What does it mean to be mature?
Physically it means the capacity to bear fruit; to produce offspring. This is the high point of physical development.
On the level of basic human development, the level of human virtue and adulthood; we can say that we have really become an adult when we are ready to have children, to raise a family. We cease being children when we are ready to take on the level of commitment necessary to support a marriage, children, and family. We remain a child in so far as we resist those types of challenges. We remain underdeveloped.
But what is spiritual maturity? What does it mean to be “spiritual,” to be a Saint?” This is something different; and I would propose that spiritual maturity takes human and physical maturity and perfects it. I would propose that that spiritual maturity is identified by the capacity to take our children and offer them to God.
In the Old Testament this is reflected to us in the story of Abraham who took his son to be sacrificed. In the book of Exodus it is by the redemption of the first born that the people are saved. In the Gospels Jesus states that anyone who would not leave wife and children, father and mother, for his sake was not worthy of him. The theme is repeated at various points in scripture; all must be offered for it to be fulfilled, even your children.
This is different from indifferentism. When I was a seminarian one of the interview questions we were asked was “Would you be willing to have a Family?” The question was meant to confirm our human maturity. We needed to embrace human maturity, the universal call to have a family, before we could turn it into a gift. Celibacy does not bear fruit if it springs from a lack of willingness to have a family; if it is seen as a way to stay a bachelor or be perpetually juvenile.
But this does not only apply to those who make perpetual vows of chastity. It applies to everyone. Some parents do this when they see their child enter religious life or the army. Others offer up them up when their children take rebellious ways and they have to entrust their path to God. Still others are invited to do so through infertility and illness. Those in the single life offer them up as they embrace chastity and wait upon the Lord. The invitation comes in various forms. All must be offered to God.
This is fundamentally different from spiritual maturity expressed as “freedom.” Freedom from kids, freedom from limits, freedom from commitment; so that an individual can get in touch with their “true self” their real “spirit” and expression and therefore reach their “true potential” (maturity). This vision of spiritual maturity places an individual in a state of perpetual adolescence. This is where religious life is different from the couple who simply “doesn’t want to have children” so that they can enjoy life. This is escapism. True spiritual maturity is the claiming of one’s paternity and offering it to God.