L'Osservatore Romano November 23, 1994
The spiritual value of voluntary celibacy was affirmed by Jesus himself, who praised those who renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom
Consecrated chastity for the sake of the kingdom of God was the subject of the Holy Father's weekly catechesis at the General Audience of Wednesday, 16 November. Continuing his discussion of the evangelical counsels, the Pope stated that those who embrace voluntary celibacy do so to devote themselves completely to God and the service of his reign. Here is a translation of the Holy Father's catechesis, which was the 1O9th in the series on the mystery of the Church and was given in Italian.
1. Outstanding among the evangelical counsels, according to the Second Vatican Council, [1962-1965 Wikipedia] is the precious gift of "perfect continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven": a gift of divine grace, "granted to some by the Father (cf. Mt 19:11; 1 Cor 7:7), so that in the state of virginity or celibacy they may more easily devote themselves to God alone with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-34).... [It is] a sign and stimulus of charity and a singular source of fruitfulness in the world" (Constitution Lumen gentium, n. 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. Lumen gentium, n. 43, Decree Perfectae caritatis, nn. 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.
Eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom
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". And Jesus answered by giving the "it is not expedient to marry" a deeper meaning: "Not all men 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 stating 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 he 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 opens 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)" (Redemptionis donum, n. 10).
4. Jesus is aware of the values renounced by those who live in perpetual celibacy: he himself affirmed them shortly before when 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 calls 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" (I Cor 7:7). Moreover, as St Thomas observed, "the Church derives a certain beauty from the variety of states" (Summa Theol., II-II, q. 184, a. 4).
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. And 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" (I Cor 7: 32-34). The Apostle does not mean to condemn the married state (cf. 1 Tm 4: 1-3), nor "to lay any restraint" on anyone, as he said (I Cor 7:35); but with the realism of experience enlightened by the Holy Spirit, he speaks and counsels—as he wrote—"for your own benefit ... to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord" (ibid.). This is the purpose of the evangelical counsels. And the Second Vatican Council, faithful to the tradition of the counsels, states that chastity is "a most effective means of dedicating themselves wholeheartedly to the divine service and the works of the apostolate" (Perfectae caritatis, n. 12).
Maturity is essential for observing celibacy
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 (cf. DS 1810), cited by Pius XII in the Encyclical Sacra virginitas because of its magisterial value (cf. AAS 46 , 174). 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" (n. 1620, cf. Apost. Exhort. Redemptionis donum, n. 11).
The Second Vatican Council warns that accepting and observing the evangelical counsel of consecrated virginity and celibacy requires "sufficient psychological and emotional maturity" (Perfectae caritatis, n. 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.
Source: [miraclerosarymission.org -- broken link]