We know that the idea of marriage, as a way of holiness, is not new in your preaching. As far back as 1934, when you wrote 'Consideraciones Espirituales' you insisted on the fact that marriage should be seen as a vocation. But in this book and later in 'The Way', you also wrote that 'Marriage is for the soldiers and not for the General Staff of Christ's army.' Could you explain how these two points can be reconciled?
In the spirit and life of Opus Dei there has never been any difficulty in reconciling them. To begin with, it is well to remember that the greater excellence of celibacy, chosen for spiritual motives, is not a theological opinion of mine, but part of the Church's faith.
When I wrote those words back in the thirties, there was a tendency among Catholics, particularly in the sphere of day-to-day pastoral activity, to encourage the search for Christian perfection among young people only by making them appreciate the supernatural value of virginity, while neglecting to mention the value of marriage as a way of holiness.
In general, schools did not teach young people to see the true dignity of marriage. Even now it is quite common, in the retreats given to pupils during their last year at secondary school, to stress subjects related to a possible religious vocation rather than to a possible vocation to marriage. There are still some people, though they are gradually disappearing, who undervalue married life, giving young people the impression that it is something the Church simply tolerates, as if marriage precluded any serious striving for sanctity.
In Opus Dei we have always acted differently. While making clear the purpose and the excellence of apostolic celibacy, we have pointed out that marriage is a divine way on earth.
I am not afraid of human love that holy love of my parents which our Lord used to give me life. I bless this love with both hands. The partners are both the ministers and the matter of the Sacrament of Marriage, as the bread and wine are the matter of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. That's why I like all the songs about pure holy love, for in them I find, interwoven, both human and divine love. But, also, I always say that people who follow a vocation to apostolic celibacy are not old maids who do not understand or value love; on the contrary, their lives can only be explained in terms of this divine Love (I like to write it with a capital letter) which is the very essence of every Christian vocation.
There is nothing contradictory about being fully aware of the value of the vocation to marriage and understanding the greater excellence of the vocation to celibacy propter regnum caelorum 'for love of the kingdom of heaven' (Matt 19:12). I am convinced that any Christian who tries to know, accept and love the teaching of the Church, will understand perfectly how the two are compatible if he tries also to know, accept and love his own personal vocation. That is to say, if he has faith and lives by it.
When I wrote that marriage is for the 'soldiers', I only described what has happened always in the Church. As you know, the bishops who form the Episcopal College, which has the Pope as its head, and who govern with him the entire Church are elected from among those who live celibacy. The same is true in the Eastern Church, in which there are married priests. Furthermore, it can be easily understood and shown that those who are celibate are de facto freer of ties of affection and have greater freedom of movement to dedicate themselves permanently to conducting and supporting apostolic undertakings. This is also true in the lay apostolate. This is not to say that the rest of the laity cannot, or in fact do not, carry out a splendid apostolate and one of prime importance. It only means that there are different duties, different forms of dedication in Positions of diverse responsibility.
In an army and this is all the comparison was meant to express the soldiers are as necessary as the general staff and can be more heroic and merit more glory. In a word, there is a variety of tasks and all are necessary and worthy. What is really important is that each person should follow his own vocation. For each individual, the most perfect thing is, always and only, to do God's Will.
And so a Christian who seeks to sanctify himself in the married state and is conscious of the greatness of his own vocation, spontaneously feels a special veneration and deep affection towards those who are called to apostolic celibacy. When one of his children, by God's grace, sets out on this path, he truly rejoices and comes to love his own vocation to marriage even more because it has permitted him to offer the fruits of human love to Jesus Christ, who is the great Love of all men, married or celibate.