Lust is nothing but filth. Therefore I do not desire these things but want to follow the will of my God whose reward will never come to an end, whose good gifts never grow old...” (The Revelations of St. Bridget, Book 2, Chapter 25)
Holy communities of men and women that was both married and unmarried practiced the evangelical, monastic lifestyle of chastity and purity both before and after the promulgation of the Gospel
Many holy communities, both before and after the promulgation of the Gospel, followed God’s wondrous and splendid instruction on virtue and purity by choosing to live lives of piety, virtue, mortification and chastity, limiting their marital relations to a bare minimum or necessity in order to nurture and increase graces for themselves, their children and the whole world. The men and the women lived separated in holy communities, but met when the time of conception was most advantageous. They did not, however, have marital relations every time conception was most advantageous, but generally tried to have as little marital relations as possible, while also producing holy offspring for Our Lord. Thus, most of their life was spent in chastity, holiness and purity, and they also produced offspring for the love of our Lord and Creator while living such a good life. By the grace of God, many spouses also resolved to practice complete abstinence and chastity and thus acquired a greater crown in Heaven for their wonderful purity: “More blessed indeed are those marriages to be reckoned, where the parties concerned, whether after the procreation of children, or even through contempt of such an earthly progeny, have been able with common consent to practice self-restraint toward each other: both because nothing is done contrary to that precept whereby the Lord forbids a spouse to be put away (for he does not put her away who lives with her not carnally, but spiritually), and because that principle is observed to which the apostle gives expression, "It remaineth, that they that have wives be as though they had none" [1 Cor. 7:29].” (St. Augustine, On the Sermon on the Mount, Book I, Chapter 14, Section 39, c. 394 A.D.)
Anne Catherine Emmerich wrote the following interesting information when explaining how some of these virtuous people lived before the promulgation of the Gospel. She said, speaking concerning “The Ancestors Of St. Anne – The Essenes”:
“Until Isaiah assembled these people together and gave them a more regular organization, they were scattered about the land of Israel, leading lives of piety and intent on mortification. They wore their clothes without mending them till they fell off their bodies. They fought particularly against sexual immorality, and often by mutual consent lived in continence for long periods, living in huts far removed from their wives. When they lived together as husband and wife, it was only with the intention of producing a holy offspring which might bring nearer the coming of the Savior. I saw them eating apart from their wives; the wife came to take her meal after the husband had left the table. There were ancestors of St. Anne and of other holy people among these early Essenes.” (The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Anne Catherine Emmerich)
According to Wikipedia: “The Essenes were a sect of Second Temple Judaism that flourished from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD which some scholars claim seceded from the Zadokite priests. Being much fewer in number than the Pharisees and the Sadducees (the other two major sects at the time), the Essenes lived in various cities but congregated in communal life dedicated to asceticism, voluntary poverty, daily immersion, and abstinence from worldly pleasures, including (for some groups) celibacy. Many separate but related religious groups of that era shared similar mystic, eschatological, messianic, and ascetic beliefs. These groups are collectively referred to by various scholars as the "Essenes." Josephus records that Essenes existed in large numbers, and thousands lived throughout Roman Judæa.”
Josephus describes this pious collection of pure and chaste men and women that lived in a similar way that monks and nuns now live in his work The Jewish War.
Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, Book II, Chapter 8: “For three forms of philosophy are pursued among the Judeans: the members of one are Pharisees, of another Sadducees, and the third [school], who certainly are reputed to cultivate seriousness, are called Essenes; although Judeans by ancestry, they are even more mutually affectionate than the others. Whereas these men shun the pleasures as vice, they consider self-control and not succumbing to the passions virtue. And although there is among them a disdain for marriage, adopting the children of outsiders while they are still malleable enough for the lessons they regard them as family and instill in them their principles of character: without doing away with marriage or the succession resulting from it, they nevertheless protect themselves from the wanton ways of women, having been persuaded that none of them preserves her faithfulness to one man.
“Since [they are] despisers of wealth—their communal stock is astonishing—, one cannot find a person among them who has more in terms of possessions. For by a law, those coming into the school must yield up their funds to the order, with the result that in all [their ranks] neither the humiliation of poverty nor the superiority of wealth is detectable, but the assets of each one have been mixed in together, as if they were brothers, to create one fund for all. They consider olive oil a stain, and should anyone be accidentally smeared with it he scrubs his body, for they make it a point of honor to remain hard and dry, and to wear white always. Hand-elected are the curators of the communal affairs, and indivisible are they, each and every one, [in pursuing] their functions to the advantage of all.
“No one city is theirs, but they settle amply in each. And for those school-members who arrive from elsewhere, all that the community has is laid out for them in the same way as if they were their own things, and they go in and stay with those they have never even seen before as if they were the most intimate friends. For this reason they make trips without carrying any baggage at all—though armed on account of the bandits. In each city a steward of the order appointed specially for the visitors is designated quartermaster for clothing and the other amenities. Dress and also deportment of body: like children being educated with fear. They replace neither clothes nor footwear until the old set is ripped all over or worn through with age. Among themselves, they neither shop for nor sell anything; but each one, after giving the things that he has to the one in need, takes in exchange anything useful that the other has. And even without this reciprocal giving, the transfer to them [of goods] from whomever they wish is unimpeded.
“Toward the Deity, at least: pious observances uniquely [expressed]. Before the sun rises, they utter nothing of the mundane things, but only certain ancestral prayers to him, as if begging him to come up. After these things, they are dismissed by the curators to the various crafts that they have each come to know, and after they have worked strenuously until the fifth hour they are again assembled in one area, where they belt on linen covers and wash their bodies in frigid water. After this purification they gather in a private hall, into which none of those who hold different views may enter: now pure themselves, they approach the dining room as if it were some [kind of] sanctuary. After they have seated themselves in silence, the baker serves the loaves in order, whereas the cook serves each person one dish of one food. The priest offers a prayer before the food, and it is forbidden to taste anything before the prayer; when he has had his breakfast he offers another concluding prayer. While starting and also while finishing, then, they honor God as the sponsor of life. At that, laying aside their clothes as if they were holy, they apply themselves to their labors again until evening. They dine in a similar way: when they have returned, they sit down with the visitors, if any happen to be present with them, and neither yelling nor disorder pollutes the house at any time, but they yield conversation to one another in order. And to those from outside, the silence of those inside appears as a kind of shiver-inducing mystery. The reason for this is their continuous sobriety and the rationing of food and drink among them—to the point of fullness.
“As for other areas: although there is nothing that they do without the curators’ having ordered it, these two things are matters of personal prerogative among them: [rendering] assistance and mercy. For helping those who are worthy, whenever they might need it, and also extending food to those who are in want are indeed left up to the individual; but in the case of the relatives, such distribution is not allowed to be done without [permission from] the managers. Of anger, just controllers; as for temper, able to contain it; of fidelity, masters; of peace, servants. And whereas everything spoken by them is more forceful than an oath, swearing itself they avoid, considering it worse than the false oath; for they declare to be already degraded one who is unworthy of belief without God. They are extraordinarily keen about the compositions of the ancients, selecting especially those [oriented] toward the benefit of soul and body. On the basis of these and for the treatment of diseases, roots, apotropaic materials, and the special properties of stones are investigated.
“To those who are eager for their school, the entry-way is not a direct one, but they prescribe a regimen for the person who remains outside for a year, giving him a little hatchet as well as the aforementioned waist-covering and white clothing. Whenever he should give proof of his self-control during this period, he approaches nearer to the regimen and indeed shares in the purer waters for purification, though he is not yet received into the functions of communal life. For after this demonstration of endurance, the character is tested for two further years, and after he has thus been shown worthy he is reckoned into the group. Before he may touch the communal food, however, he swears dreadful oaths to them: first, that he will observe piety toward the deity; then, that he will maintain just actions toward humanity; that he will harm no one, whether by his own deliberation or under order; that he will hate the unjust and contend together with the just; that he will always maintain faithfulness to all, especially to those in control, for without God it does not fall to anyone to hold office, and that, should he hold office, he will never abuse his authority—outshining his subordinates, whether by dress or by some form of extravagant appearance; always to love the truth and expose the liars; that he will keep his hands pure from theft and his soul from unholy gain; that he will neither conceal anything from the school-members nor disclose anything of theirs to others, even if one should apply force to the point of death. In addition to these, he swears that he will impart the precepts to no one otherwise than as he received them, that he will keep away from banditry, and that he will preserve intact their school’s books and the names of the angels. With such oaths as these they completely secure those who join them.
“Those they have convicted of sufficiently serious errors they expel from the order. … Now with respect to trials, [they are] just and extremely precise: they render judgment after having assembled no fewer than a hundred, and something that has been determined by them is non-negotiable. There is a great reverence among them for—next to God—the name of the lawgiver, and if anyone insults him he is punished by death. They make it point of honor to submit to the elders and to a majority. So if ten were seated together, one person would not speak if the nine were unwilling. They guard against spitting into [their] middles or to the right side and against applying themselves to labors on the seventh days, even more than all other Judeans: for not only do they prepare their own food one day before, so that they might not kindle a fire on that day, but they do not even dare to transport a container…
“They are divided into four classes, according to their duration in the training, and the later-joiners are so inferior to the earlier-joiners that if they should touch them, the latter wash themselves off as if they have mingled with a foreigner. [They are] long-lived, most of them passing 100 years—as a result, it seems to me at least, of the simplicity of their regimen and their orderliness. Despisers of terrors, triumphing over agonies by their wills, considering death—if it arrives with glory—better than deathlessness. The war against the Romans proved their souls in every way: during it, while being twisted and also bent, burned and also broken, and passing through all the torture-chamber instruments, with the aim that they might insult the lawgiver or eat something not customary, they did not put up with suffering either one: not once gratifying those who were tormenting [them], or crying. But smiling in their agonies and making fun of those who were inflicting the tortures, they would cheerfully dismiss their souls, [knowing] that they would get them back again.
“For the view has become tenaciously held among them that whereas our bodies are perishable and their matter impermanent, our souls endure forever, deathless: they get entangled, having emanated from the most refined ether, as if drawn down by a certain charm into the prisons that are bodies. But when they are released from the restraints of the flesh, as if freed from a long period of slavery, then they rejoice and are carried upwards in suspension. … For the base, on the other hand, they separate off a murky, stormy recess filled with unending retributions. … For the good become even better in the hope of a reward also after death, whereas the impulses of the bad are impeded by anxiety, as they expect that even if they escape detection while living, after their demise they will be subject to deathless retribution. These matters, then, the Essenes theologize with respect to the soul, laying down an irresistible bait for those who have once tasted of their wisdom.
“There are also among them those who profess to foretell what is to come, being thoroughly trained in holy books, various purifications, and concise sayings of prophets. Rarely if ever do they fail in their predictions.
“There is also a different order of Essenes. Though agreeing with the others about regimen and customs and legal matters, it has separated in its opinion about marriage. For they hold that those who do not marry cut off the greatest part of life, the succession, and more: if all were to think the same way, the line would very quickly die out. To be sure, testing the brides in a three-year interval, once they have been purified three times as a test of their being able to bear children, they take them in this manner; but they do not continue having intercourse with those who are pregnant, demonstrating that the need for marrying is not because of pleasure, but for children. Baths [are taken] by the women wrapping clothes around themselves, just as by the men in a waist-covering. Such are the customs of this order.” (This deliberately literal translation of the Greek is from Steve Mason, Flavius Josephus: translation and commentary, vol. 1b: Judean War)
We are not, however, still living in the Old Covenant. Today, after the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the standard of “perfection” and spiritual maturation is much higher (St. John Chrysostom, Virg., XLIV. 1.12-13; SC 125. p. 252). Thus, “Since we have been vouchsafed a larger and more perfect teaching, God having no longer spoken by the prophets, but ‘having in these last days spoken to us by His Son,’ let us show forth a conversation far higher than theirs, and suitable to the honor bestowed on us. Strange would it be that He should have so far lowered Himself, as to choose to speak to us no longer by His servants, but by His own mouth, and yet we should show forth nothing more than those of old. They had Moses for their teacher, we, Moses’ Lord. Let us then exhibit a heavenly wisdom worthy of this honor, and let us have nothing to do with the earth” (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. XV in Jn.; PG 59.100-101).
God, who knows us better than ourselves, knows that man is weak and that man will fall into temptation when the chance to gratify the temptation is present. Thus, He ordained through the Holy Spirit that holy communities of men and women should be formed that lived a most exemplary and pure life. Sadly, these kinds of communities of true Catholics does not exist anymore, but by the grace of God and in accordance to prophecies that prophesy a renewal of things and of the Church, people will resolve to imitate these holy people. These people are, as it were, the life-blood of the whole human civilization and their prayers rise up to God as a perfect offering, and thus, the effect of such communities are always spiritually fruitful and advantageous for the world. Spouses should seriously consider practicing chastity unto the end of their lives for the sake of begetting spiritual children instead of fleshly or carnal children; because the spiritual is so much higher than the carnal as much as Heaven is above the Earth or the angels above men. “That virginity is good I do agree. But that it is even better than marriage, this I do confess. And if you wish, I will add that it is as much better than marriage as Heaven is better than Earth, as much better as angels are better than men.” (St. John Chrysostom, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2: 1116, 392 A.D.)
Thus, the spouses who promise to be chaste until death beget eternal and spiritual children instead of fleshly and perishable children. St. Caesarius of Arles says, “You do not want to have a [fleshly] child? Settle a pious agreement with your husband; let him agree to an end of childbearing in accord with the virtue of chastity. The only sterility of a very pious wife is chastity.” (Sermon 52:4)
The Church from the very beginning has always taught and encouraged married and unmarried people to adopt a life of perfect chastity and virginity, and this teaching, as we have seen, is based on the teaching of the Apostles and the Holy Scripture. It is for this reason that The Catechism of the Council of Trent and the bishops and theologians of the Council who were instrumental in writing the Catechism recommended virginity and chastity to all in human society, whether old or young, teaching that: “For, now that the human race is increased, not only is there no law rendering marriage obligatory on any one, but, on the contrary, virginity is highly extolled and strongly recommended in the Sacred Scriptures to every one, as superior to the marriage state.”
Tertullian (c. 160-225), and early Christian author and Church Father, exhorted all churchmen in A.D. 204 to embrace chastity and virginity when he wrote: “How many men, therefore, and how many women, in Ecclesiastical Orders, owe their position to continence, who have preferred to be wedded to God; who have restored the honor of their flesh, and who have already dedicated themselves as sons of that future age, by slaying in themselves the concupiscence of lust, and that whole propensity which could not be admitted within Paradise!” (On Exhortation to Chastity, Chapter 13)
It must be said, however, that everyone who chooses the admirable and superior state of chastity or virginity must not and cannot call himself better or more holy than a person who lives in the state of marriage. It is for God to reward a person for their deeds, and he who exalts himself on this earth shall surely be thrust into hell for his pride and presumption. Our Lord Jesus Christ is clear that “whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12) If the chaste as well as the married have done their duty well, let them say in all humility, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.” (Luke 17:10) Whether chaste or married, we must all account ourselves sinners worthy of nothing but eternal hellfire and suffering, for without God’s grace and the merit of Christ’s suffering and blood shed for our sins, we would all have ended up in hell in the eternal fire “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished.” (Mark 9:43)
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, On Chastity: “Nor again, on the other hand, in maintaining thy chastity be thou puffed up against those who walk in the humbler path of matrimony. For as the Apostle saith, "Let marriage be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled." Thou too who retainest thy chastity, wast thou not begotten of those who had married? Because thou hast a possession of gold, do not on that account reprobate the silver. But let those also be of good cheer, who being married use marriage lawfully; who make a marriage according to God’s ordinance, and not of wantonness for the sake of unbounded license; who recognize seasons of abstinence, that they may give themselves unto prayer; who in our assemblies bring clean bodies as well as clean garments into the Church; who have entered upon matrimony for the procreation of children, but not for indulgence.” (On the Ten Points of Doctrine, Lecture IV, Section 25.--Of the Body)
While monasticism is to be preferred to marriage, it is to be preferred as a “better” above a “good”, and not as a “good” above an “evil.” Hence St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes, “It is good for one to be tied in marriage, temperately though, rendering more to God than to sexual relations. It is better to be free of these bonds, rendering everything to God and to the things above… Marriage is concerned about spouse and loved ones. Whereas for virginity, it is Christ.” (On Self-Restraint, PG 37, 643A-644A)
Marriage not only remains good and honorable after the promulgation of the Gospel and the New Law, but itself has experienced a radical transformation. In fact, the essence of earthly marriage deepens in the New Covenant and more graphically shows forth its prototype. Marriage is a “mystery and a type of a mighty thing” according to the great St. Chrysostom (Hom. XII in Col.; PG 62.387; NPNF, p. 317). Earthly marriage in the New Covenant is designed to show forth the true “spiritual marriage” (Chrysostom, Catech., 1.1.3; SC 50, p. 10) between Christ and the Church, and between Christ and the individual believing soul. This is the true glory of Christian marriage between God and man. Earthly marriage robs a virgin of her virginity. Spiritual marriage with Christ takes many, including those who have already lost their virginity, and re-creates them as virgins. Spiritual marriage restores virginity, making non-virgins virgins. “In the world virgins remain such before marriage, but not so after marriage. Here it is not like that. But even if they are not virgins before marriage, after the marriage they become virgins. Thus the whole Church is a virgin.” (Chrysostom, Hom. XXIII in 2 Cor.; PG 61.553-554.) St. Ephrem writes, “O you, Virginity, your destruction is simple for all, but your restoration is easy only for the Lord of all.” (Hymn 2 On Virginity, and, Hymn 8 On Epiphany)
The glory of this spiritual marriage is also witnessed by the fact that, unlike earthly suitors who are looking for beauty and wealth, Christ took to Himself the most uncomely and impoverished of brides and made her comely and wealthy (Chrysostom, Hom. XX in Eph.; PG 62.137ff). The earthly dowry contract is a type of the covenant between God and man effected in the promises of obedience to the Bridegroom in Holy Baptism. Through a spiritual birth one enters into a spiritual marriage, not of passion or the flesh, but “wholly spiritual, the soul being united to God by a union unspeakable, and which he alone knoweth.” (Ibid., PG 62.141; NPNF. p. 148.) The ultimate nuptial chamber is in heaven, where there is a beauty preserved for eternity not subject to aging, disease, or anxiety, but is “ever-blooming.” (Chrysostom, Hom. XXVIII in Heb.; PG 63.202)
In the same vein St. Ephrem the Syrian writes concerning the “bridal couch of delights”, “You have exchanged the transitory bridal couch for the bridal couch whose blessings are unceasing.” (Hymn 24 On Virginity) If the bridal chamber be so beautiful, asks St. John Chrysostom, what will the Bridegroom be like? (Hom. XXVIII in Heb.; PG 63.202.) Chrysostom graphically describes the union of Christ and the believer in the reception of the Holy Eucharist in the imagery of the consummation of earthly marriage via intercourse, “But what shall I say? It is not in this way only that I have shown My love to thee, but by what I have suffered. For thee I was spit upon, I was scourged. I emptied myself of glory, I left My Father and came to thee, who dost hate Me, and turn from Me, and art loath to hear My Name. I pursued thee, I ran after thee, that I might overtake thee. I united and joined thee to myself, ‘eat Me, drink Me,’ I said. Above I hold thee, and below I embrace thee. Is it not enough for thee that I have thy First-fruits above? Doth not this satisfy thy affection? I descended below: I not only am mingled with thee, I am entwined in thee. I am masticated, broken into minute particles, that the interspersion, and commixture, and union may be more complete. Things united remain yet in their own limits, but I am interwoven with thee. I would have no more any division between us. I will that we both be one.” (Chrysostom, Hom. XV in 1 Tim.; PG 62.586; NPNF, pp. 463-464.) “Let this be blended into that flesh. This is effected by the food which He hath freely given us, desiring to show the love which He hath for us; He hath kneaded up His body with ours, that we might be a certain One thing, like a body joined to a head. … He hath given to those who desire Him not only to see Him, but even to touch, and eat Him, and fix their teeth In His flesh, and to embrace Him, and satisfy all their love.” (Chrysostom, Hom. XLVI in Jn.; PG 59.260: NPNF. p. 166)
The reception of the Holy Gifts of God is the ultimate blending of flesh for Christians to embrace Christ and to satisfy all their love in the spiritual union. “This body that He given to us both to hold and to eat; a thing appropriate to intense love.” (Chrysostom, Homily XXIV in 1 Cor.; PG 61.204: NPNF. p. 143.) As earthly lovers are joined in a week long marriage feast, so the lover of Mankind weds Himself in Holy Baptism to the neophytes (newcomers), and the Bright Week festivities serve as a type of heavenly wedding feast. St. Ephrem the Syrian writes, “The soul is Your bride, the body Your bridal chamber, Your guests are the senses and thoughts. And if a single body is a wedding feast for You, how great is Your banquet for the whole Church?” (Hymns on Paradise) As in all typology the reality exceeds the type, for “no lover, even if he be violently mad, is so inflamed with his loved one as is God in His desire for the salvation of our souls.” (Trois Catéchèses Baptismales, 2.3-6) God wishes to unite with us more than any lover with his beloved (Exp. in Ps. CXIV; PG 55.316). Tertullian used similar graphic language to describe how Christ loves pious Christian women martyrs who refused to wear cosmetics and completely rejected the vanity it entails. “Go forth now to martyrdom already arrayed in the cosmetics and ornaments of prophets and apostles; drawing your whiteness from simplicity, your ruddy hue from modesty; painting your eyes with bashfulness, and your mouth with silence; implanting in your ears the words of God; fitting on your necks the yoke of Christ… Thus painted, you will have God as your Lover!” (De Cultu Feminarum, II.XIII.7.35-45; CCSL I, p. 370; ANF, p. 25)
St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, A.D. 397: “For, if it was possible for one man to use many wives with chastity, it is possible for another to use one wife with lust. And I look with greater approval on the man who uses the fruitfulness of many wives for the sake of an ulterior object, than on the man who enjoys the body of one wife for its own sake. For in the former case the man aims at a useful object suited to the circumstances of the times; in the latter case he gratifies a lust which is engrossed in temporal enjoyments. And those men to whom the apostle permitted as a matter of indulgence to have one wife because of their incontinence, [1 Cor. 7] were less near to God than those who, though they had each of them numerous wives, yet just as a wise man uses food and drink only for the sake of bodily health, used marriage only for the sake of offspring. And, accordingly, if these last had been still alive at the advent of our Lord, when the time not of casting stones away but of gathering them together had come, [Eccles. 3:5] they would have immediately made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. For there is no difficulty in abstaining unless when there is lust in enjoying. And assuredly those men of whom I speak knew that wantonness even in regard to wives is abuse and intemperance, as is proved by Tobit’s prayer when he was married to his wife. For he says: "Blessed art Thou, O God of our fathers, and blessed is Thy holy and glorious name for ever; let the heavens bless Thee, and all Thy creatures. Thou madest Adam, and gavest him Eve his wife for an helper and stay. . . . And now, O Lord, Thou knowest that I take not this my sister for lust, but uprightly: therefore have pity on us, O Lord" [Tobit 7:5-7].” (Book III, Chapter 18, Section 27.--We Must Take into Consideration the Time at Which Anything Was Enjoyed or Allowed.)
God might want a more virtuous, holy and pure way of life for a couple
The path to purity and perfection if one of the spouses is barren, is to perform the sexual act with the hope that God will grant a miracle of conception. This has happened numerous times throughout history and still happens even today. The Golden Legend tells us how the Blessed Virgin Mary’s parents was granted this miracle of conception:
“I have seen thy shame [St. Joachim] and heard the reproach. That thou art barren is to thee no reproach by right, and God is avenger of sin and not of nature. And when he closeth the belly or womb, he worketh so that he openeth it after, more marvelously. And the fruit that shall be born shall not be seen to come forth by lechery, but that it be known that it is of the gift of God. The first mother of your people was Sara, and she was barren unto the ninetieth year, and had only Isaac, to whom the benediction of all people was promised. And was not Rachel long barren? And yet had she not after Joseph, that held all the lordship of Egypt? Which was more strong than Samson, and more holy than Samuel? And yet were their mothers barren. Thus mayst thou believe by reason and by example that the children long awaited be wont to be more marvelous. And therefore Anne thy wife shall have a daughter, and thou shalt call her Mary [The Blessed Virgin Mary], and she, as ye have avowed, shall be from her infancy sacred unto our Lord, and shall be full of the Holy Ghost...” (The Golden Legend or The Lives of The Saints, Vol 5, p. 59: The Nativity of Our Blessed Lady)
There is no guarantee, however, that God will grant barren couples children. In truth, God may want you to remain childless and then you have to accept this fact. There are many reasons why God would want this. One of the most common reasons for this is because God knows you will serve Him more devotedly because of it and that you will be of greater use in saving your own soul and the souls of other people, since, if you have no children, you will have more time to help and convert others and save yourself; instead of caring for your family or children. Thus, “now that the resurrection is at our gates, and we do not speak of death, but advance toward another life better than the present, the desire for posterity is superfluous [since the world is filled with people]. If you desire children, you can get much better children now, a nobler childbirth and better help in your old age, if you give birth by spiritual labor.” (St. John Chrysostom, On the Sacred Institution of Marriage, Homily One)
In truth, “now [in the New Law] no one who is made perfect in piety seeks to have sons, save after a spiritual sense; but then [in the Old Law] it was the work of piety itself to beget sons even after a carnal sense: in that the begetting of that people was fraught with tidings of things to come [of the birth of the Savior], and pertained unto the prophetic dispensation.” (St. Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, Section 19, A.D. 401)
There are also many examples in the Bible of God granting barren couples holy children first after they made a vow of raising the child in holiness and in the service of God. St. John the Baptist and Samson are just two examples of many. The Golden Legend tells us how St. John the Baptist’s parents was granted this miracle of conception:
“These two, Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth [the parents of John the Baptist], were just before our Lord, living in all the justifications, and holding all the commandments of the law without murmur or complaint, praising and thanking our Lord God. They had no children, for the holy woman was barren. They had great desire to have a son that might be bishop of the law by succession of lineage after Zachariah, and hereof had they in their youth prayed much to our Lord, but when it pleased not unto our Lord, they took it a worth and thanked God of all. They served the more devoutly our Lord God, for they had no charge but only to serve and attend unto him. Many there be that withdraw them from the service and love of our Lord for the love of their children.” (The Golden Legend or The Lives of The Saints, Vol 3: The Nativity of St. John Baptist)
However, God may also want you to use your time and effort in giving birth to spiritual children, which is far greater than giving birth to fleshly children. Thus, a couple should not mourn the lack of a child, but instead thank God for showing them that He wishes them to do something else with their time. St. John Chrysostom writes concerning infertility, “Let women not be distressed when they have no children: instead, let them give evidence of a thankful disposition and have recourse to the Creator and direct their request to him, the Lord of nature, not attributing childbirth to the intercourse of the partners nor to any other source than the Creator of everything.” (Homilies on Genesis, Homily XXI; PG 53.178)
St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 51:4: “Therefore, those to whom God is unwilling to give children should not try to have them by means of magical herbs or signs or evil charms. It is becoming proper for Christians especially not to seem to fight against the dispensation of Christ by cruel, wicked boldness. Just as women whom God wants to bear more children must not take medicines to prevent their conception, so those whom God wished to remain sterile should desire and seek this gift from God alone. They should always leave it to divine Providence, asking in their prayers that God in His goodness may deign to grant what is best for them. Those women whom God wants to bear children should take care of all that are conceived, or give them to someone else to rear. As many as they kill after they are already conceived or born, before the tribunal of the eternal Judge they will be held guilty of so many murders. If women attempt to kill the children within them by evil medicines, and themselves die in the act, they become guilty of three crimes on their own: suicide, spiritual adultery, and murder of the unborn child. Therefore, women do wrong when they seek to have children by means of evil drugs. They sin still more grievously when they kill the children who are already conceived or born, and when by taking impious drugs to prevent conception they condemn in themselves the nature which God wanted to be fruitful. Let them not doubt that they have committed as many murders as the number of the children they might have begotten.”
God also sometimes wants a couple to take in orphans and love them as if they were their own children; and barrenness can certainly be a result of this will of the Lord. A good couple should not be saddened if they are not given children through the natural way, but rejoice in the Lord and pray to Him fervently to be told what He wants them to do instead of raising their own fleshly children. They must love their adopted children as much as if they were their own, and not place the evil and worldly custom of loving humans just because they are of the same blood above the spiritual law that says that we must love all in the same way, whether they are of the same fleshly and temporal family as our own or not. St. John Chrysostom writes, “For that it is the business of widows—I speak of the bringing up of children—hear Paul saying, "If she hath brought up children" (1 Tim. 5:10); and again, "She shall be saved through the child-bearing," (he has not said through her husband,) if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety" (1 Tim. 2:15).” (Homilies on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, Homily VI, 1 Thess. iv. 9-13, Ver. 13)
The Blessed Virgin Mary’s Life is the foundation of all chaste servants of Christ
Our Beloved Mother, Lady and Queen, The Blessed Virgin Mary, spoke to Sister Mary of Agreda (1602-1665), Spain, in a spiritual revelation recorded in the book “The Mystical City of God,” and explained the great necessity for all people to control their eyes, and to not set their eyes on things that might disturb their souls. She also told Sr. Mary of Agreda that Her own life was the foundation of the pure and chaste life of all religious and chaste servants of Our Lord, which is a fact that was not known publicly to many people at that time. In fact, Our Lady’s “four vows of poverty, obedience, chastity and enclosure pleased the Lord very much, and I [The Blessed Virgin Mary] merited thereby that the Godfearing in the Church and in the law of grace are drawn to live under these vows, as is the custom in the present time.”
The Virgin Mary spoke to Sister Mary of Agreda, saying: “My daughter, among the great and ineffable favors of the Omnipotent in the course of my life, was the one which thou has just learned and described; for by this clear vision of the Divinity and of the incomprehensible essence I acquired knowledge of the most hidden sacraments and mysteries, and in this adornment and espousal I received incomparable blessings and felt the sweetest workings of the Divinity in my spirit. My desire to take the four vows of poverty, obedience, chastity and enclosure pleased the Lord very much, and I merited thereby that the Godfearing in the Church and in the law of grace are drawn to live under these vows, as is the custom in the present time. This was the beginning of that which you religious practice now, fulfilling the words of David in the forty-fourth psalm: "After Her shall virgins be brought to the King;" for the Lord ordained that my aspirations be the foundation of religious life and of the evangelical law. I fulfilled entirely and perfectly all that I proposed to the Lord, as far as was possible in my state of life; never did I look upon the face of a man, not even on that of my husband Joseph, nor on that of the angels, when they appeared to me in human form, though I saw and knew them all in God. Never did I incline toward any creature, rational or irrational, nor toward any human operation or tendency. But in all things I was governed by the Most High, either directly by Himself or indirectly through the obedience, to which I freely subjected myself.
“Be careful therefore, my daughter, and fear so dreadful a danger; by divine assistance of grace raise thyself above thyself, never permitting thy will to consent to any disorderly affection or movement. I wish thee to consume thyself in dying to thy passions and in becoming entirely spiritualized, so that having extinguished within thee all that is of earth, thou mayest come to lead an angelic life and conversation. In order to deserve the name of spouse of Christ, thou must pass beyond the limits and the sphere of a human being and ascend to another state and divine existence. Although thou art earth, thou must be a blessed earth, without the thorns of passion, one whose fruit is all for the Lord, its Master. If thou hast for thy Spouse that supreme and mighty Lord, who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, consider it beneath thy dignity to turn thy eyes, and much more thy heart, toward such vile slaves, as are the human creatures, for even the angels love and respect thee for thy dignity as spouse of the Most High. If even among men it is held to be a daring and boundless insolence in a plebeian to cast longing eyes upon the spouse of a prince, what a crime would it be to cast them on the spouse of the heavenly and omnipotent King? And it would not be a smaller crime if she herself would receive and consent to such familiarity. Consider and assure thyself that the punishment reserved for this sin is inconceivably terrible and I do not show it to thee visibly, lest thou perish in thy weakness. I wish that for thee my instructions suffice to urge thee to the fulfillment of all I admonish and to imitate me as my disciple, as far as thy powers go. Be also solicitous in recalling this instruction to the mind of thy nuns and in seeing that they live up to it.
“My daughter, the greatest happiness, which can befall any soul in this mortal life, is that the Almighty call her to his house consecrated to his service. For by this benefit He rescues the soul from a dangerous slavery and relieves her of the vile servitude of the world, where, deprived of true liberty, she eats her bread in the sweat of her brow. Who is so dull and insipid as not to know the dangers of the worldly life, which is hampered by all the abominable and most wicked laws and customs introduced by the astuteness of the devil and the perversity of men? The better part is religious life and retirement; in it is found security, outside is a torment and a stormy sea, full of sorrow and unhappiness. Through the hardness of their heart and the total forgetfulness of themselves men do not know this truth and are not attracted by its blessings. But thou, O soul, be not deaf to the voice of the Most High, attend and correspond to it in thy actions: I wish to remind thee, that one of the greatest snares of the demon is to counteract the call of the Lord, whenever he seeks to attract and incline the soul to a life of perfection in his service.
“Even by itself, the public and sacred act of receiving the habit and entering religion, although it is not always performed with proper fervor and purity of intention, is enough to rouse the wrath and fury of the infernal dragon and his demons; for they know that this act tends not only to the glory of the Lord and the joy of the holy angels, but that religious life will bring the soul to holiness and perfection. It very often happens, that they who have received the habit with earthly and human motives, are afterwards visited by divine grace, which perfects them and sets all things aright. If this is possible even when the beginning was without a good intention, how much more powerful and efficacious will be the light and influence of grace and the discipline of religious life, when the soul enters under the influence of divine love and with a sincere and earnest desire of finding God, and of serving and loving Him?” (The Mystical City of God, “The Divine History and Life of The Virgin Mother of God”, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Also, not many people are aware of this truth, but all “our good works pass through the hands of Mary” and are increased by Her, and this makes it very important for everyone to pray the Rosary and direct our supplications and prayers directly to Our Lady for the great grace to remain chaste and pure until death. St. Louis De Montfort (1710) explains that: “… inasmuch as our good works pass through the hands of Mary, they receive an augmentation [increase] of purity, and consequently of merit, and of satisfactory and impetratory value. On this account they become more capable of solacing the souls in purgatory and of converting sinners than if they did not pass through the virginal and liberal hands of Mary. It may be little that we give by our Lady; but, in truth, if it is given without self-will and with a disinterested charity, that little becomes very mighty to turn away the wrath of God and to draw down His mercy.” (True Devotion to Mary #172)
Thus, “in the heavens Mary commands the angels and the blessed. As a recompense, God has empowered her and commissioned her to fill with saints the empty thrones from which the apostate angels fell by pride.” (True Devotion to Mary #28) And so “the greatest saints, the souls richest in graces and virtues, shall be the most assiduous in praying to our Blessed Lady, and in having her always present as their perfect model for imitation and their powerful aid for help.” (True Devotion to Mary #46) Those who fervently pray to Our Lady will always experience an alleviation in their temptations because, “when the Holy Ghost, her Spouse, has found Mary in a soul, He flies there. He enters there in His fullness; He communicates Himself to that soul abundantly, and to the full extent to which it makes room for His Spouse. Nay, one of the great reasons why the Holy Ghost does not now do startling wonders in our souls is because He does not find there a sufficiently great union with His faithful and inseparable Spouse.” (True Devotion to Mary # 36) Indeed, “… many others have proved invincibly, from the sentiments of the Fathers (among others, St. Augustine, St. Ephrem, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Germanus, St. John Damascene, St. Anselm, St. Bernard, St. Bernardine, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure), that devotion to Mary is necessary to salvation, and that… it is an infallible mark of reprobation to have no esteem and love for the holy Virgin.” (True Devotion to Mary #40)
In contrast to the true children of God who love and honor Mary, and who salutes Her through the daily prayer of the Most Holy Rosary, heretics and especially the Protestants regard Our Lady with contempt or disregard and often speak lowly of her as if she was a woman like everyone else and who just “happened” to be chosen by God, and nothing more. And what’s worse, they even get angry at people and accuse those who honor and pray to Our Lady for idolatry and heresy. Sadly, all heretics by their manifest contempt of Our Lady whom Our Lord loves and honors so much (and who is the most virtuous person that have ever lived or will ever live outside of Jesus Christ) reveal their impending and eternal damnation. “All the true children of God, the predestinate, have God for their Father and Mary for their Mother. He who has not Mary for his Mother has not God for his Father. This is the reason why the reprobate, such as heretics, schismatics and others, who hate our Blessed Lady or regard her with contempt and indifference, have not God for their Father, however much they boast of it, simply because they have not Mary for their Mother.” (St. Louis De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary #30)
Protestants especially reject the intercession of the Saints, but all that can read the Bible of course know that this is a complete rejection of the Bible. We see an example in Revelation chapter 5 of saintly intercession in Heaven. “... elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8) In the Book of Revelation or Apocalypse chapter 6, we also see dead saints who were martyred for the true faith of Jesus Christ, asking God to act on earth, and pleading to God to revenge their blood: “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, how long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9-10) Notice that the souls of these dead martyrs cry out from underneath the altar. Since ancient times, the Catholic Church has placed the relics of martyrs underneath the altar. The fact that the voices of the martyrs come from under the altar – exactly where their relics are located in Catholic churches – is an interesting biblical confirmation of the Catholic and Biblical practice of relics. (Also see 2 Kings 2:8; 2 Kings 13:21; and Acts 19:12 for more biblical proof and passages of God’s power manifested though the relics of His holy departed or living servants.)
The next example we will look at comes from 1st Machabees chapter 5. This was a book which the Protestants removed from the Bible when they split from the Catholic Church. The comments given in the section on Purgatory in the book “The Bible Proves the Teachings of the Catholic Church” demonstrates that the Books of the Machabees are part of the true Old Testament. This is proven by the fact that the New Testament quotes from the Septuagint, which contains the Books of the Machabees and the 5 others which the Protestants reject. This passage concerns a vision of Onias, a high-priest who had died, “Now the vision was in this manner: Onias who had been high priest, a good and virtuous man, modest in his looks, gentle in his manners, and graceful in his speech, and who from a child was exercised in virtues, holding up his hands, prayed for all the people of the Jews: After this there appeared also another man… Then Onias answering… this is he that prayeth much for the people, and for all the holy city, Jeremias the prophet of God. Whereupon Jeremias stretched forth his right hand, and gave to Judas a sword of gold…” (2 Machabees 15:12) This fascinating passage (which was removed from the Protestant bible) relates the vision of the deceased high-priest Onias. After his death, he was seen holding out his hands and interceding for the Jews by his prayers. Onias also presents the deceased prophet Jeremias, who gives a sword of gold to Judas Machabeus. Judas Machabeus is not to be confused with the traitor of the New Testament, Judas Iscariot. This passage is, therefore, another clear proof of the intercession of deceased saints, and the effectiveness of their prayers.
And so, it is an established fact of Holy Scripture that the Saints help us through their prayers. However, in comparison to all the Angels and Saints in Heaven, The Blessed Virgin Mary is greater than all Angels and men combined, according to the testimony and the Word of Our Lord Himself, and that is why her intercessory power with God is so much more effective than prayers to other Saints or Angels. (Please also see the section, The Biblical Basis For Praying To Mary And For Catholic Teachings On Mary)