Virginity and Love
by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen


Those who live by what Our Lord calls the "spirit of the world" are radically incapable of understanding anything done by others out of the spirit of Christ, Who said, "I have taken you out of the world, therefore the world will hate you." (John 15:19.) When the world hears of a young girl entering the convent, it asks: "Was she disappointed in love?" The best answer to that inanity is: "Yes! But it was not a man's love that disappointed her, but the world's love." Actually, a young girl enters the convent because she has fallen in love: she is in love with Love Itself, which is God. The world can understand why one should love the sparks, but it cannot understand why one should love the Flame. It is comprehensible that one should love the flesh that fades and dies, but incomprehensible that one should love with "passionless passion and wild tranquility" the Love which is Eternal.

Anyone who knows the real philosophy of love should not be confused at such a noble loving. There are three stages of love, and few there are who ever arrive at the third stage. The first love is digestive love, the second is democratic love, and the third is sacrificial love. Digestive love centers in the person whom one loves. It assimilates persons, as the stomach assimilates food, using them as means to either its own pleasure or utility. Mere physical or sex love is digestive; it flatters the other person for his possession, as the farmer fattens livestock for the market. Its proffered gifts are only "baits," used as Trojan horses to win the other person over at the moment of its devouring. Those marriages which last only a few years, and end in divorce and remarriage, are founded on a love which is purely organic and glandular. Such love is a Moloch which devours its victims. If the partners survive digestion, it is only the carcass which is dismissed with the melancholy words: "We are no longer in love, but we are still good friends."

Above digestive love is democratic love, in which there is a reciprocal devotion founded on natural honor, justice, common likes, and a sense of decency. Here the other person is treated with becoming respect and dignity. This stage deserves the name of love, which the first does not.

Over and above this is what might be called sacral or sacrificial love, in which the lover sacrifices himself for the beloved, counts himself most free when he is a "slave" to the object of his love, and desires even to immolate self that the other might be glorified. Gustave Thibon beautifully describes these three loves. He calls them Indifference, Attachment, Detachment.

Indifference. As far as I am concerned, you do not exist.

. You exist, but this existence is based on our reciprocal relations. You exist in the measure that I possess you, and the moment I dispossess you, you no longer exist.

Detachment. You exist for me absolutely, quite independent of my personal relations with you, and beyond anything you could do for me. I adore you as a reflection of the Divinity which can never be taken from me. And I have no need to possess in order that you have existence for me.
Consecrated virginity is the highest form of sacral or sacrificial love; it seeks nothing for itself, but only the will of the beloved. Pagans reverenced virginity, but they regarded it as almost the exclusive power of woman, for purity was seen only in its mechanical and physical effects. Christianity, on the contrary, looks upon virginity as a surrender of sex and of human love for God.

The world makes the mistake of assuming that virginity is opposed to love, as poverty is opposed to wealth. Rather, virginity is related to love, as a university education is related to a grammar school education. Virginity is the mountain peak of love, as marriage is its hill. Simply because virginity is often associated with asceticism and penance, it is thought to mean only the giving up of something. The true picture is that asceticism is only the fence around the garden of virginity. A guard must always be stationed around the Crown Jewels of England, not because England loves soldiers, but because it needs them to protect the jewels. So, the more precious the love, the greater the precautions to guard it. Since no love is more precious than that of the soul in love with God, the soul must ever be on the watch against lions who would overrun its green pastures. The grating in a Carmelite monastery is not to keep the sisters in, but to keep the world out.
Married love, too, has its moments of renouncement, whether they be dictated by nature or by the absence of the beloved. If nature imposes sacrifices and asceticism on married love by force, why should not grace freely suggest a virgin love? What one does out of the exigencies of time, the other does out of the exigencies of eternity. Every act of love is an engagement for the future, but the virgin's vow centers more on eternity than on time.
As virginity is not the opposite of love, neither is it the opposite of generation. The Christian blessing on virginity did not abrogate the order of Genesis to "increase and
multiply," for virginity, also, has its generation. Mary's consecration of virginity was unique in that it resulted in a physical generation --- the Word made flesh. But it also set the pattern of spiritual generation, for she begot the Christ-life. In like manner, virgin love must not be barren but, like Paul, must say: "I have begotten you as most dear children in Christ." When the woman in the crowd praised the Mother of Our Lord, He turned the praise to spiritual motherhood, and said that she who did the will of His Father in Heaven was His mother. Relationship was here lifted from the level of the flesh to the spirit. To beget a body is blessed; to save a soul is more blessed, for such is the Father's Will. An idea thus can transform a vital function, not by condemning it to sterility, but by elevating it to a new fecundity of the spirit. There would, therefore, seem to be implied in all virginity the necessity of apostleship and the begetting of souls for Christ. God, Who hated the man who buried his talent in the ground, will certainly despise those who pledge themselves to be in love with Him, and yet show no new life --- converts or souls saved through contemplation. Birth control, whether undertaken by husband and wife, or by a virgin dedicated to Christ, is reprehensible. On Judgment Day, God will ask all the married and all virgins the same question: "Where are your children?" "Where are the fruits of your love, the torches that should be kindled by the fires of your passion?" Virginity is meant for generation as much as married love is; otherwise the Model-Virgin would not have been the Mother of Christ, giving an example to others to be the mothers and fathers of Christians. It is only love that can gain victory over love; only the soul in love with God can overcome the body-soul in love with another body-soul.

There is an intrinsic relation between virginity and intelligence. There is no doubt that, as St. Paul says, "The flesh militates against the spirit." The sex-mad individual is always under psychological necessity to "rationalize" his conduct which is so obviously contrary to the dictates of conscience. But this psychic tendency to "justify oneself' by making a creed to suit one's immoral behavior necessarily destroys reason. Furthermore, passion harms reason, even when it does not quote Freud to justify adultery. By its very nature, the concentration of vital energies in the centrality of the flesh necessarily implies a diminution of those energies in the higher realms of the spirit. In a more positive way, we may say that the purer the love, the less the disturbances of the mind. But since there can be no greater love than that of the soul in union with the Infinite, it follows that the mind free from anxieties and fear should have the greatest clearness of intellectual insights. The concentration on spiritual fecundity should by its very nature produce a high degree of intellectual fecundity. Here one speaks not of knowledge about things, for that depends on effort, but of judgment, counsel, decision which are the marks of a keen intelligence. One finds a suggestion of this in Mary, whose virginity is associated with wisdom in the highest degree, not only because she owned it in her new right, but also because she begot Intelligence Itself in her flesh.

If God in His Wisdom chose, in one woman, to unite Virginity and Motherhood, it must be that one is destined to illumine the other. Virginity illumines the homes of the married, as marriage pays back its debt with the oblation of virgins. Again, if marriage is ever to realize its dreams, it must proceed from the impulsion of instinct to those lofty ideals of love which virginity maintains. Married love that begins with the flesh guiding the spirit, under the inspiration of virginity, is elevated to a point at which the spirit guides the body. Carnal love, which by its nature implies no inner purification, would never mount above exhaustion and disgust, were there not that sacrificial oblation which virgins keep fresh in the world. And even when people do not live up to such ideals, they love to know that there are some who do. Though many married people tear up the photographs of what married love should be, it is a consolation to know that the sacrificial virgins are keeping the blueprints.
As sex-love centers in the ego, there is hope for happiness as long as virgins still center their love in God. While fools love what is only an image of their own desire, the redeemers of humanity are loving Him, of Whom all love ought to be an image. When the sated hits bottom, and believes there is nothing more in the world worth loving, it is encouraging to know that Madonna-love can point to them and say: "You have hit only the bottom of your own egotism, but not the bottom of real love."

The Virgin-love of Christianity teaches the disillusioned lovers that, instead of trying to make the infinite out of a succession of finite loves, they should take the one finite love they have and, by selflessness and charity, capture the Infinite already hidden within it. Promiscuity may be regarded as a misguided search for the Infinite, which is God. As the avaricious soul wants "more and more," hoping that by adding zeroes he can make the Infinite, so the carnal man wants another wife or another husband, vainly believing that what one lacks the other will supply. In vain does one change violins to prove the melody; in vain does one think that the infinity of desire with which all love begins is anything but God, with Whose love the virgin started and ended.

No human being can live without dreams. He who dreams only of the human and the carnal must one day be prepared either to see his dream die, or else he must die to the dream. Nothing is more pitiable than to see the thrice-divorced read romances, hoping to discover on a printed page what they know they never found in life itself. The virgin dies to all dreams but one, and as time goes on her dream comes more and more true, until finally she wakes up to find herself in the arms of the Beloved. It has been said of Mary that she dreamed of Christ before she conceived Him in her body. When Christianity called Him the "Word made flesh," it meant that He was the Dream come true, Love becoming the Beloved. In a noble married love, one must love the other as the messenger of a transcendent love, that is, as a dream and an ideal. The child that is born of that love is looked upon as the messenger from another world. But all this is a reflection of that virgin-love, modeled in Mary, which surrenders all earthly loves, until the Messenger is One sent by the Father, Whose name is Christ. This is not barrenness but fecundity --- not the absence of love, but its very ecstasy --- not disappointment in love, but its sweet ecstasy. And from that hour, when a Virgin held Love Itself in her arms, all lovers will instinctively peer through stable doors to catch a glance of what all virgins envy most: falling in love with a First Love that is the Alpha and the Omega --- Christ, the Son of the Living God.

As breathing requires atmosphere, so love requires a Christosphere and a Mariasphere. That ideal love we see beyond all creature love, and to which we instinctively turn when flesh-love fails, is the same ideal that God had in His Heart from all eternity --- the Lady Whom He would call our Blessed "Mother." She is the one every man loves when he loves a woman --- whether he knows it or not. She is what every woman wants to be, when she looks at herself. She is the woman every man marries in his ideal; she is hidden as an ideal in the discontent of every woman with the carnal aggressiveness of man; she is the secret desire every woman has to be honored and fostered. To know a woman in the hour of possession, a man must first have loved her in the exquisite hour of a dream. To be loved by man in the hour of possession, a woman must first want to be loved, fostered, and honored as an ideal. Beyond all human love is another love; that "other" is the image of the possible. It is that "possible" that every man and woman love when they love one another. That "possible" becomes real in the blueprint Love of Him God loved before the world was made, and in that other love which we all love because she brings Christ to us and brings us to Christ: Mary, the Immaculate Virgin, the Mother of God.



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