Psalm 128 and celibacy

Celso Morga makes an accurate reflection on the meaning of Psalm 128, its blessings and the option of Christ for celibacy.

September 4, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes

A few days ago, as I was praying Psalm 128, according to the commentary by E. Beaucamp in his book "Dai Salmi al Pater", I was thinking of all the priests of the Latin Church who, following a very ancient ecclesial tradition, committed ourselves to the following of Christ, leaving behind such basic and beautiful human aspirations as married love and the formation of a home. 

The psalm sings of the blessing of the righteous of Israel who "They fear Yahweh and walk in all his ways!" (v.1). This blessing ratifies God's benevolent gaze for those who have living faith in him and abandon themselves unreservedly to his will. Moreover, this blessing carries with it the assurance that out of "..." (v.2).their paths"Men will find nothing but illusions and disillusionment. One cannot build one's life apart from Yahweh. One cannot build one's life without entrusting oneself to the strong hands of God, or, to put it in the words of the psalm itself, living "in their fear". The fear of God is not the fear of God that leads us to flee from him, but the true fear of God invites us to serve him, to take refuge in him, to hope in his love (Ps 33:18; 147:11); in short, to throw ourselves confidently into his arms. God will not cease to repeat to us throughout Revelation: "Fear not, I am with you". 

"...From the work of thy hands shalt thou eat/ Blessed art thou, for all shall be well with thee!" (v.2). The blessing of Psalm 128 translates into success, into fulfilled desires, into happy rest. To see one's work bear fruit is the first sign of a successful life. On the contrary, to sow and not reap, not to inhabit the house that has been built with effort, is for every Israelite one of the worst curses. Yahweh had already warned the Israelites. Out of "my ways", "you will sow your seed in vain, for the fruit will be eaten by your enemies." (Lev 26:16); "the fruit of your land and all your toil will be eaten by a people you do not know." (Dt 28:33). This threat was tested by the Israelites, in all its harshness, during the exile. Nevertheless, it is necessary to interpret this blessing well. We know that God is not an automatic distributor of rewards and punishments. However, the Lord assures us that, working with Him, our toils and labors will not be in vain: "Yahweh your God will bless you in all your crops and in all your works, and you will be fully happy." (Dt 16:15). 

The Psalm continues: "your wife as a fruitful vine inside your house" (v.3). The vine is a symbol of peace and happiness. The woman is associated with this domestic peace and happiness. If the vineyard was God's gift to Israel, as the exquisite fruit of the promised land, the woman is God's gift par excellence. Sacred Scripture seems to give an advantage to man over woman as the possessive subject, but man also comes from woman, he is the possession of woman and both owe each other a common responsibility and commitment to total and mutual love, as the apostle Paul will convey, referring the whole to the mystery between Christ and the Church: "Be submissive to one another in the fear of Christ: wives to their husbands as to the Lord (....). Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved his Church and gave himself for her." (Eph 5:21-25). 

Next, the Psalm says: "Thy children, like olive shoots, around thy table" (v.3). The house is filled with children, who ensure the prosperity and perpetuity of domestic happiness and whom all the guests will admire when they sit at the table laden with the fruits of the field. Sons like olive shoots are to be grafted into the old olive tree of Israel's religious tradition. Only in this way can the daughters and sons in Israel be the happiness of their parents and ensure a future of peace and prosperity for the family. 

If the blessing of Psalm 128 places the happiness of man in the constitution of a marriage and a well-united and prosperous family around the domestic table, why did Jesus not accept it? The celibacy of Jesus does not call into question the promise of happiness formulated by Psalm 128. The image of woman as a fruitful vine in the heart of the home retains all its value in the life and example of Jesus Christ. The Gospel presents Jesus as Bridegroom, as the Bridegroom par excellence: "...".as long as they have with them the spouse ...." (Mk 2:19; Mt 9:15); "the husband is here!"(Mt 25:6). The Bride is the new community that will emerge from her side opened on the cross (cf. Jn 19:34), like Eve from Adam's side. Everything will reach its fullness at the wedding feast of the Lamb: "..." (Mt 25:6).Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His Bride has adorned herself and has been granted to be clothed in linen dazzling in whiteness - linen is the good deeds of the saints. Then he says to me, "Write: Blessed are those invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb.""(Rev 19:7-9). All those who will commit themselves, with his grace, to follow him in that exclusive and perpetual spousal dimension for the Church will have to give their lives entirely, sharing their marital responsibility with the Church, begetting children for a happy eternity.               

The authorCelso Morga

Archbishop of the Diocese of Mérida Badajoz

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