The Children of This Age Marry
St. Aloysius (or Louis) Gonzaga has long been ranked by the church as model and patron of Catholic young people, especially because of his exemplary chastity. “Chastity”: a word seldom used today except as the butt of coarse jokes. Those who sneer at it do so perhaps because they have never understood its motives.
Aloysius was born in 1568, the elder son of Ferrante Gonzaga, Marquis of Castiglione in northern Italy. As a nobleman’s son, he was a boy-functionary in the court of the Duke of Mantua, and later on in Spain a page in the court of the crown prince. This was intended to prepare him to succeed his father as Marquis.
Italian-court life in those days, however glamorous it appeared to be, was melodramatically bad: “a society of fraud, dagger, poison and lust of the most hideous kind.” Youngsters born into this aggressive atmosphere quickly learned about the seamy side of life. By the time Louis was only nine, he was using every means of self-discipline he could think of to keep pure in body and heart. But his desire soon went farther. He wanted to make a complete break and vow himself to celibate chastity – that is, to not marrying – as a priest. He therefore entered the order of Jesuits when eighteen, despite his father’s initial objections. Six years later he died. Though not yet ordained a priest, he had taken his vow of chastity and grown very close to God. His death stemmed from his efforts at nursing victims of the plague. During his last illness Aloysius spoke only of heavenly things; and as death approached he said, “We are going – gladly, gladly!”
Most people, Catholic lay persons included, do not fully comprehend the celibacy of priests or religious, or even of lay Catholics who have chosen to vow not to marry. If good people fail to understand this, it is because God has not given them the gift, which he gives to relatively few. The celibate’s motive is this: marriage and child-bearing are a divine pleasure and privilege; but they are very temporary. As Jesus says in today’s gospel, marriage and begetting belong to this world, not the next. So those gifted with celibate chastity say to the rest of us: Marry if you will, and God prosper you! I, with God’s help, will hold off, in anticipation of heaven.
Celibate priests, sisters, brothers and vowed lay persons, whether they realize it or not, thus become constant signs to the rest of mankind. By their self-denial they remind us that there is a heaven awaiting the “sons of God.” In that heaven even the greatest joys of earthly married love will be seen to have been only like the light of a flickering candle in the brightness of the noonday sun.
-Fr. Robert F. McNamara
Q292: Why is it necessary to speak of the “resurrection of the body” as an Article of Faith?
This article of our Catholic Creed was originally designed to counter the false teachings of Greek philosophers on the subject. The Greek pagan thinkers just may have been influenced by oriental philosophies such as Buddhism, which found one outlet in Gnosticism – holding a “dualistic” view that contrasted the importance of body versus soul. The conclusion of these pagans was that only the spirit or “soul” counted; “body” was not important.
In the monotheistic world of Israel, only the Sadducees (conservative priestly aristocracy) did not believe in the resurrection of the body, since they could find no compelling evidence of that in the Torah (Hebrew scriptures). The Pharisees, however, did believe based on the full Septuagint (Greek scriptures), such as Daniel 12:2. Jesus is clear that the laws of this world no longer hold after the resurrection from the dead. In addition, his answer affirms a bodily resurrection, and affirms that a whole person, with all its natural faculties, is raised to an other-worldly existence. Bodily happiness belongs to complete happiness for an Israelite. Hence the promise of God to the patriarchs (Gen 15:1ff) cannot be fulfilled by a life that ends with death. Jesus’ answer is a consequence of God’s faithfulness to his covenant, and affirms the dignity of humankind in its fullness.
In terms of the New Testament, it seems to me that the belief in the general resurrection perhaps finds its best expression in John 5, especially 5:25 and 5:28. Belief or disbelief in Jesus is the factor through which we decide on our future destiny right now.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! One resource you could review is “The Creed in the Gospels” by Fr. Alfons Kemmer (Paulist Press) which tracks the arguments above. Our Catechism of the Catholic Church adheres faithfully to the teaching of Jesus, to St. Paul, and to the Ecumenical Councils, that “resurrection of the body” means the soul will live on after death, and our ‘mortal bodies’ will come to life again (CCC #990). If there is no resurrection, our faith is in vain (CCC #991).
Q605: There has to be a deeper issue involved in today’s Gospel than a discussion of multiple spouses in heaven!
If there ever was a political or religious hidden agenda, it is surely manifested in our Gospel today (Luke 20:27-38). The Sadducees pose a question to Jesus involving the laws governing inheritance rights and levirate laws. However, the main theme is not about inheritances left to one’s posterity. Rather, it is the Sadducees’ attempt to trap Jesus with an absurd situation. They did not believe in the resurrection because they could not find anything about it in the Torah. Therefore, they thought they had Jesus in a no-win situation and could prevail in any argument about the resurrection. Needless to say, Jesus knew the Torah better than they did, and pointed them to the relevant passages about life after death.
For a Christian disciple, today’s First Reading (2 Macc 7:1-2, 9-14) and Gospel combine to speak about our belief in Jesus and belief in his teachings—especially his teachings which lead to our hope in the resurrection of our own bodies. If we hold fast in faith to the teachings of Christ and his Church, we can face any adversity—even to the extent of paying the ultimate price for our beliefs like the Maccabees family.
Now, it may be hard to connect our lives to the situations of the Sadducees and the Maccabees. But think about this: it is simply about living our discipleship by clinging faithfully to the foundational principles that Jesus taught us. Those include the holiness of the sacred marriage bond between a man and a woman; the sanctity of all life from womb to tomb; justice for those we call marginalized and poor; and honesty in the political and economic world. Look around: those things are invisible today in the sick public segment of our culture! So you will be held up to public ridicule if you object to abortion; object to so-called gay marriages; object to destructive competition; and object to lying and deceptive politicians.
It is our trust in Jesus and hope in the resurrection that enables us to defend our principles in the public forum, no matter what the cost. Read and heed the signs of our times!
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! By St. Augustine’s time, Christian faith had met with more opposition on the subject of our bodily resurrection than on any other topic (CCC 996). Just how this resurrection will happen is beyond our imagination and understanding (CCC 1000).
What Shall We Be?
The seven brothers in the Book of Maccabees gained strength to face martyrdom from their belief in the resurrection of the just. God had created them and sustained them; would he let their fidelity and suffering go for nothing? No! But their view of resurrection seems to be that it will be very much like this life — more of the same.
The Gospel story clarifies the nature of the resurrected life. The Sadducees rejected the idea of resurrection of the body because they could find no reference to it in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, the only Scripture they accepted. They used their Torah law on widow’s marriages to make the idea of the resurrection look silly. It would be intolerable for the for the seven brothers to have one wife in the resurrection, so there can be no resurrection.
Jesus responds with the Torah’s reference to God speaking to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For the Jews God is not just the one they prayed to, but the God who calls them and saves them. If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are simply dead, then their god isn’t much of a savior. A God only of the dead is no god at all. This is Jesus’ implicit argument. More important for us is his teaching that the resurrected life of the body is not material but a transformed life. Jesus doesn’t say what this transformed life will be like, nor do other biblical books. The first epistle of St. John (3: 1-3), for instance, says “We are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed “we will be like him for we will see him as he is.” St. Paul uses the experience of a seed being transformed in to a plant and its blossom as an image of the transformation of the material body in to a spiritual body.