Two thousand years ago, Jesus told us in Mt. 3:2 to “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” From our vantage a couple millennia later, we might ask: Really? Where?

The answer might be a surprise: it’s up to us to build the kingdom of heaven, right here, right now, from the inside out. Our own hearts are effectively the prime “real estate” for God’s kingdom—and it’s the only landscape we can ultimately change for the better.

For those who live with same-sex attraction and are facing the idea that “celibacy” may loom large as a continuing fact of life, I would suggest that one change that can be made for the better is to do one’s best to “reframe” the notion of not marrying according to the reality of God’s kingdom taking root–right now–in our hearts.

The Catholic view of marrying, not marrying, or saying “no” to marriage specifically “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (celibacy for the kingdom) is actually not only pretty simple but, at its core, of great encouragement for anyone with SSA. Because marital communion is the finite sign in creation of an infinite reality (every soul’s call to “nuptial” union with God forever in heaven) Sistine Chapel 2.1the single person (regardless of whether the person is same-sex attracted or not) inherently can recognize in themselves the freedom—and thus the opportunity—to seek, here and now, a foretaste of heaven by making one’s self fully available to God’s own call to intimate union.

Once we allow ourselves to fully understand and appreciate the fundamental fact that in heaven there “is no marriage or giving in marriage”—that earthly marital union ceases to be in eternity—we can begin to see that we do not necessarily need to grieve for the loss of the “sign” that marriage is, because we can instead direct our energies toward pursuing the eternal reality we are all ultimately called to, directly in our lives, here and now.

While the joys of the fully human and fully complementary companionship of marriage are themselves authentic, the very exclusivity of such a human relationship—something unique and only found in the marriage covenant—is a sign that a same-sex-attracted person, like all people, should see pointing us all to union with God. For same-sex-attracted persons to seek human “friendships” that are more or less in “imitation” of this exclusivity found only in marriage is to ultimately miss the point of the marital sign itself. Believing one’s self to be not called to marriage should not therefore lead one to conclude that one is thus necessarily called to some other form of exclusive human partnership with someone of the same sex. Rather, the “sign” that is marriage always points us to heaven, regardless of whether it is a “sign” that we are currently saying “yes” to or currently saying “no” to.

Christ the Bridegroom 1In imitation of Jesus Christ Himself, those living a life of celibacy can indeed live it “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” by realizing that when we align our celibacy to His, like Him we say “yes” to that eternal “nuptial” union with our Beloved (God) that is the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” and “yes” to the temporal union of ourselves with the whole “Bride”—the Church, whose members all can thus receive our gift of self in more or less equal measure. But, doing so means that, like Christ, we are necessarily saying “no” not to human friendship itself but to a particular and exclusive communion with another human person. Rather, the celibate seeks to be a true self-gift to the entire Bride of Christ, in imitation of the Bridegroom, while, at the same time, responding to the call to be intimately, “nuptially,” united with God as the beginning or “foretaste” of our eternal unity with Him in heaven.

In this light, looking at lifelong celibacy can be seen not as a “deprivation” but rather as a “clarification.” It can help us more readily see this life in the context of eternal life, where there is no marriage and giving in marriage but only the blissful and everlasting “nuptial” union with God, experienced as a shared reality with all members of the Body of Christ, with whom we experience a “non-exclusive” but universal human communion, together oriented toward the Bridegroom Who loves us all with the same perfect love.

I fervently pray that those experiencing same-sex attraction who are struggling with what it means to be “celibate” will understand it and experience it “for the sake of the kingdom.” The kingdom of heaven is truly at hand, here in our hearts. And our “yes” to God’s kingdom is literally the beginning of eternal life.

 Next time: Embracing God From the Inside Out: Celibacy and the Spiritual Life

 

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