“’All are Alive to Him’ and Chastity for the Sake of the Kingdom” Lk 20:27-38 (11/10/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
Jesus says: “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the [burning] bush, when he called out ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
For the Jewish people, the encounter of Moses with the Lord in the burning bush was crucial. The Lord declares his name there, “I am who am!” The pure and unbounded fullness of being and all perfection. The pure and unbounded fullness of Life. Like that flame burning in the bush, the Lord blazes out with the fullness of life as Moses encounters him. “I am who am!”
Because of who the Lord is, Jesus draws the conclusion that the dead will rise. This God who called out his name “Lord,” “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” The patriarchs enter into so deep a relationship with God that he is now called the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. They so enter into relationship with the Lord, the “Great I AM,” that they share this quality of the fullness of life. For “he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” All are alive to him because he makes them alive. By being in communion with God they share his life. The Life of the “Great I AM” we also encounter today.
The rabbis were often looking for other places in the Scriptures where they could find this fire of the burning bush, this theophany, this raw encounter, this revelation of God, the “Great I AM.” The story is told of two rabbis who hadn’t seen each other in a while so they met up at a party. They go into the basement of the house and begin “stringing pearls” as they called it. Linking passage to passage in the Scriptures and drawing it all back to that theophany in the burning bush.
Upstairs while the party was still going on, everyone noticed the heat that was rising up from the basement. The owner of the house began to get a little worried. So he went downstairs to the rabbis. He says, “What are you two doing?! You’re going to burn my house down!” The rabbis explained, “No, no, this flame will not harm you. The burning bush was left unconsumed.” This flame is the flame of life. They had encountered the living God and all are alive to him. The flame burns but it does not destroy. Rather it gives the fullness of life.
So this is some consolation for us in this month of November, as we remember our beloved dead. They are with the living God and so all are alive to him. The souls of the faithful departed have entered or are entering a deeper relationship with the Lord, the “Great I AM.” So they are alive, alive to the Lord and alive to us. We pray that they may reach their final fulfillment with God, their last end, the Eschaton, the Last Things. And we also look forward to the last day when we hope to be with them and also enjoy the fullness of life.
In this season of Fall, the leaves become most colorful and most beautiful precisely by dying. So we too press on with the process of dying to self, the old self, so that in death we too might become most beautiful, and develop our eternal colors and loveliness. The leaves become most beautiful by dying. And so do we.
Another portion of our Gospel today points us in the same direction, the parallel passage in Mt 19 is even clearer: It’s celibate chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. That too directs us to the last end and involves a dying to self that we might become more beautiful with an eternal beauty and loveliness. St. John Paul II draws these passages together in his “Theology of the Body” and shows the relevance of celibate persons for married couples too. He says continence for the sake of the kingdom “serves to highlight what is most lasting and most profoundly personal in the conjugal vocation,” “the discovery of a new perspective of personally realizing oneself ‘through a sincere gift of self’” (81:6).
So the vow of chastity for the sake of the kingdom helps highlight that orientation to God that all human love is to have. It helps direct the love of married couples also to the last and eternal end of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in heaven. From the times of the Old Testament, God has revealed his relationship with his people as spousal love, as a marriage between God and his people. And good and holy human marriages show forth something of this spousal love of God and his people.
Consecrated religious chastity then, shows forth this spousal bond with God more directly and explicitly. Vowed chastity prefigures the eternal state of existence in heaven. It prefigures the spousal bond between God and his people.
So Jesus says in our Gospel, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.”
In being like angels in the final state, it doesn’t mean we’ll be without bodies. Rather our bodies will be transformed to be completely docile to the spirit and integrated. The risen body will be an even more transparent expression of the spirit. John Paul II points out that the spousal meaning of the body, self-giving love as it involves body, emotions, affectivity and subjectivity, will also be present in a transformed way in that final union with God. John Paul II says, “I would say, the absolute and eternal spousal meaning of the glorified body will be revealed in union with God himself, by seeing him ‘face to face’, glorified moreover through the union of a perfect intersubjectivity that will unite all the ‘sharers in the other world,’ men and women, in the mystery of the communion of saints” (75:1).
All communio in this life is to prepare us for that higher communio in the next life, with the Blessed Trinity and with the communion of the Saints. The religious life attempts insofar as possible to live that final state of the next age where we will be perfectly united to the God of the living, the God who is himself the fullness of life.
God gives himself to us especially in the Paschal Mystery and the Eucharist, winning for himself his Bride the Church. John Paul II goes on to say, “In this way, continence ‘for the kingdom of heaven,’ the choice of virginity or celibacy for one’s whole life, has become in the experience of the disciples and followers of Christ the act of a particular response to the love of the Divine Bridegroom, and therefore acquired the meaning of an act of spousal love, that is, of a spousal gift of self with the end of answering, in a particular way, the Redeemer’s spousal love; a gift of self understood as a renunciation, but realized above all out of love” (79:9).
This is why you wear the habit and why you wear the wedding ring around your finger. I hope you find delight in this symbol, for surely the Lord does. “Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings,” we prayed in the responsorial Psalm. We will see the full meaning of your wedding ring only on the Last Day. Then the flame of divine love will blaze in our bosoms without consuming us and we will be made fully alive—united with the “Great I AM.” But now, in hope, we cry out with the psalmist, “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”