The first reading for today’s Mass comes from the Prophet Ezekiel (16:1-15, 60, 63). I find it highly symbolic of our origin in God and the dignity bestowed upon us by God. Sacred Scriptures are such a gift, revealing God’s eternal love and plan. Yes, we believe the Sacred Scriptures are divinely inspired and authoritative.
God instructed the Prophet Ezekiel to speak to the inhabitants of Jerusalem about their infidelity. The prophet does so by telling a story of the birth and life of a woman. From this story we learn that our origin is in God. This particular story indicates that this child was unwanted, cast off from birth, to lie in its own blood in the mud. This sounds reminiscent of God creating Adam from the dirt of the earth, and breathing life into him.
This child is left on her own, to grow and mature, remaining naked. This tells us that every human person knows a certain solitude. It also teaches us that left alone or living in solitude, we do not discover our completeness; in a sense, we remain ‘naked.’ It is only when God recognizes that the child has grown to maturity, and is ‘ready for love’ that God baths, anoints, cloths and helps the woman discover her true beauty – which is found in her relationship with God. This is true for every human person.
Even with such dignity and beauty bestowed and discovered by the woman, she still experiences her humanity – sinfulness – becoming more attracted to her own physical beauty than captivated by the love of God. Yet, God remembers the covenant he establishes with her – and allows her to once again be covered in shame for her sins – and renewed by God’s faithfulness, mercy and pardon.
This is the human story, told over and over again in the Scriptures. God is faithful and loving. God has created us for love. We through our sinfulness fail to live in this love. God restores and renews his covenant with us, because God alone is faithful. We should never believe ourselves to be unloved or unlovable, or that anything we have done is beyond God’s capacity or desire to forgive.
In today’s Gospel (Matthew 19:3-12), Jesus also speaks of God’s love and how it is mirrored in the love of a husband and wife. This is the moment when Jesus speaks of the original design of marriage, that a man and woman are joined together as one, and that this union comes from God. “Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.” The love of man and woman is to mirror the very love that is God; the very love that God has for each of us, a love that is faithful and life-giving.
Jesus goes on to speak of how everyone is called to live in love with God, even those who do not marry. The Church has held for generations that there are essentially two states in life; those who are called to marriage, and those who are called to virginity, or celibacy. Within the celibate state there are also those who live a consecrated life as religious and or priests.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus does not speak of being single, but rather of those who have renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. This is appropriate, because as the first reading of the Prophet Ezekiel indicates, the human person is not meant to ‘live alone,’ but in relation with God, and through God to make a gift of one’s life to others. This is one area of our life today where our language indicates a gap in this understanding.
The term ‘Single life’ tends to place an emphasis on ‘self’ whereas virginity or celibacy associates individuals with God, with the Church, with the Kingdom of God. This is ultimately a significant aspect of our human dignity. Created in the image and likeness of God necessarily means we are created for relationship – relationships of love – freely chosen and freely giving our self in love, first and always to God, and then to others.
May today hold the grace for each of us to rediscover God’s unmerited love for us. May today also hold the grace for us to recognize how we are called to live our life in love with God – in love for others, all for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven! May we and our world rediscover the dignity of both marriage and virginity.