Eastern Oklahoma Catholic April 2009 : Page 3

this is why a man or a woman promises celibacy. he or she remains unmarried not because marriage is of little value – indeed it is of such value that we recognize it as the foundation of society – but be- cause celibacy is the best way to reveal what God intends to give us in his King- dom. it is a greater intimacy, a greater fidelity and a greater love than what we can experience here on earth. a priest or reli- gious who accepts the sacrifice of celibacy and remains unfulfilled in this life does so only so that he or she might give a joyful witness to the future fulfillment God promises us in the next life. Seen in this fuller context, i think there is a sense in which all of us are celibate, even those – especially those – who are happily married. this is because there is a secret space within every heart, a space known only to the individual and to God. No one can occupy or fill this space but God alone. that “no one” is absolute. a husband’s love cannot pen- etrate it, nor can a wife’s love fructify it. like a celibate’s love, it remains un- fulfilled, waiting for God to reveal his Kingdom. We might even call it “the unmarriageable part” or “the celibate part” of every person. St. augustine characterized it this way: “thou hast made us for thyself, Oh lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Because the deepest part of the heart is reserved for God alone, the person who has no faith, who never prays and whose relation- ships are limited to the natural affec- tions of the accessible heart can never find fulfillment at the deepest level. But it is difficult to recognize this and doctor of the Church April 4 | Passion (Palm) Sunday April 5 | Holy Thursday April 9 | Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion April 10 | Holy Saturday April 11 shop Edward J. Slattery secret space. it is even more difficult to finally surrender this portion of our- selves to God. But when we do, and allow him to enter and take possession of us, we discover that he wants to fill process of recognizing and surrender- ing this hidden heart, experiencing God’s infinite love and responding to it with generous gratitude, is what is often called “the interior life.” But, as i said earlier, it is only with great difficulty that we are able to begin to develop such an interior life. it is also deceptively easy to lose it, especially because living within the celi- bate part of the heart demands a detachment from the false fulfill- ment this life offers, a deep concentration on the love of God and a willingness to engage God’s Word in conversation. It is this generosity coming from the experience of an intimate encoun- ter with the loving God that animates the apostolic life of the Church and its members. our hearts and transform the loneli- ness of our existence into real intimacy. then, even when we are alone, we find ourselves alone with love himself. the experience of this intimacy produces within us an increasingly dynamic gratitude to God which expresses itself in an eagerness to respond to his love. it is this gen- erosity coming from the experience of an intimate encoun- ter with the loving God that animates the apostolic life of the Church and its members. thus our acts of charity, our attempts to share our faith with others, even our effort to live out the beatitudes in our homes with our families, all spring from allowing God access to the secret space within, to this celibate heart of ours. this whole these three – detachment, concen- tration and engagement – are nearly impossible, given the noise of this world and the preoccupations of our secular lives. they require that we step away from everything and enter into the solitude of the heart. this is why each year at the begin- ning of lent, the Church invites us to go with Jesus into the desert, where the desert is understood as a metaphor for the celibate heart. to accompany Jesus into the desert, to be alone with him in the celibate center of our heart, away from the noise of the world and the congestion of crowded places, will lead us to a rediscovery of all that God intends for us. But how do we find the desert? after all, we cannot go with Jesus into the desert if we don’t know how to find the desert within us. We find it by making a conscious choice to mortify our senses, to carve away that which our nature craves and which gives com- fort to our lives, the color, the flavor, the soothing sounds and the familiar warmth of our comfortable lives. Give this up, and what do we have left? the dryness of a desert and the empti- ness of a wasteland. in the desert of hunger and deprivation we are left alone with Christ and with our empty hearts – waiting to be filled. through penance and fasting, the Church each year leads us to experience the intimacy of God’s love in the secret recesses of our open hearts. and it is that experience which gives us the most profound joy in the fulfillment of Easter.

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