Why does St. Paul say married people are less likely to be devout?

Lord, have mercy, I’m ’bout to rant against Paul the Apostle.

On Friday, my spiritual director sends me a text message… a warning:

“The verse” is our second reading this weekend.

As our merciful Lord would have it, I’m the lucky lector who gets to read (UPDATE: staying home thanks to a food allergy) this delightful passage, 1 Cor. 7:s2-35:

Brothers and sisters:
I should like you to be free of anxieties.
An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord,
how he may please the Lord.
But a married man is anxious about the things of the world,
how he may please his wife, and he is divided.
An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord,
so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.
A married woman, on the other hand,
is anxious about the things of the world,
how she may please her husband.
I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

Listen here, Saint Paul: I know that you thought the world was ending pretty soon, but your words are still ringing in our ears almost 2,000 years later. For about 10 years of my life, I’ve wrestled with this passage of Holy Scripture.

When I was a teenager discerning whether religious sisterhood was my calling, I would sit on the floor in my bedroom, my back leaning against the dresser, staring at this passage in my open Bible.  Even before this passage entered my life, I had plans to stay single.  (Am I the only girl who never planned a wedding or dreamed of a handsome prince?)  After reading this particular passage, I felt that I was evidence for a vocation to religious life.  After all: How could I, a God-fearing young woman, possibly want to get married and risk becoming distracted from the Lord?

Since those contemplative sessions at my dresser, God has proven that His plan rules; I’m married.  I couldn’t possibly imagine being my utmost self without being married to my husband.  Yet, this Scripture seems to stand at the gates of Heaven and wag its finger at me: “All the single ladies (are more devout)!”

St. Paul, there’s no doubt that you’re a great man of God.  You said you wanted your spiritual children to live without anxiety.  I get that; I’ve got anxieties.  But the thing is: I’ve got anxieties about the things of the world AND the things of God.

There are clear reasons why I would be more anxious about worldly things vs. an unmarried virgin, who shares material things with her community.  I get that.

But I wish your words didn’t seem to say that I am LESS likely to seek the path to Heaven.  I wish your words didn’t seem to scoff at my ability to live a holy life.  (It’s tough already!)  As a matter of fact, my husband and our marriage pour graces on me that draw me closer and closer to salvation…

…and I don’t see that happening as quickly, or as tenderly, in an alternate universe wherein I’m single.

I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

I feel like this is a cop-out, St. Paul.  You’re saying that I should take your advice and be aware that I’m going to be anxious about material things whilst married?  How is this breaking news?  Instead, I feel like you’re telling me that I’m more likely to fail at life.  I respectfully disagree.  Marriage is absurdly helpful to my spiritual life.

A couple of months ago, I stopped wrestling with this passage, because I realized that it was not going to change, or suddenly fly off the pages of Bibles internationally.  I try to give St. Paul the benefit of the doubt, and keep climbing the stairway to Heaven.

(Did you like that last reference? Yes, irony. Stay classy, my friends.)

"Marriage of the Virgin" by Pietro Perugino, 1504.
“Marriage of the Virgin” by Pietro Perugino, 1504.
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