Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 26 No 10 (November 2013), p. 12
St Paul’s linking of the one flesh union of the man and the woman is the mirror of Christ as bridegroom and the Church as his bride.
It is the conjugal union, or marriage act, when pure and truthful in its entirety, that is clearly illuminated by God and seen as the continuation of His own work and the ecstasy with which He created.
It is in the seeing of the marital act in the light of the Holy Spirit that the “sacramentality” of marriage is clearly visible.
The body is a sacrament because it makes visible the invisible, just as Jesus, in taking on a human flesh (body), made God visible for us, so the body makes visible what is invisible and spiritual.
The language of the body is always meant to be the language of love and truth, because the Nephesh (the Hebrew word for the breath of God) is divine.
The body is infused with the language of love with the Nephesh.
To protect marriage from false love these are the needs: free, fruitful, faithful – total.
When the minister asks at the covenant-making moment, “Do you come freely, without reservation, will you be faithful, will you be fruitful (accept children),” and the answer is Yes, then there is a fulfilment of all the requirements: free, fruitful, faithful, total – the promises and vows.
Then there is the visible sign of the marriage contract. That is the sign of covenant. The visible sign.
This sign of covenant is followed by the (invisible) private sign at the consummation of marriage. Intercourse enfleshes what has been voiced, signed and promised, and this then is where men and women incarnate divine love.
Every time couples make love, there is a renewal of covenant promises to be faithful, fruitful, whole, and free.
With the body the couple answer yes to the promises made.
In the acceptance of “yes” the couple fulfils the faithful, free, fruitful and total requirements of covenant stipulations which continue to unfold and become enriched throughout life and continue to unfold the great mystery which is life.
Do pornography, masturbation, homosexual acts, fornication acts fulfil the four requirements of agape love? No. And does contraception fulfil the requirement of agape love or sacramental love? No because contraception blocks all the four requirements.
Whenever the marital act is divorced from its primary orientation (life) it becomes confused and then it no longer becomes necessary to marry. This we see clearly in a society that we have today in which heterosexual couples “live together” rather than make a commitment for life. And we have homosexual couples demanding recognition as validly composed couples and demanding adoption and marriage recognition rights.
The homosexual coupling and the emergence of the demands for recognition have happened because sexuality has been divorced from its primary orientation – life. The homosexual demand for recognition of coupling as marriage covenant is a caricature of the original covenant of marriage. This coupling, no matter how sincere, cannot fulfil the four requirements, most of all “fruitfulness.”
Where marriage was originally intended to demonstrate or make visible the creative life of God, in its faithfulness, fruitfulness, fullness and freedom, the homosexual/lesbian sexual act is devoid of this creativity: it is always inclined towards the “me” and not the “other”. Indeed it is the antithesis of all that is life-giving and life-continuing as instruments of God.
Culture of death
Today, we have open fornication, with children as young as 11 engaging in intercourse and aborting as young as 12 years. We have abortion as a “right”, not even if needed but as a “right” (which in itself is a perversion of what is good and holy); and in holocaust proportions.
What got us to this culture of death? The contraceptive pill.
Until 1930 all Christian denominations stood together against the sterilising of the marital act. Then in 1930, at the UK Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Church broke away from the previous 2,000 years of common belief about the sacredness of the marital act, and decided that contraception within marriage for the spacing of children was acceptable. This set in motion the sexual revolution. It slowly led to the drug-confused 60s and was fuel to speed this revolution.
In 1968 Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life). This encyclical attempted to curb the sexual revolution and sought to convince Catholics that it is very sinful to contracept, for this breaks the covenant promises made, and opens the doorway for marriage to be destabilised. If could further lead males to lose respect for their spouses, seeing them as ones to be used (HV, 17).
When contracepting, the body is confused and speaks not the language of truth with its orientation towards “life” but rather a language of falsehood with its orientation towards “lust”. And the human vocation of co-operation with God in bringing forth new life and a new future, is dimmed (HV, 7). The vocation to discover the mystery of life is also dimmed.
Contraception proclaims that God is not life-giving. It is a repetition of the lie spoken by the father of lies (Gen: 3:5) and its death-dealing. With contraception there is no life, only sterility, whereas God is life-giving Love (Ps 103). Contraception is anti-life and anti-love and does violence to the design of the body. The violence may then be seen in illness, cancers which relate to life areas of the body, mental health issues (guilt), and in the disrespect shown to the human body in the demands that are made of it, including abortion because we have, not a child, but cells.
Humanae Vitae was written for the whole Church and all “sons and daughters” (humanity) with the highest ideal in mind. It was something for all humanity to aspire to, to believe and live out. It pleads with the Almighty to help achieve this excellent love.
If Humanae Vitae has proven an impossibility for most women, perhaps the answer to the problem is that women thought it was written for them alone (tablet once a day) and not for both spouses.
Humanae Vitae understood and practised by the woman alone cannot possibly work, nor when practised alone by the male, because it is a document for the married couple. It is about their intimacy, love and co-operation as well as a knowledge and respect and love for each other’s body.
When this is accomplished then Humane Vitae will make sense. Good will and obedience amongst the Catholic couple population are the most difficult aspects of Humanae Vitae, not the document itself. There needs to be an exegesis, then a promulgation of the document by couples themselves who believe, practise, and love the document.
“Thus there comes to be included in the vast pattern of the vocation of the laity a new and most noteworthy form of the apostolate of like to like: it is married couples themselves who become apostles and guides to other married couples” (HV, 26). This is why I think that Humanae Vitae has been short-changed; because we waited for priests (who are meant to be celibate) to preach on it. Couples who liveHumanae Vitae are the best teachers.
Humanae Vitae needs to be made a marriage preparation priority but in a language understood by the marrying couples, not to frighten them but to help them see the glory that God is calling them to share in.
The Church has always seen human sexuality as being expressive of the greatness and grandeur of human love which is holy and sanctifying. However, there has to be a willingness (especially in this over-sexualised milieu) to study this very important topic, to discover what the real meaning and truth of human sexuality are and to glimpse the glory inherent in it; but also to glimpse the potential ugliness, if abused.
It is interesting that God chose the conjugal act in order to show His intention for the creation of a new human being. That is how holy it’s meant to be. Yet, today’s understanding about sexuality is so different that the creative work (conception) of God is not seen as holy, but disposable at will in millions upon millions of abortions.