BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (165) What about people who remain single?

Rev José Mario O Mandía 

The Compendium (no 342) tells us: “Matrimony is not an obligation for everyone, especially since God calls some men and women to follow the Lord Jesus in a life of virginity or of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. These renounce the great good of Matrimony to concentrate on the things of the Lord and seek to please him. They become a sign of the absolute supremacy of Christ’s love and of the ardent expectation of his glorious return.”

Celibacy is a condition which can take three forms: (1)  “first, of those who are not yet married but intend to marry and therefore actively try to meet people of the opposite sex. (2) Second, it is also the condition of those who once thought of getting married, but due to circumstances (such as an absorbing dedication to their work, the need to care for family members, etc.), remain unmarried. (3) Finally, celibacy is the condition of those who for some particular reason (ordinarily related to religious beliefs) consciously and voluntarily take on a commitment to remain unmarried” (Laurent Touze, “Celibacy,”

Where does this third form of celibacy come from? There are two key texts.

(1) Matthew 19:12: “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.”

(2)  1 Corinthians 7:32-35: “I want you to be free from anxieties. 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 say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. ”

From the times of the apostles, celibacy “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” has been practiced by both men and women. 

The question arises, however, about how this fits into Saint John Paul II’s teaching about the nuptial meaning of the body – that the body is made for marital union. The Pope himself explained that celibacy is one way of fulfilling the nuptial meaning of the body because the ultimate meaning of the body is to make a gift of ourselves to God. And that is precisely what the celibate person is gladly doing.

In Theology of the Body, we read: “The nature of one and the other love [marriage and celibacy] 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 makeup of man and woman…

“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, the person who lives this form of celibacy must engender spiritual daughters and sons in some way because offspring are the fruit of love.)

The Pope continues, “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 [their] children” (Theology of the Body, 14 April 1982, p 277-278).