Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico, wrote an article for Sojourners magazine back in May 1979 (not available online, alas) called “Reflections on Marriage and Celibacy” which I had to quote here for several reasons. First, because I’ve been frustrated by how some Christian conservatives idealize the nuclear family, particularly the woman’s self-sacrificing role therein, as if codependence were not a form of idolatry just as dangerous as cold-hearted careerism. Second, because the last line quoted here (boldfacing is mine) beautifully expresses how my relationship with God is so precariously balanced between adoration and terror.
For Jesus, the kingdom is the possibility of universal compassion: it is community and not just kindly coupling. Marriage is a school, a sacrament, and a promise of the coming kingdom, but not itself the final stage. Jesus dethrones married love in order to enthrone it in proper perspective. The specific love points to the universal, but only the “love that moves the sun, the moon, and the other stars” can finally protect and make possible the specific love of a man and a woman.
Jesus seems to be concerned about widening the family circle to include all the life that God is offering. He knows how paralyzing and even deadening the familial relationships can be when they have cut their lifelines from the larger truth and more universal love. Family can be both life and death. Church also can be both life and death. Church and blood family both have the greatest power to wound and the greatest power to heal.
The gospel believes in family, but it is never going to limit itself to the blood relationships and call that alone family: “Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me.” Good American Christian religion would never dare to say those words on its own. When we do, we recite them falteringly, because we cannot really understand the radical nature of Jesus’ vision….
If the community model of church has seldom taken hold, it can probably be attributed to many causes: individualism, authoritarianism, clericalism, fear, plus an overly intellectualized communication of the gospel. But the cause that I would like to deal with here is a certain kind of apathy (a pathos: no feeling), a fear of passion, which has consistently and ironically kept our incarnational faith from dealing with relationships, sexuality, emotions, bodiliness, and the power of love in general.
I am hard put to find a single century in our 2,000-year history since the Word became flesh in which there has been consistent and positive church teaching on the sexuality of this enfleshed creation. We have run from it, denied it, camouflaged it, sublimated it, died to it, sacramentalized it (thank God!) — but we have only in rare and mature instances really faced it, integrated it, and allowed it to raise us to God. We are afraid of the Word become flesh, we are afraid of heaven much more than we are afraid of hell. We live in an endless fear of the passion of God, who feels fiercely.