Peter's Square
1. We continue our reflections on celibacy and virginity for the
kingdom of heaven. Continence for the kingdom of heaven is certainly
linked to the revelation of the fact that in the kingdom of heaven
people "will no longer marry" (Mt 22:30). It is a charismatic sign.
The human being, male and female, who, in the earthly situation
where people usually marry (Lk 20:34), freely chooses continence for
the kingdom of heaven, indicates that in that kingdom, which is the
other world of the resurrection, people will no longer marry (Mk
12:25), because God will be "everything to everyone" (1 Cor 15:28).
Such a human being, man and woman, indicates the eschatological
virginity of the risen man. In him there will be revealed, I would
say, the absolute and eternal nuptial meaning of the glorified body
in union with God himself through the "face to face" vision of him,
and glorified also through the union of a perfect intersubjectivity.
This will unite all who participate in the other world, men and
women, in the mystery of the communion of saints.
Earthly continence for the kingdom of heaven is undoubtedly a sign
that indicates this truth and this reality. It is a sign that the
body, whose end is not the grave, is directed to glorification.
Already by this very fact, continence for the kingdom of heaven is a
witness among men that anticipates the future resurrection. However,
this charismatic sign of the other world expresses the force and the
most authentic dynamics of the mystery of the redemption of the
body. Christ has inscribed this mystery in man's earthly history and
it has been deeply rooted by him in this history. So, then,
continence for the kingdom of heaven bears, above all, the imprint
of the likeness to Christ. In the work of redemption, he himself
made this choice for the kingdom of heaven.
The virginal mystery
2. Indeed, Christ's whole life, right from the beginning, was a
discreet but clear distancing of himself from that which in the Old
Testament had so profoundly determined the meaning of the body.
Christ—as if against the expectations of the whole Old Testament
tradition—was born of Mary, who, at the moment of the annunciation,
clearly says of herself: "How can this be, since I know not man" (Lk
1:34), and thereby professes her virginity. Though he is born of her
like every other man, as a son of his mother, even though his coming
into the world is accompanied by the presence of a man who is Mary's
spouse and, in the eyes of the law and of men, her husband,
nonetheless Mary's maternity is virginal. The virginal mystery of
Joseph corresponds to this virginal maternity of Mary. Following the
voice from on high, Joseph does not hesitate to "take Mary...for
that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 1:20).
Even though Jesus Christ's virginal conception and birth were hidden
from men, even though in the eyes of his contemporaries of Nazareth
he was regarded as "the carpenter's son" (Mt 13:55) (ut putabatur
filius Joseph: Lk 3:23), the reality and essential truth of his
conception and birth was in itself far removed from what in the Old
Testament tradition was exclusively in favor of marriage, and which
rendered continence incomprehensible and out of favor. Therefore,
how could continence for the kingdom of heaven be understood, if the
expected Messiah was to be David's descendant, and as was held, was
to be a son of the royal stock according to the flesh? Only Mary and
Joseph, who had lived the mystery of his conception and birth,
became the first witnesses of a fruitfulness different from that of
the flesh, that is, of a fruitfulness of the Spirit: "That which is
conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 1:20).
3. The story of Jesus' birth is certainly in line with that
"continence for the kingdom of heaven" of which Christ will speak
one day to his disciples. However, this event remained hidden to the
men of that time and also to the disciples. Only gradually would it
be revealed to the eyes of the Church on the basis of the witness
and texts of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The marriage of Mary
and Joseph (in which the Church honors Joseph as Mary's spouse, and
Mary as his spouse), conceals within itself, at the same time, the
mystery of the perfect communion of the persons, of the man and the
woman in the conjugal pact, and also the mystery of that singular
continence for the kingdom of heaven. This continence served, in the
history of salvation, the most perfect fruitfulness of the Holy
Spirit. Indeed, in a certain sense it was the absolute fullness of
that spiritual fruitfulness, since precisely in the Nazareth
conditions of the pact of Mary and Joseph in marriage and in
continence, the gift of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word was
realized. The Son of God, consubstantial with the Father, was
conceived and born as man from the Virgin Mary.
The grace of the hypostatic union is connected precisely with this—I
would say—absolute fullness of supernatural fruitfulness,
fruitfulness in the Holy Spirit, participated by a human creature,
Mary, in the order of continence for the kingdom of heaven. Mary's
divine maternity is also, in a certain sense, a superabundant
revelation of that fruitfulness in the Holy Spirit to which man
submits his spirit, when he freely chooses continence in the body,
namely, continence for the kingdom of heaven.
Example of Jesus
4. This image had to be gradually revealed to the Church's awareness
in the ever new generations of confessors of Christ. This happened
when—together with the infancy Gospel—there was consolidated in them
the certainty of the divine maternity of the Virgin, who had
conceived by the Holy Spirit. Even though only indirectly—yet
essentially and fundamentally—this certainly should help one to
understand, on the one hand, the sanctity of marriage, and on the
other, the disinterestedness in view of the kingdom of heaven, of
which Christ had spoken to his disciples. Nonetheless, when he spoke
to them about it for the first time (as attested by the evangelist
Matthew in chapter 19:10-12), that great mystery of his conception
and birth was completely unknown to them. It was hidden from them as
it was from all the hearers and interlocutors of Jesus of Nazareth.
When Christ spoke of those who "had made themselves eunuchs for the
kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:12), the disciples could understand it
only on the basis of his personal example. Such a continence must
have impressed itself on their consciousness as a particular trait
of likeness to Christ, who had himself remained celibate "for the
kingdom of heaven." In the tradition of the old covenant, marriage
and procreative fruitfulness in the body were a religiously
privileged condition. The departure from this tradition had to be
effected especially on the basis of the example of Christ himself.
Only little by little did it come to be realized that "for the sake
of the kingdom of heaven" attaches a particular meaning to that
spiritual and supernatural fruitfulness of man which comes from the
Holy Spirit (Spirit of God), and that fruitfulness, in a specific
sense and in determined cases, is served precisely by continence for
the kingdom of heaven.
More or less all these elements of Gospel awareness (that is, of an
exact consciousness of the new covenant in Christ) concerning
continence are found in Paul. We shall seek to show that at a
To sum up, we can say that the principal theme of today's reflection
has been the relationship between continence for the kingdom of
heaven, proclaimed by Christ, and the supernatural fruitfulness of
the human spirit which comes from the Holy Spirit.
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 29 March
1982, page 3.
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