Sunday, 1 February 2009

The Single (minded) Life

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 7:32-35 (New King James Version)
But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.
Firstly, may I say that I have nothing against celibacy. In fact I am greatly in favour of healthy celibacy that supports a spiritual life. I know there are many reasons for the religious to be celibate, some better than others. Jesus was almost certainly celibate, but not all his his apostles were; there are people who know within themselves that their commitment excludes that sort of relationship with others, other people see it as a complement to their lives. How can you be a father or mother to a few when your calling asks you to be father or mother to many?
Of course, in the Middle Ages they stopped the religious marrying because of the inheritance laws - too many sons making off with the Churches riches.
And certainly Paul's letter will be held up as another reason for the religious to be unmarried. But why? The religious are no holier than the laity. They have no special right to Grace. They really don't. And this doesn't make Paul wrong - it just makes our understanding of Paul suspect.
Paul was clever, probably the most educated author in the New Testament. He wrote with passion; these few letters evidence of his support for communities that he had only spent a few weeks or months with in person. He writes in imagery and metaphor. When he says there are no Jews or Gentiles, man or woman, servant or free because we have put on Christ, nothing has physically changed- but your imagination sees Christ as a mantle of protection wrapped around you, showing that you belong, making us all the same.
When Paul then writes that we should be virgins, he doesn't mean that the ideal Christian is celibate. We wouldn't have lasted very long! We know that there is an equality in Christianity that includes everyone, no matter what. Single or married should take the least of our attention. The family group has always been seen as the first cell in the Christian community. Our relationship with our partner is an expression of holiness, of sacrament, of God's desire for us to be happy and complete. But, for each of us, God's love is just as passionate - he is a God of relationship and he is part of the relationship.
But here Paul is again painting pictures. Our connection with God should be virgin; we should belong only to God, want to be with God, want to do what brings us closer to God. If we finds ourselves distracted by the world, married to ambition, to avarice, to luxury, then we are torn in two - please the world vs please God. It is a quandary many of us find ourselves in, it's a contest that God often loses.
We all need to keep ourselves focussed on God; God is Love, we are called to love others but don't love stuff, don't love the world or it's ways; don't marry ourselves to what will not last. There is something better, worth saving ourselves for.

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