Family life – a vocation to love

Benjamin The Loving Life

Blessed John Paul II addressed families in his exhortation Familiaris Consortio. Reading his writings, you cannot help but recognize that this wisdom is too great to come from one person. Instead, the Pope is like a father who goes into the family wine cellar where the “new wine” has been aged for centuries. His genius is in knowing what is in the cellar, and having the talent to serve for his guests. Here are some quotes that deserve to be savored.

Marriage: a vocation to love

– God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.

– Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being ‘created in the image of God’.

– The decision of a man and a woman to marry in accordance with this divine plan, that is to say, the decision to commit by their irrevocable conjugal consent their whole lives in indissoluble love and unconditional fidelity, really involves, even if not in a fully conscious way, an attitude of profound obedience to the will of God, an attitude which cannot exist without God’s grace. They have thus already begun what is in a true and proper sense a journey towards salvation.

– As an incarnate spirit, that is a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to love in his unified totality. Love includes the human body, and the body is made a sharer in spiritual love. Consequently, sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal dimension, is present: if the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally.

– This totality which is required by conjugal love also corresponds to the demands of responsible fertility. This fertility is directed to the generation of a human being, and so by its nature it surpasses the purely biological order and involves a whole series of personal values. For the harmonious growth of these values a persevering and unified contribution by both parents is necessary. The only ‘place’ in which this self-giving in its whole truth is made possible is marriage. A person’s freedom, far from being restricted by this fidelity, is secured against every form of subjectivism or relativism and is made a sharer in creative Wisdom.

– When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as “arbiters” of the divine plan and they “manipulate” and degrade human sexuality – and with it themselves and their married partner – by altering its value of total self-giving. Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other.

– When, instead, by means of recourse to periods of infertility, the couple respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of human sexuality, they are acting as “ministers” of God’s plan and they ‘benefit from’ their sexuality according to the original dynamism of ‘total’ selfgiving, without manipulation or alteration.

– In the light of the experience of many couples and of the data provided by the different human sciences, theological reflection is able to perceive and is called to study further the difference…between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle…The choice of the natural rhythms involves accepting the cycle of the woman and thereby accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self-control. To accept the cycle and to enter into dialogue means to recognize both the spiritual and corporal character of conjugal communion and to live personal love with its requirement of fidelity.

– Education in love as self-giving is also the indispensable premise for parents called to give their children a clear and delicate sex education. Faced with a culture that largely reduces human sexuality to the level of something common place, since it interprets and lives it in a reductive and impoverished way by linking it solely with the body and with selfish pleasure, the educational service of parents must aim firmly at a training in the area of sex that is truly and fully personal: for sexuality is an enrichment of the whole person-body, emotions and soul-and it manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love.

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Beginning with the truth that God is love, we see that human beings, who are created in the image and likeness of God, are therefore created for love. We understand love, not as an emotion, but in its full strength as a gift of self. The Church recognizes two vocations where the self can be given in a total way: evangelical celibacy, which is a total gift of self to God, and marriage. What is unique about married love is the physical communion between the couple. Because of the union between body and soul, the soul is always involved in this physical act. Not understanding fully what we are doing, it is easy to be tempted to alter the act, engaging in a physical commitment without the spiritual commitment (as happens outside of marriage) or making the spiritual commitment but weakening the physical commitment (as happens when a married couple decides to contracept). In both cases, we are actually acting contrary to the union of our body with our soul, and at the same time, contrary to the reality of our partner as a person in his or her totality.

Finally, in order to be a loving act, the physical expression of love needs to be a gift to the other spouse, not a moment of taking. This means that the husband intends to please his wife, not himself, and the same on her side as well. Often, periods of abstinence in marriage are necessary for a couple to move beyond their natural attachment to their own pleasure and be more concerned about the spouse. In doing this, the couple becomes more free and more loving, and the more they love each other, the more they are able to bring their children into a community of love. +

(next week: sacrificial love)