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The Superiority of Continence Does Not Devalue Marriage

77 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 7 April 1982 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Carissimi fratelli e sorelle!
L’incontro odierno cade nella “Settimana Santa”, cioè nel periodo centrale dell’Anno Liturgico, che ci fa rivivere gli episodi così importanti e fondamentali della Redenzione operata da Cristo: l’Ultima Cena, in cui Gesù istituì il Sacramento dell’Eucaristia, anticipando misticamente e tramandando per mezzo del Sacerdozio il Sacrificio della Croce; la Passione di Gesù, a cominciare dall’agonia del Getsemani fino alla crudele crocifissione e alla morte in croce; e infine la gloriosa risurrezione nella festosa domenica di Pasqua.

Sono giorni commoventi e toccanti, colmi di una speciale atmosfera che tutti i Cristiani sentono e conoscono. Devono perciò essere giorni di silenzio interiore, di più intensa preghiera e di particolare meditazione sui supremi avvenimenti della storia che segnano la redenzione dell’umanità e che danno il vero significato alla nostra esistenza.

Vi esorto pertanto a vivere intimamente con grande amore questi Giorni santi e a partecipare alle funzioni liturgiche, per penetrare sempre più profondamente il contenuto della Fede e per riportarne propositi di autentico impegno di coerenza e di vita cristiana. Percorriamo con Maria santissima la strada della Passione di Cristo, guardando la tragedia del Venerdì Santo nella luce della Pasqua vittoriosa, per imparare che ogni sofferenza deve essere accettata e interpretata nella prospettiva della risurrezione gloriosa e, soprattutto, per incontrarci con Cristo che ci ha amato e si è donato per noi (cf. Gal 2, 20).

1. With our gaze fixed on Christ the Redeemer, let us now continue our reflections on celibacy and virginity "for the kingdom of heaven", according to the words of Christ recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 19:10-12).

In proclaiming continence for the kingdom of heaven, Christ fully accepted all that the Creator wrought and instituted from the beginning. Consequently, on the one hand, continence must demonstrate that in his deepest being, man is not only "dual," but also (in this duality) "alone" before God, with God. Nevertheless, on the other hand, what is an invitation to solitude for God in the call to continence for the kingdom of heaven at the same time respects both the "dual nature of mankind" (that is, his masculinity and femininity), and the dimension of communion of existence that is proper to the person. Whoever, in compliance with Christ's words, correctly comprehends the call to continence for the kingdom of heaven and responds to it, thereby preserves the integral truth of his own humanity. He does this without losing along the way any of the essential elements of the vocation of the person created in God's image and likeness. This is important to the idea itself, or rather, to the idea of continence, that is, for its objective content, which appears in Christ's teachings as radically new. It is equally important to the accomplishment of that ideal, in order for the actual decision made by man or woman to live in celibacy or virginity for the kingdom of heaven (he who "makes himself" a eunuch, to use Christ's words) to be fully sincere in its motivation.

2. From the context of the Gospel according to Matthew (Mt 19:10-12), it can be seen sufficiently clearly that here it is not a question of diminishing the value of matrimony in favor of continence, nor of lessening the value of one in comparison with the other. Instead, it is a question of breaking away from, with full awareness, that which in man, by the Creator's will, causes him to marry, and to move toward continence. This reveals itself to the concrete man, masculine or feminine, as a call and gift of particular eloquence and meaning for the kingdom of heaven. Christ's words (cf. Mt 19:11-12) arise from the reality of man's condition. With the same realism, they lead him out toward the call in which, in a new way—even though remaining "dual" by nature (that is, directed as man toward woman, and as woman, toward man)—he is capable of discovering in his solitude, which never ceases to be a personal dimension of everyone's dual nature, a new and even fuller form of intersubjective communion with others. This guidance of the call explains explicitly the expression "for the kingdom of heaven." Indeed, the achievement of this kingdom must be found along the line of the authentic development of the image and likeness of God in its trinitarian meaning, that is, precisely of communion. By choosing continence for the kingdom of heaven, man has the knowledge of being able in that way to fulfill himself differently and, in a certain way, more than through matrimony, becoming a "true gift to others" (cf. Gaudium et Spes 24).

3. Through the words recorded in Matthew (Mt 19:11-12), Christ makes us understand clearly that that going toward continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is linked with a voluntary giving up of matrimony. In that state, man and woman (according to the meaning the Creator gave to their union "in the beginning") become gifts to one another through their masculinity and femininity, also through their physical union. Continence means a conscious and voluntary renouncement of that union and all that is connected to it in the full meaning of life and human society. The man who renounces matrimony also gives up procreation as the foundation of the family, concessive renouncements and voluntary children. The words of Christ to which we refer indicate without doubt this kind of renunciation, although they do not go into detail. The way in which these words were stated leads us to assume that Christ understood the importance of such a sacrifice, and that he understood it not only in view of the opinions on the subject prevailing in Jewish society at that time. He understood the importance of this sacrifice also in relationship to the good which matrimony and the family in themselves constitute due to their divine institution. Therefore, through the way in which he stated the words he made it understood that breaking away from the circle of the good that he himself called "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven," is connected with a certain self-sacrifice. That break also becomes the beginning of successive self-sacrifices that are indispensable if the first and fundamental choice must be consistent in the breadth of one's entire earthly life. Thanks only to such consistency, that choice is internally reasonable and not contradictory.

4. In this way, in the call to continence as Christ stated it—concisely but at the same time precisely—the outline and dynamism of the mystery of the redemption emerge, as has previously been stated. It is the same profile under which Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, pronounced the words about the need to guard against concupiscence, against the desire that begins with "looking at" and becomes at that very moment "adultery in the heart." Behind Matthew's words, both in chapter 19 (verses 11-12) and in chapter 5 (verses 27-28), the same anthropology and the same ethos are found. In the invitation to voluntary continence for the kingdom of heaven, the prospects of this ethos are enlarged upon. The anthropology of historical man is found in the overall view of the words of the Sermon on the Mount. In the overall view of the words on voluntary continence, essentially the same anthropology remains. But it is illumined by the prospect of the kingdom of heaven, in other words, of the future anthropology of the resurrection. Nonetheless, along the path of this voluntary continence during earthly life, the anthropology of the resurrection does not replace the anthropology of historical man. In him the heritage of the threefold concupiscence remains at the same time, the heritage of sin together with the heritage of redemption. It remains in the one who must make the decision about continence for the kingdom of heaven. He must put this decision into effect, subjugating the sinfulness of his human nature to the forces that spring from the mystery of the redemption of the body. He must do so just as any other man does who has not made a similar decision and whose way remains that of matrimony. The only difference is the type of responsibility for the good chosen, just as the type of good chosen is different.

5. In his pronouncement, did Christ perhaps suggest the superiority of continence for the kingdom of heaven to matrimony? Certainly, he said that this is an exceptional vocation, not a common one. In addition he affirmed that it is especially important and necessary to the kingdom of heaven. If we understand superiority to matrimony in this sense, we must admit that Christ set it out implicitly. However, he did not express it directly. Only Paul will say of those who choose matrimony that they do "well." About those who are willing to live in voluntary continence, he will say that they do "better" (1 Cor 7:38).

6. That is also the opinion of the whole of Tradition, both doctrinal and pastoral. The "superiority" of continence to matrimony in the authentic Tradition of the Church never means disparagement of matrimony or belittlement of its essential value. It does not even mean a shift, even implicit, on the Manichean positions, or a support of ways of evaluating or acting based on the Manichean understanding of the body and sexuality, matrimony and procreation. The evangelical and authentically Christian superiority of virginity and continence is dictated by the motive of the kingdom of heaven. In Christ's words recorded in Matthew (Mt 19:11-12) we find a solid basis for admitting only this superiority, while we do not find any basis whatever for any disparagement of matrimony which, however, could have been present in the recognition of that superiority. We shall return to this problem during our next reflections."

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

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Aujourd'hui, j’ai poursuivi en italien, ma réflexion sur le célibat et sur la virginité choisis pour le Royaume des cieux. Selon les paroles de Jésus, il s’agit d’une vocation non habituelle, mais particulièrement importante et même nécessaire pour ce Royaume des cieux. En ce sens la Tradition authentique de l’Eglise, après saint Paul, a pu parler d’une certaine supériorité de la continence sur le mariage, mais sans jamais pour autant déprécier le mariage, le corps et la génération. Cette vocation à la continence totale honore à sa façon les éléments essentiels de la personne créée à l’image de Dieu: elle montre que l’être humain a non seulement une double manière de se réaliser comme homme ou comme femme, mais qu’il est seul devant Dieu et avec Dieu, et en même temps appelé à la communion des personnes. Cela comporte un renoncement conscient et volontaire au bien que représentent le mariage, la procréation, la vie de famille; et donc un sacrifice. Ainsi apparaît en pleine lumière le dynamisme de la rédemption, et aussi la perspective du Royaume des cieux, anticipant l’état de la résurrection.

* * *

Je salue tous les groupes et pèlerins de langue française. J’ai noté, parmi les groupes les plus nombreux, les participants de “la marche de l’Europe”, qui témoignent à leur façon du besoin d’une plus grande solidarité entre les peuples européens; les fonctionnaires de l’Administration publique du Danemark, auxquels j’offre mes vœux cordiaux pour leur pays; les professeurs et étudiants de la province belge du Limbourg; la chorale Don Orione qui vient à vous de Bonoua, en Côte d’Ivoire. Je pense aussi à tous les autres pèlerins de France, de Belgique, du Canada, prêtres, religieux, religieuses, laïcs, familles, groupes de jeunes. A tous, je souhaite de bien célébrer cette Semaine sainte à Rome, d’y méditer la mort et la résurrection du Christ avec leurs frères et sœurs du monde entier, d’obtenir pour vous, pour l’Eglise, le renouveau du cœur, le pardon des péchés, la paix, la lumière, qui sont les grâces de Pâques. Avec mon affectueuse Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we draw close to the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection, I am happy to greet all the English speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially the group from Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, the Philippines and the United States. We have been reflecting on celibacy or virginity as it was taught by Christ and as it is embraced for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. In proposing celibacy or virginity for this reason, Christ taught something that was radically new. It was not a question of diminishing the value of marriage. Christ was rather speaking about a voluntary renunciation of the union of husband and wife and human procreation. This renunciation is linked to the dynamism of the mystery of Redemption, and is meant to lead the human person to a fuller form of intersubjective communion with others, and especially with God. Indeed, the whole value of Christian celibacy or virginity depends on its motivation for the Kingdom of heaven.

During this week in which we celebrate the great mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Saviour, I pray that the whole Church will be renewed in faith and filled with the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Mit besonderer Freude grüße ich heute wiederum die zahlreichen Pilger deutscher und niederländischer Sprache. Die Passionswoche und das Osterfest sind der Höhepunkt des ganzen liturgischen Jahres. Danken wir dem Herrn für das Geschenk unserer Erlösung, das er uns durch seinen Tod und seine Auferstehung erworben hat. Einen besonderen Willkommensgruß richte ich bei der heutigen vorösterlichen Audienz an den großen Diözesanpilgerzug der Diözese Münster unter der Leitung des hochwürdigsten Herrn Weihbischofs Demming, an die Mitglieder der Niels-Stensen-Gemeinschaft sowie an die Teilnehmer der Romwallfahrt des Bischöflichen Kleinen Seminars in Graz. Die Gnade der Versöhnung und der Frieden des gekreuzigten und auferstandenen Herrn sei mit euch allen und mit euren Lieben in der Heimat!

Unsere heutigen allgemeinen Überlegungen gelten wiederum der Berufung zur Ehelosigkeit um des Himmelreiches willen. Sie ist eine außerordentliche Berufung und besagt nicht nur den Verzicht auf die eheliche Partnerschaft, sondern zugleich die Einladung zu einem Leben im Alleinsein für Gott und mit Gott. Die bewußte und freiwillige Wahl dieser Lebensform aus Liebe zu Gott und seinem Reich ist eine besondere persönliche Teilnahme am Geheimnis der Erlösung. Sie ist deshalb zuinnerst gezeichnet vom Kreuz und muß durch Verzicht und Opfer, durch die beständige Überwindung der Begehrlichkeit des Herzens und die Ganzhingabe an Gott immer wieder neu bekräftigt und gefestigt werden. Obwohl der gottgeweihte Mensch auf die menschliche Erfüllung in der Ehe verzichtet, wird er sich auch in der leiblichen Enthaltsamkeit ganzheitlich und vollmenschlich entfalten, indem er noch mehr, als es die Ehe ermöglicht, für den anderen verfügbar wird und zugleich sich selbst durch die aufrichtige Hingabe seiner selbst um so vollkommener findet. Die Ehelosigkeit überragt die Ehe nur durch die größere Liebe, die sie begründet und ermöglicht, nämlich die sich selbst vergessende Liebe ”um des Himmelreiches willen“.

Von Herzen wünsche ich euch und euren lieben Angehörigen daheim ein frohes und gnadenreiches Osterfest mit meinem besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

A todos vosotros, peregrinos venidos de los distintos países de lengua española, mi más cordial bienvenida; un saludo especial para los jóvenes mexicanos, ganadores del concurso organizado por la Acción Católica para conmemorar el cuatrocientos cincuenta aniversario de las Apariciones de la Virgen de Guadalupe.

Al igual que en las semanas pasadas, quiero proponer hoy también a vuestra reflexión la llamada al celibado y a la virginidad por el reino de los cielos. Se trata de una vocación que el mismo Cristo nos presenta en sus enseñanzas como una novedad radical: es una invitación a la soledad por amor de Dios, sin perder por ello ni la verdad integral de la humanidad, ni tampoco la dimensión de comunión de la existencia, propias de la persona humana.

Lejos de disminuir el valor del matrimonio, la continencia por el reino de los cielos conduce a una forma más plena de comunión interpersonal. Optando por ella, el hombre o la mujer son conscientes de realizarse “diversamente” y en cierto sentido “mejor” que en el matrimonio, al hacer de su vida un don sincero para los demás.

En esta elección personal, con la consiguiente renuncia al matrimonio, se delínea ya el perfil y el dinamismo del misterio de la redención, conforme al espíritu de las bienaventuranzas. El hombre histórico, sometido aún a la herencia del pecado, entra en un nuevo horizonte antropológico, el que irradia precisamente de la perspectiva del reino de los cielos. żEs esta vocación superior a la del matrimonio? Cristo ha dicho ciertamente que se trata de una vocación no “ordinaria”, sino “excepcional”.

Con mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Saúdo, com afecto, tambén os peregrinos e ouvintes de língua portuguesa, neste tempo litúrgico, em que estamos a reviver a Paixão e Morte do Senhor.

Reflectimos sobre a continência perfeita, por amor do reino dos Céus. Mesmo sendo um convite à solidão por Deus, ela respeita integralmente o ser homem ou mulher, bem como a dimensão do amor, que é a comunhão de pessoa com outrem.

A continência perfeita não diminui nem ofusca o valor do matrimónio; é abraçada para realizar uma vocação, por uma via diversa e até de mais plena comunhão intersubjectiva com os outros, a reflectir a “imagem e semelhança de Deus”, num aspecto trinitário. Ao escolher o caminho da continência perfeita, com a renúncia que esta comporta, o homen ou a mulher têm consciência de realizar-se plenamente como dom para os outros, numa participação especial e profunda no mistério da Redenção.

Ao desejar-vos os melhores frutos espirituais da Semana Santa, para tardes parte nas alegrias da Páscoa, dou-vos a minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ai gruppi italiani.

Saluto un gruppo di giovani Gesuiti, i quali, al termine dei loro studi a Roma, hanno ricevuto in questi giorni l’Ordinazione al Diaconato e si apprestano ora a tornare ai loro rispettivi paesi di origine, in attesa di diventare sacerdoti.

Carissimi Diaconi, vi esprimo le mie felicitazioni per il significativo traguardo raggiunto e vi auguro che il vostro servizio ecclesiale sia ricco di consolazioni e di frutti spirituali, per la maggiore gloria di Dio.

Mediante il vostro ministero e il vostro esempio si conservi e si ravvivi la fede nelle comunità cristiane; amate e difendete i poveri, e soprattutto sappiate trovare nella santa Eucaristia, di cui siete diventati ministri, la pienezza della vostra vita spirituale e la fecondità del vostro Ministero diaconale.

Vi accompagni sempre in questo vostro impegno la mia particolare benedizione.

* * *

Saluto i giovani, che vedo così numerosi e festanti in questa Udienza che precede la Pasqua.

Carissimi, siamo nella Settimana Santa: vivete in pienezza questi giorni la Passione, la Morte e la Risurrezione del Signore Gesù, perché soltanto se saprete morire al peccato col Cristo, esperimenterete la profonda gioia di risorgere al mattino di Pasqua col Cristo Risorto, e godere di una gioia che non ha confine.

* * *

Un particolare pensiero in questa speciale Settimana va naturalmente ai malati e ai sofferenti. La figura di Gesù appassionato, che viene ricordata in tutte le Chiese del mondo vi infonda coraggio e fiducia nelle vostre prove, ben sapendo che, come egli è passato dal dolore alla gloria, così anche voi, se sarete uniti a lui, riceverete il premio della beatitudine e della consolazione. Vi sia di sostegno la mia speciale benedizione apostolica.

La preghiera alla Madonna di Jasna Góra

Drodzy Rodacy,

Przeżywam w jedności z wami, a zarazem w jedności z całym Kościołem Wielki Tydzień.

Pamiętam zawsze, że nauczyłem się głęboko przeżywać te święte dni właśnie na ziemi polskiej - w zasięgu tego klimatu serc, który tam towarzyszy świętemu Triduum Męki i Zmartwychwstania Christusa.

Matka z Jasnej Góry, którą widzimy w naszym Obrazie z Dzieciątkiem na rękach, jest równocześnie tą Matką Bolesną, która stoi u stóp krzyża: stabat Mater.

W tych dniach raz jeszcze odczytuję słowa Pasterzy Kościola w Polsce:

“Biskupi są najgłębiej przekonani, że gmach ugody społecznej w naszym kraju nie da się zbudować bez fundamentu ewangelicznej miłości, która domaga się wspaniałomyślnego pojednania i przebaczenia. Do tej przebaczającej miłości w szczególny sposób pobudza nas Chrystus, którego Mękę i Śmierć rozważamy w okresie Wielkiego Postu. Jak śmierć Crystusa na krzyżu nie była klęską lecz zwycięstwem, tak i nasza miłość nie jest wyrazem słabości ale siły duchowej, która buduje naszą przyszłość”.

Muszę dodać, że otrzymałem wiele listów, zwłaszcza z obozów internowanych, które są przeniknięte tym samym duchem.

Matko Jasnogórska, stojąca u stóp krzyża, która uczyłaś nas owej duchowej siły wielu dziejowych “słabości” - objaw nam również i teraz, czym jest ta prawdziwa moc, która płynie z miłości. Daj nam jej doświadczyć w trudnym znowu momencie naszych dziejów.

Questo il testo della preghiera in una traduzione italiana

Cari connazionali.

Vivo in unione con voi, e in unione con tutta la Chiesa la Settimana Santa.

Ho sempre presente di aver imparato a vivere profondamente questi santi giorni proprio in terra polacca - nel raggio del clima dei cuori che là accompagna il Triduo Sacro della Passione e della Risurrezione di Cristo.

La Madre di Jasna Góra che vediamo nella nostra immagine col Bambino sulle braccia è contemporaneamente Madre Addolorata che sta ai piedi della Croce: “Stabat Mater”.

In questi giorni ancora una volta rileggo le parole dei Pastori della Chiesa in Polonia:

“I Vescovi sono profondamente convinti che non è possibile costruire l’edificio dell’intesa sociale nel nostro Paese senza il fondamento dell’amore evangelico, che esige la generosa riconciliazione e il perdono. A quest’amore che perdona ci chiama lo stesso Cristo, la cui passione e morte meditiamo in questo tempo della Quaresima. Come la morte di Gesù sulla Croce non è una sconfitta, ma una vittoria, così il nostro amore non è un segno di debolezza, ma della forza spirituale che costruisce il nostro futuro”.

Madre di Jasna Góra che stai ai piedi della Croce, che ci insegnavi la forza spirituale in mezzo alle “debolezze” storiche - manifesta a noi anche adesso che cosa è la vera forza che sgorga dall’amore. Dona a noi di testimoniarla nel momento nuovamente difficile della nostra storia.

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