This is a snippet from an email I sent to someone who asked me how to think about St. Paul’s praise of virginity as not being a “diss” on marriage. My response is not a systematic treatise, but simply a set of brief and free-flowing insights:
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. 1 Cor. 7:32-34
While there is great beauty in the vocation to virginity’s “undivided interests” centered in the “affairs of the Lord,” there is also a great beauty in the vocation of spouses whose call to perfection is found precisely in the tangle of “divided interests,” i.e. worldly affairs and how to please one’s spouse. While consecrated celibacy-virginity beautifully witnesses to the reconciled completion of the Coming Age when God will be all in all, secular spouses, bound up in worldly affairs, bear witness to a God still-at-work in the mud. And they do this by means of their very volatile vocation of effecting in their daily lives the consecration and reconciliation of all-things-divided — effected by their love for God and neighbor in the midst of temporal, secular, worldly concerns.
Spouses, and all called by God to realize the Kingdom in the midst of worldly affairs, suffer in a singular way the awful tensions of a world-still-divided. A living martyrdom. They are the prime locus where God conquers all in this world that is still unconquered; heals all that is unhealed; redeems all that is unredeemed. They labor with profuse sweat amid the thickets of cursed thorns and thistles to cultivate soils worthy of Christ the Sower who scatters through, with and in them His Kingdom wheat. In them He sows into every portion of creation the living grains of God that will bear fruit for eternal life.
I wrote to my wife this summer while I was away for three weeks. Not too romantic in all its abstractions, but it made a point that is to me very powerful:
You’re my downfall, you’re my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues
I can’t stop singing, it’s ringing in my head for you
Among a thousand other reasons, God has given you to me to teach me how to love with a heart divided without division. You are my distraction that is all at once the overthrowing of all distraction; the song that gathers up dissonant notes into an exquisite symphony. You are for me the temple where love for God and His creation no longer divides my heart. You are a sacrament, His sacrament, my sacrament, our sacrament. You are for me the way I learn to inhabit Christ best; inhabit not God-alone, but God-and; Christ the Creator-creature; Christ the God-man; Christ the God-neighbor; Christ the Bridegroom-Bride whose very embodied Person heals all divisions, reunites all distractions, reconciles all loves by revealing to us the deepest secret of God: His human Face. Your face. Our faces. Our children’s faces. To be fully alive means to look on all these faces and see One love weaving every love into one magnificent work of art. You.