Q: Why was Jesus celibate? Being Jewish, wouldn’t he have followed their customs and married and fathered a family? (Aiken, SC)
A: Your question is cultural accurate. In the Jewish tradition of the Old Testament, celibacy was considered a curse. For example: Of the prophets, only Jeremiah was celibate and he was called to this way of life as a sign of the fruitlessness of Israel’s disobedience to God.
However, as Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant, he gave a new identity and purpose to celibacy (Mt 19:12). For Jesus, it was not a sign of barrenness but of mission (cf. 1 Cor 7). We know that Jesus consecrated his entire self in love to God the Father and dedicated himself wholly to the mission of spreading God’s kingdom.
If Jesus were to have married and fathered a family, he would have compromised this mission by the requirements of these vocations. This is not because marriage and family life are lacking in a capacity for holiness, but because the mission entrusted to Jesus required such singularity of heart, time, attention, and affection.
Q: The Lord’s Prayer seems to indicate that our sins will not be forgiven unless we forgive others. Some sins are hard to forgive. If someone is not in the state of grace, how can they forgive others? (Myrtle Beach, SC)
A: Mercy is certainly not easy. Our human nature was created good and is naturally inclined to good things, such as compassion and gentleness. However, we are fallen, and our hurts, anger and confusion can cloud and suspend this desire for goodness. By the saving work of Jesus Christ, we know that God’s grace can heal, fortify, and perfect our wounded nature and strengthen our orientation toward goodness and holiness.
This is where your question picks up.
If someone does not have grace, how can she choose mercy and find the strength to forgive others? With grace lacking within the person, much of the answer to this question will rely on the person’s education and practice of human virtue.
An easy way to understand this is to note that every Christian virtue has some form of an equivalent on the practical, human level. For example: theological faith is a grace that allows us to accept God’s own testimony of himself. But to believe in a continent called Australia, however, we do not need supernatural faith. Practical faith is sufficient.
And so, if someone is lacking grace, then they lack the ability to exercise supernatural virtue. They can, however, still believe in Australia or God or anything else by human virtue. The problem, however, is that human virtue does not allow a person to grow in holiness and, left to its own devices without grace, it is oftentimes marked by a mercantile spirit (“Others will owe me for doing this good act”), or vanity (“This will make me look very good”), or a fear of punishment (“If I don’t do this, I might get in trouble”), etc.
Therefore, without grace, a person will rely heavily on her training in practical virtue to show mercy. And so, it is possible to give mercy without grace, but the task is much harder than God would ever intend. Plus, the mercy that is given may be lacking a purity of intention and or missing true compassion.
Grace is essential to the Christian way of life. As God’s presence within us, it heals and fulfills our fallen nature. Grace provides us with a power and strength beyond ourselves. And in the difficult task of giving mercy, grace is a needed “super-boost” for us all.
Father Jeffrey Kirby is administrator of St. Joseph Church in Chester and Our Lady of Grace Church in Lancaster. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.