A Helper


DOING A GOOGLE ON A First name is such an interesting project: you find a lot of people with that name, of course – people you did not know, some stars, a few politicians, sometimes a saint or scoundrel if there is one that is particularly notable. Names common in other languages sometimes result in graphics of that name in the other tongue. I was hoping for that as I googled “Eliazar” this morning. I found that it’s common among a few ethnic groups, a couple of gentlemen were giving the 1 finger salute to the camera. On the whole first page of graphics, the best Google would give is this t-shirt. But none particularly hit towards my point.

Eliazar came up in our daily office today. In the Office of Readings we read of the youth of Moses in the household of Pharoah. Then we hear of his slaying of the Egyptian who was abusing one of the Hebrews. Moses runs off to Midian where he meets the daughters of a pagan priest who, eventually, gives his daughter to Moses in marriage. The second son of this union is named “Eliazar”. “and the name of the other was Eliezer: ‘for the God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.'” (Exodus 18:4) That was the last line of the reading. “My help” or “my helper” (depending on your translation) triggered something. That is the second time that something is called “my helper” in the Bible. Here it is God. But the first time it’s something God wants to give to the Earthling, the man alone in the Garden. “I will make him a helper”, says God. (Genesis 2:18). Both in Genesis and Exodus, the word used is עֵזֶר ezer. Thus there are two “helps” in the first two books of the Bible: one’s spouse and God. Moses comes to see God as he help after he is married.

Something clicked. For the Christian Sacramental Marriage is a sign not of “love made holy” or even “church permission to have sex” but rather of Christ’s union with his Church, of God’s union with his People. This is why God – and the spouse – are both called ezer. But the spouse is not an ezer on the same level as God! The marital union is the closest we can come on the Earthly level to experiencing this intimate communion, but it is exactly only on the Earthly level. The Spousal Ezer is a sign of something that is coming and of something that is present in a hidden and spiritual reality. The Spousal Ezer is a sacrament, if you will, of what God is for his People. We are not married in heaven because we don’t need a sacrament to experience that union. Celibacy is the commitment to live the union in its experienced reality here.

My spiritual Father sent to me yesterday an article from First Things, published in 2002, called Celibacy in Context. (Unless otherwise cited quotes below come from that article.) The discussion in the article was around the existence of married clergy in the Eastern Tradition and how many wester Christians in the Catholic Church read this as “see, their priests get married…” They turn this into an argument against the Latin tradition of clerical celibacy. The author, Fr Maximus Davies, insists that Eastern practice needs to be seen in the full context of the Eastern ascetic tradition – a tradition to which all Christians are called, not just monastics.

Celibacy in Eastern Christianity is viewed primarily as a form of asceticism. Asceticism means, in essence, to live at the same time on earth and in heaven. It means to understand that everything we see in this life, everything we touch, taste, think, and feel, is in some way a revelation of the life to come.

…For an ascetic, time reveals eternity. The ascetic thus wants to be freed from a merely human way of looking at time as a cycle of work and rest, life and death. Instead, the ascetic lives in time as though in the undying freedom of eternity. Therefore the ascetic prays. For an ascetic, food reveals the heavenly Feast. He is freed from a merely animal attraction to food and instead tastes only the spiritual promise that lies hidden inside earthly appetites. Therefore the ascetic fasts. For an ascetic, possessions reveal the many-mansioned Kingdom of Heaven. The ascetic is freed from the slavery to things by seeing in everything the Creator of all things. Therefore the ascetic gives alms.

…It is the same with sexuality. For an ascetic, all human relationships—even the sexual act itself—reveal divine love. Hidden beneath the surface of all smaller loves lies the immeasurable abyss of God’s love. The ascetic realizes that what other people give him by way of love finds its true and deeper meaning in the One who is the source of all love. Celibacy is the practical recognition of the reality that lies behind the image, of the prototype behind the icon.

Davies wants us to see that celibacy is not a call different or divided from marriage, but rather it is the reality, the spiritual form behind marriage. As the Catechism cites it, celibacy is an eschatological sign. “Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.” (CCC ¶1619.) In heaven there is no marriage, there we will all be celibate. Here, by grace, we can begin to live this life. Thus, even married folks experience celibacy at times – not “abstaining from sex” but rather something else.

Celibacy is not only a sacramental sign. As we are all called to give away alms as if we do not own anything, as we are all called to fasting as if we don’t need food, so is celibacy a further experiential living out of that reality to when we are all called. See 1 Corinthians 7:29ff.

Human love without celibacy is at best mere sentiment, at worst a form of idolatry.

Who then is called to be celibate? Simply put, every single Christian who is capable of love is called to discipline that love through the asceticism of celibacy. Just as every Christian is called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, so also every Christian is called to be celibate. Seen in its true context of asceticism, celibacy ceases to be a legal requirement for a small section of the Christian faithful and is revealed instead as an aspect of the universal vocation of all believers.

…Christian celibacy is marriage baptized. Christian celibacy is the revelation of the presence of the Kingdom of God in every relationship. It is the refusal to see other people as things to be used, even for the sake of romantic love. Celibacy means the willingness to see in sexuality not something merely animal, or simply useful or enjoyable, but instead something mystical.

Moses named God his Ezer even after he was married. That’s the key. Even married folks are called to see that God is the reality behind who your spouse is. Celibates are called to live this continually and it is exactly an ascetical choice. But if all Christians (not just certain clerics) are called to live this out in their lives, then every Christian must dig into their marriage, or into their unmarried state, to see that God is the ever-present helper they are really seeking. Your husband or wife is the sacramental sign.

Sacrament is an important word here: a sacrament makes present the reality it depicts, a sacrament effects the thing it describes. Your spouse not only is a sign of God’s help but, in a mysterious way, is God’s help. But you must never forget that, exactly, it is God who is my helper. Your spouse is the mediator or mediatrix of God’s active presence in your life, but he or she is never all of this presence. The spouse is, as we said, a sign of something that is always present in a hidden and spiritual reality. Celibacy (even for married folks) is a call to live into the full reality of that help even now.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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