At the general audience in St. Peter's Square on 14 April, the Holy Father delivered the following address:
Beloved brothers and sisters!
The solemnity of Easter, just passed, fills our souls during this week, and will fill them during all of Easter time with that joy which comes from the commemoration of Christ's glorious Resurrection. We have travelled the tortured way of his Passion, from the Last Supper up to the agony and death on the cross; and we have awaited in the deep silence of Holy Saturday the joyful peal of the "Blessed Night" of the vigil.
Easter must not remain only on the emotional level or in our memories; it must leave a mark, it must continuously be felt in our lives, every day it must encourage us to consistently give Christian witness.
Easter is to the Christian an invitation to live "a new life": "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above…" (Col 3:1-2).
During life's happy or sad moments, at work, in one's profession, at school, the Christian must bear witness that Christ is truly risen, following him with courage and love, placing all his faith and every hope in him.
I wish from my heart that the memory of the Easter festivities will accompany you all and make you feel the joyful presence of the Risen Christ.
No reference to inferiority of marriage
1. Let us now continue our reflections of the previous weeks on the words about continence "for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven" which, according to the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 19:10-12), Christ addressed to his disciples.
Let us say once more that these words, as concise as they are, are admirably rich and precise, rich with a number of implications both of doctrinal and pastoral nature. At the same time they establish a proper limit on the subject. Therefore, any kind of Manichean interpretation decidedly goes beyond that limit, so that, according to what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount, there is lustful desire "in the heart" (Mt 5:27-28).
In Christ's words on continence "for the Kingdom of Heaven" there is no reference to the "inferiority" of marriage with regard to the "body", or, in other words, with regard to the essence of marriage, consisting in the fact that man and woman join together in marriage, thus becoming "one flesh" (Gen 2:24: "The two will become one flesh"). Christ's words recorded in Matthew 19:11-12 (as also the words of Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7) give no reason to assert the "inferiority" of marriage, nor the "superiority" of virginity or celibacy inasmuch as by their nature virginity and celibacy consist in abstinence from the conjugal "union in the body". Christ's words on this point are quite clear. He proposes to his disciples the ideal of continence and the call to it, not by reason of inferiority nor with prejudice against conjugal "union of the body", but only "for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven".
Relationship between marriage and continence
2. In this light a deeper clarification of the very expression "for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven" is particularly useful, and this is what we shall try to do in the following, at least briefly. However, with regard to the correct understanding of the relationship between marriage and continence that Christ speaks about, and the understanding of that relationship as the whole of Tradition has understood it, it is worthwhile to add that that "superiority" and "inferiority" fall within the limits of the same complementarity of marriage and continence for the Kingdom of God.
Marriage and continence are neither opposed to each another nor do they divide the human (and Christian) community into two camps (let us say, those who are "perfect" because of continence and those who are "imperfect" or "less perfect" because of the reality of married life). But these two basic situations, it is true, as it is often said, these two "states", in a certain sense explain and complete each other as regards the existence and life (Christian) of this community, which in its entirety and in each of its members is fulfilled in the dimension of the Kingdom of God and has an eschatological orientation, which is precisely of that kingdom. So, with regard to this dimension and this orientation—in which the entire community, that is, all of those who belong to it, must share in the faith—continence "for the Kingdom of Heaven" has a particular importance and a special eloquence for those who live a married life. Besides, it is known that these constitute the majority.
3. It therefore seems that a complementarity understood in this way finds its foundation in the words of Christ according to Matthew 19:11-12 (and also in the First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7). On the other hand there is no basis for a presumed counterposition according to which celibates (or unmarried persons), only by reason of their continence, would make up the class of those who are "perfect", and to the contrary, married persons would make up a class of those who are "imperfect" (or "less perfect"). If, according to a certain theological tradition, one speaks of a state of perfection (status perfectionis), it is done not by reason of continence in itself, but with regard to the entirety of a life based on the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience), since this life corresponds to Christ's call to perfection ("If you would be perfect...": Mt 19-21). Perfection of the Christian life, instead, is measured with the rule of charity. It follows that a person who does not live in the "state of perfection" (that is, in an institution that bases its life plan on vows of poverty, chastity and obedience), or, in other words, who does not live in a religious institute, but in the "world", can de facto reach a superior degree of perfection—whose measure is charity—in comparison to the person who lives in the "state of perfection" with a lesser degree of charity. In any case, the evangelical counsels undoubtedly help us to achieve a fuller charity. Therefore, whoever achieves it, even is he does not live in an institutionalized "state of perfection", reaches that perfection which flows from charity, through fidelity to the spirit of those counsels. Such perfection is possible and accessible to every man, both in a "religious institute" and in the "world".
4. It seems then that the complementarity of marriage and continence for "the Kingdom of Heaven" in their significance and manifold importance adequately corresponds to Christ's words recorded in Matthew (Mt 19:11-12). In the life in an authentically Christian community the attitudes and values proper to the one and the other state—that is, to one or the other essential and conscious choice as a vocation for one's entire earthly life and in the perspective of the "heavenly Church"—they complete and in a certain sense interpenetrate each other. Perfect conjugal love must be marked by that fidelity and that donation to the only Spouse (and also of the fidelity and donation of the Spouse to the only Bride), on which religious profession and priestly celibacy are founded. Finally, the nature of one and the other love is "conjugal", that is, expressed through the total gift of oneself. Both types of love tend to express that conjugal meaning of the body which "from the beginning" has been inscribed in the personal make-up of man and woman.
We shall return to this point at a later date.
Each his special gift
5. On the other hand, conjugal love which finds its expression in continence "for the Kingdom of Heaven" must lead in its normal development to "paternity" or "maternity" in a spiritual sense (in other words, precisely to that "fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit" that we have already spoken about) in a way analogous to conjugal love, which matures in physical paternity and maternity, and in this way confirms itself as conjugal love. For its part, physical procreation also fully responds to its meaning only if it is completed by paternity and maternity in the spirit, whose expression and fruit is all the educative work of the parents in regard to the children born of their conjugal corporeal union.
As can be seen, there are many aspects and spheres of the complementarity between the vocation, in an evangelical sense, of those who "marry and are given in marriage" (Lk 20:34) and of those who knowingly and voluntarily choose continence "for the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt 19:12).
In his First Letter to the Corinthians (which we will analyse later in our considerations), Saint Paul will write on this subject: "Each has his special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another" (1 Cor 7:7).
Reprinted with permission