There are many things which become beautifully transparent to our gaze in the light of the reflections contained in part one of this book. I would like to expound them with a wondering and contemplative gaze in the words that follow. I begin to write, not with a particular agenda or a plan-of-action, but rather simply with a desire to stay here, bathed in the light of the central mystery that gives meaning to all things, and also to help to share this mystery, that others may come to know its awesome beauty and breathtaking joy. We will hopefully see together the diverse lines of the fabric of reality radiating out from this center point and returning there again, and will thus come to know, to feel, and to live more deeply and spontaneously in the Love that gives meaning to all things.
So let us begin. In the light of the eternal destiny of which I spoke in the last chapter, I can again return to a realization that I expressed earlier. I quoted John Paul II as saying that, in their inner core, the vocations of marriage and virginity “interpenetrate” (TOB 78:4). This interpenetration or intersection occurs precisely in the point of convergence, in our living participation in the inner life of the Trinity and in the human communion that flowers precisely in this place. Thus we could say that the “goal” of marriage is precisely to lead persons to a rediscovery and re-experience of their virginal integrity before God—an integrity lived in the profound union of both solitude and togetherness, of distinct personhood and of the communion of persons, that characterizes marriage, as it does, indeed, all forms of mature relationship. Thus marriage, at its inner core, aspires for the restoration of virginity, as, indeed, for the virginal state that awaits us at the end of time.
On the other hand, virginity, as lived in the limits of this temporal world, reminds us precisely of the destiny that awaits us in the new creation, and directs our hearts with ardent longing towards this destiny. Indeed, to the degree that it is mature and finds full flowering, virginity, already in this life, is a form of “living-in-anticipation” the virginal intimacy of eternity. It is a way of participating in our eternal fulfillment already, through faith and love, within the contours of time and space. But because it occurs in the temporal world, which has not yet reached consummation, it participates in this mystery in the profound tension between time and eternity, between our temporal state and our everlasting virginal state. And thus it also aspires, with a particular intensity, towards the fulfillment of the spousal meaning of the body, when, at the end of time, the virginal state of the body, consolidated in pure intimacy with God and with other persons, will fulfill it.
And yet this tension is also a harmonization, a union, even as it is also longing and expansion. This is because, already now in this temporal existence (even if imperfectly), the body is included in love and intimacy. The body is not optional for any of the children of man, regardless of their particular vocation. Each and all are called to live the vocation of love and intimacy in the likeness of the Trinity, and to do so in the fullness of their body-spirit existence, in the full living of their subjective, incarnate, personal being. And it is precisely in this that we find happiness and fulfillment.
Yes, in the radiance of these realizations, profound clarity penetrates into the various facets of existence. It shows how the natural spousal union of man and woman in marriage, even their “one flesh” union, is oriented towards the rediscovery of the virginal meaning of the body, its virginal integrity. This is because, in this very place, they are drawn and invited to see and affirm one another in their incomparable uniqueness, in their personal solitude, as God’s singularly beloved. They are to pronounce, “How beautiful you are, beloved!” (cf. Sg 1:15-16), and to affirm, cherish, and uphold this gift of the other, without appropriating or taking possession of it. It is only in this sheer and gratuitous affirmation of the other for their own sake, and on the basis of it, that they can also experience the gift of each to one another, in the giving that has been inaugurated by God in his entrusting them to one another. This is how unity does not dissolve solitude, but confirms and deepens it; and how nakedness, as the meeting of the two, becomes experienced as nothing but the transparency of person and person in the mutual gaze of cherishing love.
We could say, therefore—and say without any hesitation—that sexual union is oriented, by God himself, beyond itself and towards the virginal sphere. Man and woman, even husband and wife, discover one another most fully and completely, not in the sexual realm or the sexual experience (which is tied in with this passing life), but rather in the virginal sphere in which they reach out, together, to the consummation that awaits in eternity. They pronounce a “yes” to the sexual realm proper to this life, but this “yes” itself bears in it a “no”—a “no,” however, that is but the expression of a deeper “yes.” In other words, the “yes” of sexual union looks beyond itself to the eternal state in which sexual union will pass away: it looks beyond itself towards the virginal consummation that will surpass in both depth and totality the sexual consummation, while fulfilling, in a way far more transparent, the very language of love that sexual union was designed to speak.
And here we see how virginity is indeed not far from marriage, but rather very close—provided, of course, that it is lived authentically and affirmatively, which means that it takes both the body and the person’s capacity and orientation towards incarnate intimacy seriously. For virginity must also say “yes” to the beauty and meaning of sexual union, must recognize and experience this capacity inherent in my body and in the body of the other. And yet in this “yes” the “no” also is spoken, and spoken with greater intensity and a full choice of my whole being: for the temporal living of the sexual embrace is itself renounced for the sake of a more vivid and total anticipation of the virginal embrace, the virginal state, that finds its consummation only in heaven.
In short, both marriage and virginity are a “yes” and a “no,” looking forward to the state in which all “no’s” will pass away and everything will be pure “Yes.” Marriage draws hearts towards virginity, carries them on a path of maturation in love and self-gift so that, in some way, they can regain their original virginal integrity in the purity of their love for one another and in their love for God himself. And virginity does the same, only in a more direct way, as a living anticipation of the virginal way of living and loving that is proper to eternity. In marriage, the words of the Song of Songs become incarnate, in which the Bridegroom says to the Bride: “My sister, my bride.” He recognizes, in other words, that the woman is a sister to him, one like him in the same dignity of being a human person, and entrusted to the chaste reverence and tender protection of his fraternal care. And the woman, we can say, echoes back the same realization to the man. Only in the context of this primal union—this union of brother and sister—can man and woman also incarnate the second part of the phrase, “my bride,” “my spouse.” This is, as it were, an expression of the twofold cry of the heart: “You belong to God! And you belong to me!” “You are incomparably worthy in yourself, you are yours! And yet you are also mine, as his gift to me!”
But here, also, we see precisely the seed of virginity restored. We see the promise and the call of the eternal state of love already present in natural love, and drawing it on towards this fullness. For the union of persons, of man and woman, can find full flower only when the second part of the phrase is taken wholly into the first part. What does this mean? It means that human intimacy finds consummation only when the “spousal” dimension between man and woman returns to the “fraternal.” And this occurs when both persons together are directed to the one, true, and definitive Spouse, Jesus Christ. Here the “imaging” of love proper to marriage—in which man and woman become spouses to one another—gives way to the Reality, in which each is espoused directly to Jesus Christ as the one Bridegroom. And precisely in this place their own human communion is also brought to fulfillment, in utter transparency to the divine, as each is custodian of the inner mystery of the other person—custodian for the sake of God, for the sake of the other’s union with God. Therefore, rather than saying to the woman, “My sister, my bride,” the man says to her, “My sister, his bride.”
Is this not the breathtakingly beautiful lesson that the virginal marriage of Mary and Joseph teaches us? In the contours of time and space, they anticipated the eternally virginal union of man and woman that awaits us in the new creation. In the sanctuary of their marriage, they lived a mystery that surpasses marriage. Each was the custodian of the mystery of the other—in particular the custodian of the mystery of the other as belonging to God. And precisely this absolute primacy of God—indeed, the all-pervading presence of God in every aspect of their relationship—brought their human communion to full flower in the virginal state of intimacy, where human communion blossoms in, and on the basis, of the intimacy of each person, and of both together, with God himself. Here this gratuitous intimacy of each person with God is also the intimacy of both together with God, safeguarding and protecting one another in God and for God, and is also, further, the communion of both with one another in God. And this intimacy, this gratuitous intimacy on all levels of their being, also proves to be the most abundant and fruitful thing of all: it allows the very Incarnation of the Son of God in the heart of their family home, and thus opens the way for the redemption of the world and the entrance of all humanity back into the welcoming embrace of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
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I spoke above about the interpenetration of the vocations of marriage and virginity, and this, in the context of the central reality of human existence in which all lines converge on a single point: in our living participation in the innermost life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is our vocation and our destiny; this is the meaning of our existence; this is the lodestar of our every desire, choice, and action. And this reality is meant to be realized, to be lived and experienced, already now in the contours of this temporal life, even if the perfection and ultimate fulfillment comes only in heaven and in the new creation. There, at the consummation of all things, God’s recreating grace at work through the Holy Spirit and the Body of the Risen Christ, will introduce the whole visible universe into the mysterious inner life of the Trinity.
And we, as man and woman abiding at the heart of this temporal world, are called to abide also at the heart of the Trinity. The whole cosmos is God’s gratuitous gift to us—to each and every one of us uniquely. And he wants us to receive it precisely as a gift, as a home, as a garden in which to play and rejoice in the lightheartedness of children who know that they are loved. And the creation has also received us, man and woman, as a gift, and the destiny of all created things is bound up with our destiny. In and through us, they find their ultimate meaning and beauty, and their true fulfillment, by being permeated by the personal mystery of knowledge and love, by becoming, truly, a “palace for the Bride,” a living home where Bridegroom and Bride are united, a radiant sacrament and manifestation of the very inner life of the Trinity radiating forth into the multitudinous and yet harmonious beauty of the entire visible universe. And we stand at the meeting-place, at the intersection point between God and this creation, on the horizon between visible and invisible.
Yes, and here Christ comes to meet us. Here he comes to give himself to us as Bridegroom to Bride, and to manifest the tender gift of the Father, for whom we are all uniquely precious children. He comes to take us back to the true convergence point of all things, to draw us into the true Center, which our central role in the created universe simply expresses, manifests, and in which it is meant to participate: in the heart of the Trinity where the beloved Son reposes eternally in the bosom of his Father, breathing with him the same Holy Spirit in the blessedness of consummate intimacy.
If we truly knew this, truly desired this as God desires it for us, then we would have a compass for all of our desires, for all of our choices, for all of our actions and dispositions. Yes, for what is good but what manifests, expresses, and participates in the mystery of the Holy Trinity? What is beautiful but what comes from him and radiates with the light of his own love as an eternal Communion of Persons? What is true but the sheer affirmation of his own creative wisdom in every single thing that exists, and the lifting up of all these things, in the gift of our own hearts, bodies, and lives, back into the welcoming embrace of the One who made us? What is beautiful, good, and true is precisely the Trinity, the God who is the fullness of uncreated Being, yes, who is Being-as-Love. To live in beauty, to live in the authentic good, to live according to the truth of all things, therefore, is to live according to the Trinitarian order of the universe, and, precisely in this way, to open the entire universe—in the opening of ourselves—to the healing and recreating gift of God which will restore all creation to its wholeness and will consolidate it into the security of perfect peace that is found only in the heart of his own embrace as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This is what it means to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is to open the human spirit, the human body—the whole incarnate person fashioned in the image of God—to the gift of the Father given through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. It is to open all of “earth,” the whole human family and the whole created order, to welcome the gift of the Father who desires to give himself to us from “heaven.” It is to accept his desire to communicate himself to us as gift, and, in this gift, also to affirm us in our authentic dignity and incomparable beauty, so that he may manifest the mystery of “heaven” already on earth. And precisely in this way the reality of heaven—which is nothing but the life of love that he shares eternally with the Son and the Holy Spirit—is expressed on earth, until earth itself is definitively taken into heaven’s embrace in the eternal consummation that awaits us at the end of time.
How beautiful is this drama of love! How beautiful is this gratuitous gift, freely given for no other reason than that God loves us and desires to bestow upon us the gift of his own beautiful and radiant life. How beautiful it is that God wants to incorporate us, in sheer grace, into the everlasting joy of his own life of intimacy as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! May it be, loving God! May it be! May it be on earth as it is in heaven! May your sweetest Name be hallowed in all of your children, may this Name—which is the Name of Love—be praised and loved and known by all! And may we give ourselves back to you completely, in the unconditional and loving surrender of self, that we may be totally yours, may belong totally to you who have given yourself totally to us! And may your kingdom come, may the Reign of Love come and permeate every last crevice of the created universe, and every space within the human heart, life, and body, and every relationship existing between persons, so that the kingship of the tender and loving Christ may fill all things and guide them to definitive fulfillment, when he introduces us at last into the kingdom of heaven, where you, loving Father, will be All in all!