Fr. Mark’s Musings 3-10-19

Fr. Mark’s Musings 3-10-19

Fr. Ron takes pride in the fact that St. Isidore does the full liturgical cycle of the year. (Most parishes today do not have a Saturday morning Mass because priests are busy with weddings, funerals, and afternoon vigil Mass.) Another thing unique to our weekday Masses at St. Isidore is that Matt Kush does music, including responsorial psalm, at most of these Masses.

Not many people are able to get to weekday Masses, but if you are not able, you are missing something. There are some very good Scripture readings, especially Old Testament ones, that only appear in the weekday cycle, not the Sunday cycle. In addition, many of the weekday Masses are feast days in honor of a particular saint, who could be from any period of the church’s history, in any part of the world. I like to begin Mass on these days by telling the congregation some interesting things about the saint of the day.

Recently, a parishioner asked me about a particular, we might even say peculiar, class of saints which we call “virgin martyrs,” because these women were in fact both virgins and martyrs, in the early days of the church when the Roman Empire was putting some Christians to death.

The Romans persecuted Christians, but they did not put all Christians to death. (The faith would not have survived if they had!) These severe persecutions were sporadic, in particular times and places. Sometimes particular persons were singled out for death. 

One group that was singled out was virgins. In the Roman world, women were expected to produce children, so the Romans had particular reason to persecute them, because they were doubly rebellious. Like all Christians, they did not make sacrifice to the deities (false gods), but they also had the temerity to refuse to have children.

It is interesting to step back and examine why some Christian women chose to be virgins. In ancient times, as we see throughout the Scriptures, widows were an especially vulnerable group. They were not generally taught to read and write, and there were not many “job opportunities” for them. Nor was there anything like social security or welfare; that is, not until the Christian communities formed. 

In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke speaks of distribution of food to widows in the early church. Many of these early Christian widows chose not to remarry. Over time, widows came to be valued for their role in the church. They apparently had certain tasks, which included more time to devote to prayer. In fact, they were valued so much that some younger women began to choose perpetual virginity, so that they too became a recognized group of women in the church. 

Why did they choose this? We go back to Jesus himself. He referred not to female virginity but rather to males. He said that some men are incapable of marriage, some are made so (castrated), and some are “eunuchs for the sake of God’s kingdom.” He was referring to himself, who was ridiculed for a number of things, including the fact that he was celibate in an era when this was not respected in either the Jewish or Roman world. 

Remember that not all Jews at that time believed in the resurrection, so the mentality was that one lives on, in a sense, through one’s children and descendants. In fact, Jewish parents hoped that perhaps one of their sons might become the messiah. 

But Jesus was a gamechanger. He was in fact already the Messiah. He also taught resurrection from the dead. On top of all this, he spoke of conversion and discipleship as being very urgent, and the end of time as being imminent. (The latter turned out not to be true in the sense that we think—but God’s time is different than ours.) For all these reasons, celibacy became an option for Christians, even an ideal option, as we read in one of St. Paul’s letters. Besides this, women had the example of Mary, virgin and Mother of God.

If we jump ahead a couple hundred years, as persecution of Christians was ending, men would go out to the desert and become hermits, then form monastic communities. Women soon followed. Obviously, these monks and nuns were celibate. The tradition of celibacy in the church continues to the present time with what we today know as nuns, brothers, and priests.