Despite what a superficial look at our second reading this weekend might suggest, Paul is not being anti-marriage. Paul is following on from his earlier remarks, quoted in last Sunday’s second reading, to the effect that “the appointed time has grown short” and “the present form of this world is passing away.” In the light of this, Paul is advising the Corinthians to be living for an imminent return of Jesus, not with a “business-as-usual” attitude. He believed that the normal responsibilities of caring for a wife and family could cause anxieties and compromise the attention and focus one might otherwise give to God. Why be intent on such things if Jesus would be returning before the kids were even old enough to go to school? Had Paul known that the second coming was not so imminent, would he have been less emphatic in his encouragement to remain single? Maybe.
Nonetheless, there is still great value to be had from Paul’s comments. Despite the fact that the greater majority of people in our world no longer seem to be at all concerned about the possibility of Christ’s return at the end of time to bring the “present form of this world” to a definitive end, it is a matter of clear Catholic Christian belief that this will happen. Simply put, there are simply too many references to Christ’s return in the New Testament, not least on Christ’s own lips, to brush the matter aside as unimportant. The Church dedicates an entire season, that of Advent, to reminding us of Christs final coming lest we forget and we become immersed in the delights and allures of this world, and forget that “the present form of this world” is due to pass away one day. “The Son of Man is coming at a time you do not expect” is a major theme of some of Jesus’ most important teaching.
St Paul urges us to “fix your eyes on things above” in his letter to the Colossians 3:1 because your true life, he says, is “hidden with Christ in God, and when Christ is revealed, you will be revealed in all your glory” (ibid 3:3). In his letter to the Philippians, he asserts that we are “citizens of heaven,” which means that, while we are on earth, we are actually exiled from our true and lasting home. Every death we read about, every funeral we attend, every sick person we visit, reminds us of the truth that we are simply passing through this life on the way to the next one. But how we live this life here on earth, either completely for oneself or for others, will determine where we will live in the world to come, hell or heaven.