In what way is all that I have said significant, and particularly in our present cultural situation? For one, it is because there are two extreme tendencies in the Church today, both of which are deeply hurtful to the lives of many. The first tendency is to “sexualize” the whole Gospel, to bring the virginal, personal realm into the bodily and sexual, rather than to lift the latter two up into the virginal (without losing either the body or the full beauty of the “word” of sexuality!), which is the only right movement. This is evident, for example, in the overemphasis of some popularizers of the Theology of the Body on the physical experience of sex, in its physiological manifestations of erotic desire, pleasure, etc., and not adequately on the transparency of sexual and spousal love to the person and to the Trinity. The other extreme, deeply rooted in history, comes from the opposite end of the spectrum: it is to live the Christian life—and in particular consecrated life—in a divorce from the full incarnate richness of humanity, and in particular from the richness of our masculinity and femininity, our bodiliness, and our longing for intimacy. I have been seeking, in everything that I have said in this book, to bring these two extremes together into the single truth of love and intimacy in the Trinity in which all lines converge. It is my hope and prayer that this truth will someday permeate the consciousness of all the children of the Church, so that both vocations, marriage and virginity—so that all the beloved children of God—may know and live the true beauty of the union of nature and grace, of body and spirit, of human intimacy and divine intimacy.

This is essential for understanding all that I have written in the right light. I have been seeking neither a sexualizing of virginity nor a disembodying of sexuality. Rather, I have been seeking to express the importance, and the beauty, of a truly incarnate living of virginity, in all the concrete contours of our bodiliness in this world; and I have been seeking to express the importance of a truly “virginal” living of marriage and sexual intimacy—a living that is wholly transparent to the person and to the light and love of the Trinity. Yes, the essence of love—all love—is virginal. The spousal love of Christ for his Church, and the inmost communion of the Trinity, is virginal. And yet this virginal love is not a love of distance, of self-protection, of mere tasks and responsibilities; it is rather the uttermost fulfillment of the spousal meaning of the body, of the deepest longings of every human heart for intimacy. Yes, the love and intimacy of the Trinity is the ultimate virginal Origin and Consummation of all that sexuality is in this life and in the next, and this virginal-spousal intimacy that fulfills all sexuality is what our hearts are made for. It is pure loving affirmation of one person for another. It is pure mutual self-donation and disinterested cherishing. And it is the joy of their intimacy, of an embrace in which they mutually indwell—”You in me, and I in you”—and the joy of this embrace is nothing but delight at the mystery of the other person, at who they are in themselves (at the mystery of their “You”) and who they are for me, and at who I am for them (at the mystery of my “I” cradled in and cradling their “You”) and at the “We” of the union that we share. This is the origin of marital and sexual love, and yet it so radically surpasses it, while fulfilling every word that it has spoken throughout this life.

As the entire tradition of the Church says, and as John Paul so clearly acknowledges: “It is obvious that the analogy of earthly human love, of the husband for his wife, of human spousal love, cannot offer an adequate and complete understanding of that absolutely transcendent Reality, the divine mystery, both as hidden from ages in God and in its ‘historical’ realization in time when ‘Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her’ (Eph 5:25). The mystery remains transcendent with respect to this analogy as with respect to any other analogy with which we try to express it in human language. At the same time, however, this analogy offers the possibility of a certain cognitive ‘penetration’ into the very essence of the mystery.” And he says that this spousal analogy points above all to “the love proper to a total and irrevocable gift of self by God to man in Christ.” (95b.1-2)

In order for this analogy to truly reflect the Mystery, and indeed to give way to direct participation in the Mystery, however, there must be a movement of transcendence, a movement of discontinuity, even as a certain continuity is preserved on an even deeper level. But this continuity that remains even in the movement of transcendence is not the sexual in its temporal bodily meaning, but the virginal, in other words, the sexual in its eternal meaning—the sexual, the bodily, the masculine and feminine, as it will exist in eternity, and, above all, the very living participation in the life and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is why it was necessary for the theology of the body to be fulfilled, not in sexual love, but in the virginal love of Jesus and Mary. Yes, in the mutual, virginal self-donation of Jesus and Mary in the Paschal Mystery, the divine Mystery—both in its Trinitarian dimension as well as its historical dimension—is realized most perfectly. It takes the analogy and, without destroying it, nonetheless bursts it open and infinitely fulfills it. This is why it is so beautiful that we often simply call Mary “the Virgin.” For that is what she is. She is daughter; she is bride; she is mother. And yet she is all of these things in a virginal way. In other words, she is all of these things, not on the basis of nature only, but on the basis of pure grace, which penetrates, permeates, and transfigures nature in its fullness, consummating it in direct contact with the life and love of the Trinity.

This is why Christ is ever-virgin also, because in order to truly manifest the divine Mystery of the Trinity in the most perfect way, he steps beyond the natural analogy, the limited created image, and manifests it in a way that is more adequate, more direct, to the gift of the divine Persons, to the nature of Trinitarian Love, and to the purity and intensity of the divine intimacy. This, of course, is not a denigration of marital or sexual intimacy, but it is the carrying of every promise that it makes, of every expression of love proper to it, such that they may find super-fulfillment on the basis of the very redeeming and re-creating love of the Trinity. In this way Christ draws all of humanity—while preserving the richness of masculinity and femininity and all that was given in the order of nature—and carries it into the ultimate origin of nature in the inner life of God in his eternity intimacy.

Here we can quote again the central words of John Paul II in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, to show how the deepest aspirations of our humanity, in all of their concreteness and richness, are fulfilled precisely in the orbit of the redeeming love of Christ, Crucified and Risen:

Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. … The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly—and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being—he must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must “appropriate” and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself. How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he “gained so great a Redeemer”, and if God “gave his only Son” in order that man “should not perish but have eternal life”. (Redemptor Hominis, 11)

Our longing for beauty, goodness, and truth, our aspiration for intimacy, our eros, thus undergoes a most radical purification and transfiguration in order to become what it is meant to be. For only when cradled within the divine Love, when radiating with the light of the Trinitarian agape, can we at all understand human love in authentic truth. For only, indeed, when eros and agape become one is love true and full. And this happens when eros becomes utterly enfolded and penetrated and permeated by agape, that is, by the all-encompassing desire to cherish, affirm, and tenderly care for the beloved…and to be united to them for one reason alone, because they are good, beautiful, and worthy of being loved as the person that they are.

When a person allows himself or herself to be drawn into the orbit of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, to be intimately united to his Crucified and Risen Heart and Body, then one’s whole being, by this living contact, is “virginalized” and transfigured in order to already begin to anticipate the virginal way of loving in the consummation of intimacy that awaits us in the new creation. When this happens, then one feels that one lives more directly from the heart of the Mystery than one does from the realm of nature. One does not pass from the partial and imperfect image toward the Reality, but rather, possessed radically by the Reality in faith, hope, and love, one spontaneously approaches the reality of creation from within the Mystery of the Trinity.

Yes, one can truly enter, through the pure gift and activity of grace, into the Reality of Virginal Love, into the true Mystery that surpasses all created analogies while fulfilling whatever is true and eternal within them. And this occurs by passing into and through the open Heart of Jesus, cradled in this whole movement in the heart of Mary who enfolds and sustains her children at every moment, and into the very heart of the Trinity! This is virginal love. This is virginal intimacy.

“Do not hold me,” Jesus says to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection (Jn 20:17). In other words, “Do not cling to the mere image, however beautiful it may be. I want to draw your heart and your body, through my very Risen Body, through the open and glorious wounds of my incarnate humanity, into the uncreated Mystery of the Trinity. Only there—only there will you find the security, love, and intimacy that you seek.” This is the most beautiful sacrifice, which is the deepest super-affirmation, passing into the Reality for whom every heart longs, and who has come to us to touch us, to capture our hearts, and to draw us back into the perfect intimacy of his innermost embrace.

Yes, and Mary and Jesus are truly there, the first-fruits of our own resurrection—body and spirit, immersed in the bosom of the Trinity for all eternity. And there we will be too! There we already dwell in faith, hope, and love. And true love allows us to participate in, to anticipate, and to already live this mystery of communion in the Trinity that will be consummated, totally and forever, at the end of time!