Widows have always been a group of people that tug on my heartstrings. What is more tragic than a young husband or wife with small children who becomes a widow? Even an elderly person who wistfully talks about their deceased spouse seems condemned to a particularly cruel and fruitless existence. Elderly couples are endearing, but elderly widows seem painfully solitary.
One day, when commenting on this with my boyfriend, he replied, “No, widowhood is an interesting stage of life. They return to the dating period, only this time they are dating for eternity.” He got this interesting piece of information from a book he’s reading about marriage.
“In this way, the conjugal union is placed between two phases of “dating”: an initial phase (which we spoke about before) and a final phase, when you are alone again (due to the death of the companion) and in which you still feel indissolubly united to the one that accompanied you during your life.” (Translated from Do Casamento: Breve Catequese sobre o Matrimónio [Brief Catechesis on Marriage] by Antonio Sicari, p. 31)
How often I confuse the end goal of life with signs here on Earth! Catholic end times theology differs from other religions like Jehovah’s Witnesses, in which heaven will be on this world, in what seems to be a prolongation of earthly pleasures. Or Mormonism, which proudly promises that earthly marriages continue into heaven. In Catholic theology, when Jesus says “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven” (Mt 22:30), he means heaven is totally different from earth. Heaven is total communion with God and with one another, and marriage and celibacy point to that as two sides of the same coin. Marriage as a sign of what God’s love is like, communion between persons and fruitfulness, and celibacy as a sign that this isn’t the end: there is a heavenly wedding worth skipping the earthly wedding for, in order to start living it now. “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)
What a funny place widows take in all this. They aren’t married anymore: Catholic wedding vows make it clear that death does you part. They also aren’t religious or consecrated, although some might choose to become so. “There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows. And the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others. … This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church.” (St. Ambrose, quoted in CCC 2349)
I think widows’ solitude, just like celibates, reminds us that earthly marriage is just one side of the coin: we’re all individually destined for total communion with God. Their dependence and loneliness reminds us of the importance of community. Jewish tradition and Jesus were both very clear that widows are to be taken care of . How loving and present are we in the lives of widows close to us? In our increasingly disconnected and individualistic cultures, widows are a subject to be considered. Also, their sadness and grief reminds us that this life isn’t supposed to be heaven yet. One day, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain…” (Rev 21:4), but until then redemption and love must endure the cross and suffering. Finally, it’s especially their waiting and their longing that constitutes a great sign for us: we’re all waiting and longing. Heaven starts here but it’s definitely not here. Widows point us to what we should all be doing: waiting and dating for eternity.
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Julie-Rodriguez-1-e1319489646953.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Julie Rodrigues is a 25-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon, is currently teaching English and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.[/author_info] [/author]