Family life – sacrificial love

Benjamin The Loving Life

Blessed John Paul II addressed families in his exhortation Familiaris Consortio. Last week I presented some quotes about the physical union of the couple in marriage, but that is only a part of their relationship, and not even the most important part. Love, in its essence, is a gift to the other person, and this means a gift of sacrifice. It is this self-sacrificing love that draws the couple into the mystery of salvation, because God’s love for us is most clearly revealed on the cross.

Family love is sacrificial

– 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.

– The communion between God and His people finds its definitive fulfilment in Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom who loves and gives Himself as the Savior of humanity, uniting it to Himself as His body.

– This revelation reaches its definitive fullness in the gift of love which the Word of God makes to humanity in assuming a human nature, and in the sacrifice which Jesus Christ makes of Himself on the Cross for His bride, the Church. In this sacrifice there is entirely revealed that plan which God has imprinted on the humanity of man and woman since their creation; the marriage of baptized persons thus becomes a real symbol of that new and eternal covenant sanctioned in the blood of Christ. The Spirit which the Lord pours forth gives a new heart, and renders man and woman capable of loving one another as Christ has loved us. Conjugal love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly ordained, conjugal charity, which is the proper and specific way in which the spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of Christ who gave Himself on the Cross.

– By virtue of the sacramentality of their marriage, spouses are bound to one another in the most profoundly indissoluble manner. Their belonging to each other is the real representation, by means of the sacramental sign, of the very relationship of Christ with the Church. Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.

– In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while leading the spouses to the reciprocal “knowledge” which makes them “one flesh,” does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person. Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother.

– When they become parents, spouses receive from God the gift of a new responsibility. Their parental love is called to become for the children the visible sign of the very love of God, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

– The human family, disunited by sin, is reconstituted in its unity by the redemptive power of the death and Resurrection of Christ. Christian marriage…constitutes the natural setting in which the human person is introduced into the great family of the Church.

The marvellous doctrine of the Trinity teaches that God, all by Himself, is not alone, but that God lives as a community of persons, Father, Son and Spirit, so perfectly united by love that there are not three Gods, but only one God. It is the Son, Jesus Christ, who initiates the Christian people into the mystery of God’s love by His death on the cross, giving His own body as a gift of love for us. Husband and wife, in their faithful and sacrificial love, become living images of the love between Christ and the Church. This love is also fruitful, and if God chooses to bless it, it expands, “incarnating” the love of the couple in living human beings, who are also, at the same time, created in the image of God and therefore a representation of God’s love.

The family, in its fruitful love between the persons, is the first “sketch” of the family of God, the Church. In fact, looking at the Church, with its fathers and consecrated sisters and brothers, we see that the Church is built from the same model as the family, only expanded to a world-wide scale and united under one Heavenly Father and one Blessed Virgin Mother. In God’s plan, the love of the parents for their children is their first taste of God’s love, and family life is the first experience of the communion that God has planned from all eternity for those who love Him. +

(next week: the mission of the family)