MARRIAGE PREPARATION COURSE
The Spirituality of Marriage
I. THE APPROACH
"Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the Church ... So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies."
How marvelous, then sublime and unique, is the union of husband and wife in a marriage that is truly Christian) How inspiring its challenge to mould their union to the likeness of their Divine Model. How almost incredible this invitation to share ever more deeply the copious spiritual and earthly fruits of their union by drawing ever closer the bonds of their own intimate resemblance to the loving union of Christ with His Church.
The first Christians were keenly aware of this resemblance, and in their lives as in their words, they proclaimed it with an ardor and a fervor as inspired as those of St. Paul. They willingly accorded the special respect due to virginity but they did not hesitate to proclaim as well their profound conviction that Christian marriage likewise provides a means of moulding oneself according to the Model, Christ.
We, in this twentieth century, need to return to the early concept of Christian marriage. We must, in doing so, discard the prevalent false notion that holiness of life is something for priests and religious only, that these have a monopoly on perfection and "no others need apply." We must also get rid of that other wrong idea that marriage is a state of life reserved for those who are incapable of great holiness, or for those who would satisfy themselves with a sort of mediocre perfection bordering on lukewarmness. Such is not the case! On the contrary, Christian marriage as a way of life is a definite means through which to become perfect, a way of life wherein extraordinary virtues can be developed and practiced with untold blessings and joy.
It is an undeniable fact that among the great tragedies of our day are the false attitudes, the false sets of values, that have grown up around the idea of marriage. In the face of the widespread onslaught against the very foundations of the family, the true Christian ideal of marriage has been largely forgotten.
However, the modern crusade of the flesh, while it has not completely obliterated the true ideal of Christian marriage, has unfortunately surrounded it to a very great extent with many false, materialistic ideas. It is the purpose of this lesson to present the true, Christian ideal of marriage. As we proceed, it will become increasingly obvious how very far short of this sublime ideal is the subversive, sex centered attitude of so many novelists, etc.
The modern counterparts of St. Paul still stand in the forefront of the present-day battle against diabolical attitudes towards marriage. Pope Leo XIIIís encyclical "Arcanum", presenting anew the Christian ideal of marriage, has been supplemented within the very recent past by Pope Pius XIís clear, straightforward encyclical letter "Casti Connubii." His successor, Pope Pius XII, regularly in his public audiences impresses upon his hearers the Christian ideal, the true ideal of marriage, in an earnest attempt to help them realize the only attitude that can bring true happiness and joy. And yet it is discouraging to find that despite these efforts so many, even among our more devout Catholics, know so little concerning the Churchís teachings on this subject; so many among those already married and among those planning marriage have such vague ideas concerning this state that their condition is pathetic. Their union that might have started with promise of great holiness and consequent great happiness, settles down into a drab, routine, prosaic relationship. Something is lacking, and invariably that something is a full realization of the sublimity of the state to which they have been called.
While it is indeed surprising that such a situation does exist, it is even more surprising that there are some who, calling themselves Catholics, nevertheless lack the courage to base their attitude towards marriage on Godís teaching as revealed in the Gospels. It is a sad commentary on the spiritual life of these individuals that they allow themselves to be swayed into weak compliance with lust laden co-workers, movies, novels or magazines. Too often; they know and understand little or nothing of the beauty of Christian marriage ... nor will they make any attempt to know or understand the pattern God had in mind when He instituted this great sacrament. To them the beautiful is silly and impractical, the sublime is subject-matter for ridicule, Christian marriage is something belonging to an outdated era with no application to our fast-moving, modern way of life. To them, marriage is something of a convenient, sentimental union to be classed with pleasant personality, graceful, correct manners, handsome smiling features, and/or soap, toothpaste and razor blade advertisements.
Even we who are serious and courageous enough to studiously prepare for happy marriage according to sound Christian teaching, do sometimes feel a tinge of reticence in the face of the overwhelming, scintillating mass of pagan ideas that are thrown at us from every side. But what of those who do not bother to make any preparation whatsoever? Reluctantly or freely, with little or no protest against these pagan ideas, they permit their Christian heritage to slip through their fingers, with the inevitable result that they find themselves unhappy, aimless, and bitter, in a state of useless confusion.
To understand and appreciate all the real beauty and grandeur of marriage, we must strive to see it through the eyes of Christ, to see it from His point of view, in its relationship to God. We must strive to acquire His attitude and outlook towards marriage. We must look to Christ to learn how marriage acquires its spiritual values, and how through Him every intimate detail of married life assumes all the joy and happiness and fullness of life intended for this sacred state. It is this outlook on marriage that we now seek to re-establish.
II. THE HOLY STATE OF MATRIMONY
1) THE A.B.C.ís OF MARRIAGEMarriage belongs completely to God. It is something entirely in His hands. It Is His. Once we understand this, we possess the first essential fact to be realized concerning the nature of marriage. Like the priesthood, marriage has been instituted by God. It is, then, His concern primarily, and this concern of His takes priority over any and all human interests that enter into it. Seen and appreciated from this point of view, it becomes a state designed by God to lead the individual members of the family to holiness of life. It is a state wherein the divine plan takes full prece≠dence over all human elements. Let us repeat and emphasize: Marriage is primarily ruled by God, to the extent that Godís jurisdiction is supreme.
2) MISTAKEN NOTIONS: CONSEQUENCES In the strict sense of the phrase, "to have a vocation" means that one has a "call" to enter the priesthood or the religious life. Nevertheless, marriage is also a call issued to us by God to embrace this way of life as the state in which we are to mould our characters to become living replicas of Christ, and thus to assure our eternal happiness.
Christian marriage is, therefore, not something to be looked down upon as a concession to those who are not called to the exalted dignity of the priesthood or of the religious life. It is not something merely tolerated or permitted. Nor is it a casual semi-disinterested business which we undertake and carry through solely on our own initiative and with no deeper significance than three meals a day, a roof over our heads, and a family to feed and clothe until they, in turn, move out into the working world. It is, far beyond all this, a way of life designated for us by God as the means of our salvation.
It is not difficult to explain why so many false notions exist today. Marriage has been belittled. It is readily understood that the sacrifices and renunciations required in the priesthood and the religious life imply the need of a special call to such arduous self-denial. But, on the other hand, the false idea is too prevalent that marriage is simply a charming, easy way of life in which the passions are legitimately freed of all irksome restraining. Under such an utterly erroneous impression, we lose sight of Godís role in the matter. We too easily forget that marriage is Godís business; we in the inferior positions strive to wrest the control from His hands.
Obviously, such an error can lead only to grave results. The moment we take marriage away from God and place it under the unrestricted control of man, we open the door to serious abuses. Denying that God has any lawful interest or authority over marriage, the next step, logically, is to deny that God has any right to impose any conditions. This false and foolish notion finds considerable support from undisciplined passions when Godís conditions might mean interfering with some pleasures we had planned for ourselves.
From the moment that a married couple eject God from His position as Supreme Authority over their lives, we can mark the beginning of the degradation of marriage in their sight. Henceforth, each becomes to the other merely a source of selfish pleasure and, when for one reason or another, this is disrupted or lost entirely, it results generally in seeking these same satisfactions through disloyalties away from home.
When pleasure alone is sought, when sacrifices and self-discipline are discarded as something foreign to married life, there is no place left then for spiritual perfection in marriage, no matter how well-matched, how prosperous you are, or how good your wistful, wishful thinking may be. The very pretence that you cannot live according to Godís conditions and that you must remodel them to suit your own desires is an admission that from the very start you are unwilling to strive towards any level of virtue and purity. In fact, such an attitude kills at the outset any incentive to live holily because it destroys both your basic self-respect and the honest pride you should have towards your state of life.
3) THROUGH GODíS EYES There is a fundamental truth that must be recognized: Marriage, like everything else in life, comes from God. Marriage is a call ... but how does God give this call? Unlike the priesthood or the religious life, marriage does not require a special call. To put it simply, God intends marriage as the usual way of life. But, let us repeat: marriage is a state willed for us by God for our sanctification. Furthermore, this growth in holiness of living is not only possible but is also necessary even though the means of achieving it do differ from those of the religious life.
We know with Divine certitude that it is possible for us to sanctify ourselves in any state of life. In married life, this objective is gained through the union of the husband and wife, a union in which there must be complete submission on both parts to the conditions of Matrimony as established by God.
a) CHILDREN COME FROM GOD It was God Himself who made the sexes when He created the first man and the first woman. He made them different sexes so that one would complete the other in a project that He Himself willed should be accomplished.
In the first lines of the Bible, we read how God created man to His own "image and likeness," that He created "male and female" after which He blessed them both, commanding them to bear fruit: "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it ..." Obviously, when God created and blessed man and woman, He wanted them to cooperate with Him in the propagation of the human race.
In this project of creating human beings to fill the earth, God associates the married couple with Himself and makes them co-creators. He calls upon parents to cooperate fully, soul and body, in order to form a new body. To Himself He reserves the power to create a human soul and infuse it into the body that they have prepared. In performing this function, they imitate the power of God, even borrow that power, working in intimate cooperation with Him, associating themselves with Him, and placing themselves com≠pletely at His service. What then of parents who refuse to cooperate with God their Creator!
"The parents imitate!" In human procreation, the parents not only give themselves over to serve the will of God, but their action imitates the action of God. Did not God the Father beget the Son, equal to Him in all respects and His own perfect image? However, the fruit of the Divine generation, the Son, is far superior to the offspring of human generation.
The creative act of human parents only imperfectly resembles that Divine generation which it imitates; nevertheless, this human act must follow from a decision of the will which has been motivated by love. Otherwise it would resemble only the mating of animals.
Here we have the crux of the whole question: Which order shall prevail in establishing the pattern of marriage? Shall we evaluate marriage according to the standards of Godís supernatural point of view, OR according to the chaotic plan that mortal man has tried to substitute in order to cater to unbridled instincts ?
There can be neither hesitation nor doubt in our mind about the answer to that question when we see marriage in the light of our Faith. Perceiving its full value, seeing all the glory that God intends marriage to have, we realize how noble and ennobling is this role that God has assigned to man and woman.
b) THE MARRIAGE STATE COMES FROM GOD In order to appreciate the full scope of the Divine Plan for marriage, we must read on in Holy Scripture. Here we find that God created woman to be a helpmate for man, a "help like unto himself." Helpmate! Companion! Hers, then, is to be no mere status of some sort of assistant-reproducer, with no further nor higher purpose in life! Her purpose is not merely for the gift of herself to her husband in the short-lived act of procreation. To place such limits on the role of womankind would be to deny her true essential dignity. To restrict her value in such a way would be to lower her worth to a point comparable to that of a mere animal in the mating process. It is a most unfair, most unjust evaluation of the very prominent part assigned to her as companion and helpmate.
It is only in Godís Plan that we discover how truly exalted and inspiring is her rightful status : "A man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh." Two in one flesh forever. Two beings united forever, each giving to the other constant, undivided love, each complementing the other, merging his or her personality in that of the other, finding ever-increasing joy and fulfillment in their union together as, day by day, they mould their life to reflect ever more clearly and perfectly the image of Christ Who dwells in their hearts and home.
Godís Plan for marriage includes, therefore, for both husband and wife much more than just the short-lived procreative act. Marriage, according to His Plan, is a complete way of life that establishes a permanent bond between the two spouses, a bond so sacred that, once it has been contracted and sealed, no man-made law can dissolve it: "What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." It is a way of life richly laden with happiness for the couple who dedicate their lives to each other for the purpose of constantly helping and encouraging the other to rise to greater summits of holiness. In these lofty aspirations and because of them, the souls of the contracting parties are joined and knit together.
4) MATRIMONY: A SACRAMENT INSTITUTED BY GOD As a natural contract, marriage is the act of mutual consent by which a man and woman give to each other the right to sexual relations and to the other normal features of married life: living together, and cooperating to meet their common needs and interests. In the Old Law, this natural contract of marriage was incapable of giving grace to the contracting parties, even though this natural marriage belonged entirely to God for the fulfillment of His plan : "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth."
When, however, Our Lord came to earth, He came "for our sakes," not only to bring forgiveness to men of good will, but also to lead men to a share in the peace, the joy and harmony of heaven while still bound to earth. To accomplish this purpose, He instituted the seven sacra≠ments as the channels of His grace. "A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." A simple explanation may help to clarify this further: John the Baptist poured water on those who came to him. Nevertheless, this action on his part was incapable of cleansing his penitents from sin or of giving them grace. On the other hand, when Our Lord decreed that the pouring of water and the saying of certain words should be able to cleanse the soul from sin and bestow grace on it, He merely took a practice that already existed and made it a sacrament. Christ simply took the outward sign that already existed (the actions through which John baptized), and empowered it to give grace, in this way instituting the sacrament of Baptism.
In instituting the sacrament of Matrimony, Christ simply took the natural contract of the Old Law and made the sacrament identical with the natural contract. Henceforth, the very act of mutual consent by which a Christian man and woman become husband and wife became capable of giving them grace, in this way constituting the sacrament of Matrimony.
Furthermore, the action of baptizing a person requires only a few moments. The state of being a baptized person does not end with the pouring of the water and the utterance of the words. On the contrary, the sacramental state has scarcely just begun. Nor can the sacrament be repealed. Once baptized, the person is forever afterwards a baptized person.
The same distinction applies for Matrimony. Whereas the sacrament itself consists of the mutual consent expressed in the marriage vows during the ceremony (a transitory act that requires but a few moments on their wedding day), the sacramental state is the married life, the permanent, indissoluble union resulting from the first consent. It is a state that God intends to endure "until death do us part." This state of being married is always under the influence of the sacrament of Matrimony since Matrimony, like each of the other sacraments, gives a special grace, called sacramental grace, which helps one to carry out the particular purpose of that sacrament. Thus, this state is called the sacramental state since the effect of the sacrament continues and endures after it has been conferred.
Marriage belongs to God, therefore, in a very special way. We know that Christ is particularly solicitous about marriage: He performed the first miracle of His public life at the marriage feast at Cana. Openly and sternly He condemned polygamy and the Jewish custom of putting away the wife because of barrenness or adultery. There is no mistaking the meaning of His solemn warning: "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder." God intends to have full authority over marriage. The more you conform your attitude and actions to Godís plan in instituting marriage, to the plan of Christ who made it a Sacrament leading to perfection, the more you will come to know and enjoy the greatness of your state, and the less likely will you be to yield in times of temptation to abandon what you know is precious and eternal.
a) MARRIED COUPLE: CO-WORKERS WITH GOD The sacramental dignity of Christian marriage greatly elevates it above the merely natural contract. In addition, the couple are drawn still closer to God by the very fact that they, husband and wife, are themselves the ministers of their own sacrament. each giving it to the other through their spoken "I will." In this way they are themselves the instruments and servants of God. This act, this intimate cooperation with Him, is essential to the validity of the sacrament. A would be wrong to think that the sacrament consists of the blessing given by the priest during the marriage ceremony. Once again we repeat: the sacrament consists in the mutual consent expressed by each as the one gives and the other receives the sacrament.
A sacrament of itself produces grace in the soul of the person who receives it. It follows, therefore, that from the moment the couple accept the marriage state, from that moment until death intervenes, each is a co-worker with God in dispensing the grace of the sacrament to the other, the husband to the wife, the wife to the husband.
b) MARRIED COUPLE: IMITATORS OF CHRIST Not only does Christ want to assure Himself that the couple will cooperate with Him in dispensing this grace, each for the other, but He desires as well that their consent and sacramental union be a living replica of what He is Himself ... and here we touch upon the meaning and the spiritual vitality of the sacrament of marriage
In all Christian tradition, beginning with St. Paul, Christian marriage has always been regarded as being a profound, spiritual reality, modeled upon the union of Christ with His Church. In order to grasp a little of the beauty and splendor that is Christian marriage, we must therefore understand better the deep mystery of the union of Christ with the Church, and see therein the perfect love which should be typical of two in one flesh. Christ came on earth only for His church, the society that He wished to found; as soon as founded, the Churchís only concern henceforth was for Christ, her Master: Christ gives Himself entirely and dies for the Church; the Church suffers and is persecuted constantly in order to win more souls for Christ, souls in which, and through which, Christ continues to live on earth. A union as intimate, a fusion of hearts as complete, an affection as mutual, exclusive, and durable as Christís for His Church and the Churchís for Christ, is the model God intended for marriage when He raised it to the dignity of a sacrament. Consequently, Christian couples should cultivate in their own life this intimacy of union and defend it against anything which threatens to undermine it. Any marriage that lacks this Christian ideal will lack the most precious and lofty quality of all for unless we live according to Godís plan for us, bringing this ideal into practical, everyday application in our lives, we flounder helplessly around in the midst of unending confusion and frustration.
5) GODíS CALL WITHIN MARRIAGE Later on, we shall discuss at greater length the very special graces contained in the sacrament of marriage. At this stage, we have considered the sacrament enough to have reached a conclusion of primary importance for everyone wishing to cultivate the Christian attitude towards marriage. The conclusion is this: Marriage is a state which in itself is holy. It is a great means, established by God to lead us to that particular degree of perfection which He requires of each ore of us: "Be ye therefore perfect." Thus is exploded the old prejudice that marriage and holiness cannot be combined. On the contrary, married life is meant to be truly sanctifying. It is no mere plaything of caprice or passion. Even those who enter marriage without realizing that it is a sanctifying way of life are, nevertheless, unknowingly obeying Godís commands. Of course, it is much better if we have a clear understanding of Godís Plan for us since such a knowledge renders it easier for us to fulfill more perfectly the specific role that God designates for each of us in our own particular vocation. Such a realization and appreciation of the workings of Providence in our lives not only helps us to conform to the pattern of life we have chosen but also helps to outline and clarify the pattern itself. Nevertheless, whether we are aware of it or not, Godís Plan is ever real and actively at work.
Marriage and virginity are not to be considered as being on the same footing, however. The celibate who willingly takes a vow of celibacy making it a fixed way of life, differs from the married person by the very special renunciations which he makes with the help of supernatural love. In conjugal life also there is place for supernatural love, and it is to be found in that mutual love of husband and wife that is modeled upon the mutual love of Christ and His Church. Marriage also demands renunciations, and the practice of virtue in marriage calls for a strong, heroic soul, capable of great sacrifice. In every way it stimulates the couple to self-improvement. There is absolutely no concession made to slackness or bad habits.
To sum up: Marriage provides a complete and admirable way to mould our characters in the image and likeness of Christ, our Model. It can be a normal, gradual way to become Christ like. Generally speaking, perfection in the married state will not be found in substituting the duties and habits proper to other holy states, (see lesson No. 3, page 13) such as those of the religious life. The means employed for sanctification in marriage are proper to marriage. But they are worthy of commendation and can lead us to the summit of holy living by making us conform our daily life to the Divine Will, doing each moment of the day what God wants of us at that time, complying faithfully with the duties of married life. These duties are made known in the terms of the marriage contract. We shall deal with them immediately and more fully.
III. FAITHFULNESS TO THE MARRIAGE STATE
1) PRIDE IN ONEíS STATEA person who is sincerely proud of his state of life, gives his best efforts to achieve success in that state. It is understood, of course, that we speak of honest Christian pride.
This Christian pride is based primarily on the conviction that the marriage contract admits us to a way of life which God Himself has willed to be a means of sanctification for us. The very fact that the true purpose of marriage is not to alienate us from God, but rather is to draw us closer to Him, dispels all doubt about the possibility of attaining holiness in married life.
When we realize how keenly God is concerned about marriage, we can no longer consider it as something frivolous or indifferent, nor as something concerned with mediocrity. When God goes to the extent of making marriage, already holy in itself, a sacrament of the Christian faith, it is only because He intends it to be a source of grace and holiness for both husband and wife.
Since marriage is therefore a holy state, both partners must be convinced of its greatness if they are to really understand anything about their state. They must be firmly convinced that, in every respect, it is noble and sanctifying, that everything in it is based on a plan that bears the signature and seal -of God Himself, that it is a means designated by Him to lead His co-workers to the highest pinnacles of perfection.
2) CERTAINTY OF THE HOLINESS OF ONEíS STATE If we compare the marriage state with the religious state, we must concede that the latter is the superior inasmuch as it provides special means for a direct approach to God. For each of us, however, our approach to God must be made in the particular vocation we choose for ourselves.
Even before we first consider becoming engaged, it is imperative that we give serious thought to the question: "Will marriage be for me a means of becoming holy?" Each individual case must be weighed on its own particular merits since what would be excellent for one might produce great difficulties and dangers for another.
For those who have entered upon married life, it is quite unnecessary to seek elsewhere the means of salvation and sanctification. Nor need they, after marriage, look back with regret upon the step they have taken. Constantly they have right at hand everything necessary to achieve their sanctification.
Sanctity constantly at hand! That is something to remember. It means that marriage is in itself a way to become perfect, to develop oneís spiritual life to the point where it is the perfect likeness of what God wants of us. This conformity with Godís will (the secret of sanctity) is to be found in marriage by fulfilling the conditions of marriage: the loyal cohabitation of husband and wife, their unstinted loving acts of helpfulness towards each other, the procreation and education of children. These are the things that properly belong to married life. These are the essentials. They are, for married couples, the way to sanctity and happiness.
3) RESPECT FOR ONEíS STATE It is, of course, understood that all this presupposes an earnest holy respect for Godís will. It presupposes also that constant, careful attention will be given to Godís will as an assurance that the marriage will be lived exactly according to Godís plan for it. This presupposes further that we regard it as a goal over and above our selves, as something to which we devote the service of our entire being.
To repeat: in marriage as in all else, God is the ruler. His will is our law. Only under His regime does marriage become exalted, sanctified, and a source of joy.
If, on the contrary, we force marriage to serve our own purposes, using it to satisfy our own selfish pleasures (and thereby trample on the sacrament, hindering it from achieving its purpose) everything of the contrary results: We drag along in a sorry state of sin; peace of soul is gnawed away by trouble and disturbance, mutual confidence disintegrates, and harmony disappears. Even temporal punishments descend upon ourselves and upon our home. A marriage that mocks its call to sublime living is, in a sense, a blasphemy, a mockery of the model union of Christ and the Church, and becomes an instrument of temporal and eternal misery and rebuke.
There is, in fact, only one way to achieve your beautiful ideal: Be honest with God, live according to His plan for you, by respecting from the profoundest depths of your heart and soul, the holy things He is entrusting to your care:
4) SAY "YES" TO LIFE Respect for life is the very first concern of marriage. To parents God has given a wonderful power and ability to bestow human life on another being. Please note this carefully Godís chief purpose in calling men and women to unite in marriage, giving to each privileges and rights over the body of the other, is that they propagate life, that they create other beings.
God intends that the use of this privilege shall produce pleasure in the senses of the married couple. This pleasure is normal and permissible, a powerful instrument in streng≠thening the marriage bond. It is, however, a pleasure to be taken within the limits outlined by God. It must never be sought solely for itself, that is, to the point where it gratifies the desire for frequent, unrestricted pleasure, while excluding new life. To upset the order established by God by making pleasure the main purpose of life, nullifying the well-springs of life in order to gratify this desire for pleasure, is a terrible mistake. This attitude and practice makes marriage merely an instrument of selfish delight instead of a noble service: the service of children, the service of God. In place of being a source of holiness and God-given delight, marriage is forced to fester in the foul depths of immorality and unclean living.
It is little wonder that such marriages fail to command our honor and respect. It is little wonder that such spouses fail so completely to see in their marriage a means of becoming holy, or to recognize it as a great sacrament for, a person, enslaved to his selfishness, centers his entire life around himself and his own selfish outlook and desires.
The fundamental condition of true Christian marriage is the granting of life to others, the acceptance and welcome of children. It is the glad anticipation of other children ... not their prevention or postponement as though they were unwelcome intruders. Say "YES" to the life that is awaiting your cooperative consent, the life that is asking to be created.
This is in fact the only attitude possible if reciprocal respect and love are to be maintained. Any attitude other than this leads only to mutual secret reproach of oneís mate for the disgust each feels, until finally disgust storms bitterly forth, venting itself in open contempt.
Nor is it right to resort to the so-called "honest" ways of deliberately avoiding giving birth to children in order to grasp at the same time every possible pleasure for oneself. Such calculated lives develop into selfish lives whose major goal centers around their own personal gratification. Living according to this formula only stimulates their desire for pleasure into a craving necessity that in its turn leads eventually to forbidden practices.
By contrast, how beautiful is the practice of Christian mortification in sex relations. Such Christian mortification nourishes and develops real conjugal love, transfiguring the sex instinct by subordinating it to higher interests. And it is because we have forgotten the necessity of this Christian mortification, as necessary in marriage as elsewhere, that marriage has ceased to be Christian and wallows more and more in the sins against life.
a) TO TRAIN SOULS Married couples greatly increase in nobility already great when they respect that power over life with which God has endowed them. And yet, how much more ennobling is their task of forming, instructing and training souls - souls that have an eternal inheritance.
If we would understand how truly elevating is this sublime task, we must start by noting all the divine delicacy that accompanies this remarkable assignment. God Himself confides to the husband and wife the function of providing Him with offspring! The almost incredible extent to which He manifests and prolongs His confidence and trust is to be seen in the way He further entrusts the parents with the formation of these children!
We must make no mistake here: These children, soul and body, are only. entrusted to the parents by God. They are on loan to the parents who in turn are called upon to mould those young lives, by their own teaching and example, so as to reproduce in them the character of Christ. To help form the childís character along these lines, parents must seek, by every legitimate means within their power, to give Christian meaning, direction and purpose to these newly developing lives, a Christian direction and consciousness that will lead them to salvation and real happiness in life.
In this very attitude of the parents lies the factor that adds new meaning and fullness to their own lives. It is a work that makes life truly rich for, if it is true that "we taste our greatest joy in making others happy," it is equally true that in forgetfulness of self in order to devote ourselves to others, and in our courageous efforts to fulfill a noble ideal of life, we find our own complete perfection.
It is by unstinted devotion to the child from its birth through its years of helplessness and dependence that the souls of the parents themselves are adorned and sanctified little by little, day by day. It is by this same unstinted devotion of the parents that each child is to be firmly bound to Christ so that His supernatural life may flow more readily into the soul of the little one, preparing him for the years ahead, and for an eternal inheritance. Such a function approaches that of the priesthood!
Sometimes, parents turn away from such a program as being too lofty and difficult for them. Nevertheless, it is what God asks of married couples. To us He entrusts everything concerning the childís welfare and, in return, He asks for our complete devotion to the task by making ourselves worthy of this trust, and by accepting our mission as educators.
In the full acceptance of this mission, in complete de≠votion to this apostolate carried on within the simple cloister of the home, you, yourselves, step by step, grow in the fullness and sublimity of your powers and your vocation.
b) CLIMB TOGETHER TO GOD It is quite obvious that not only the procreation of children but their continuous training as well, demands the parentsí closest cooperation. Through their own joint efforts and through their own intimate union of souls, they foster the welfare of the child, and grow, themselves, in holiness of living.
This is so true that, even in those cases where no child is born to bless the home, the characteristic means used to bring the couple to the degree of perfection required of them is their life together. It is important, therefore, that we have clear-cut ideas about the meaning and pattern of this life together.
Strangely enough, living together often seems to constitute precisely the greatest obstacle to perfection. The sincere desire for self-improvement is so frequently accompanied by an inclination to act alone and for our own advancement only, and by an inclination to disdain our partner under the false impression that holiness is to be gained only by a life of celibacy!
This attitude of disdain also permeates our every day activities as well as the thousand tasks that comprise household duties. Why is it that we are tempted to regard our daily tasks as impediments to our spiritual perfection? Why do we think that, by comparison with even the most elementary devotions, these tasks are obstacles from which we must free ourselves as soon as possible, in order to devote ourselves more completely to pious works? The problem revolves around the mistaken notion that we can become holy only by doing the extra.
The truth is that real holiness and perfection comes from faithfully performing the duties and tasks which our state of life demands of us. Speaking about sanctity, in relation to the mother of a family, St. Paul has stated: "Women will be saved by child bearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with modesty." And yet, how much more has he insisted upon sanctification for husband and wife through their life together ... and St. Paulís words were inspired by God!
In summing up, the husband and wife are no longer distinct, independent personalities. Marriage unites them into one being, more particularly on the supernatural level. Christ Himself left no room for argument when He distinctly specified that the husband "shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh."
More than union of the flesh is meant, however. Union of bodies, yes, and a higher continuous union of hearts and souls! By such a union is meant the unity of ideals of both partners and therefore their unity of life. It is a union that can be achieved only through exchange and mutual help. In all truth, such unity makes the partners eager to make the union unceasing and complete in every way. Especially in the matter of grace, this unity leads them to become, each for the other, a means of supernatural life, whereby they grow in holiness together, and one by means of the other. According to St. Paul, even where marital infidelity presents an ugly obstacle to this cooperation, the partner who remains faithful still exercises an influence for good. Conjugal loyalty safeguarded by one is a permanent invitation to the other to abandon his or her disloyal ways, and to re-establish the solidity of their life together through faithful observance of the marriage promises.
Evidently, this mutual aid between the spouses adds to marriage still another eminent quality of service, this time the service of oneís partner. By this service is meant the obligation of each to develop an attitude of generous giving to the other, banishing at the same time everything that puts selfishness first, since selfishness is in reality nothing more nor less than exploitation of oneís partner.
To serve, and not exploit, means above all the complete giving of self, both now and in the future. It is not complete giving when you giveí only in words or in appearance. It is incomplete when you do not consider yourselves as belonging at all times exclusively to your spouse. You must consider yourselves as belonging only to your spouse, and that through a permanent, enduring gift. Any reservation in this giving of oneself only insinuates a spirit of independence, the spirit of divorce, into the very heart of marriage. St. Paul, following Christís example, strongly commands married couples not to put asunder what God has joined together. In other words, they should remain united in their hearts primarily, so that their exterior union will remain forever intact.
The spirit characteristic of the husband and wife is then truly far exalted above the merely physical and sexual aspect of the marriage bond. This is what we mean when we speak of the spirituality of marriage. This is why it is a captivating ideal, a thing beloved and ever more ardently desired and sought. This ideal implies no attitude of "ball and chain," restraining our freedom and stifling our souls relentlessly and unendingly. Far to the contrary, it is an ideal envisioned by Pius XI as a golden bond that adorns, rather than fetters, the spouses, a bond which, rather than shackling them, adds further to their strength.
The marriage bond is truly golden when it inclines the will of each to the other, when it binds two beings from within, in heart and soul, by everything that is most intimate in each. It is gold when from it springs solicitude for the one beloved, solicitude for the spiritual welfare of the other, for his or her moral beauty and spiritual enrichment. Seen from this aspect, the marriage bond becomes infinitely more precious than if it were a mere matter of mutual tolerance. It includes much more than life in common, more than a sharing of tastes, community of interests. It is the fusion of two beings, two beings fused into one.
In brief, it is love that gives to the marriage bond its exceptional value and strength, for a love that is pure and unselfish is a love that exalts and expands the whole being.
Such love is the direct opposite of all self-seeking. And yet, we must constantly be on guard against lapsing into this self-seeking love: We can love someone for the satisfaction he or she gives us; we can love someone for our own joy, in loving; we can seek it through our own vulgar urges of instinct. Nevertheless, in all these cases, there is not real love, not the type of love that is truly worthy of man. If the husband and wife remain bound by the shackles of instinct, sensual attraction, and the thirst for pleasure, they degrade their marriage to the level of a duel between two selfish, hardened wills. Such a love does not unite. On the contrary, it only divides the spouses. Oh, itís true, the bodies unite but hearts and souls become ever more isolated from each other.
True love will always be concerned primarily with the welfare of the beloved, beginning with the welfare of the partnerís soul. Love means devotion. It is to give rather than to receive, rather than to attract to oneís self. To love will be to always respect and venerate the other for to love is to have a keen awareness of the magnificence and spiritual splendor of a human soul. To love will ever be for the man and woman, created as they are in the image and likeness of God, a matter of heart and will much more than the mere fluttering of the senses because conjugal love, though deeply rooted in instinct, is most of all a deep friendshipĄ an affection of which only those endowed with intelligence are capable. (See Lesson 3.)
Now, love, understood and appreciated in this way, necessarily enriches in an ever increasing, unfolding manner the hearts wherein it dwells and grows. Not only does it receive in return all that it gives, but often it receives far more. The very act of giving, in itself, brings about the development of the giverís own personality; for the soul that subdues selfishness, it carries with it a profound sense of fullness and contentment; it destroys that solitariness that binds the soul to self seeking. Actually, it is only through the gift of ourselves that we become truly rich and morally mature.
5) DRAW ON GRACE Exalting as love may be, it nevertheless does not thereby remove all difficulties. It undergoes severe trials, especially from the spontaneous inclination to take back oneís gift of self by acting for oneís own selfish motives, and this despite our given promise and our earnest sincere desires. Certainly, the love that we have just discovered ... and all its beauty, would be far beyond our ability to realize if we had to depend solely on our own frail human strength.
Married couples are never alone, however; they are not left to their own resources: They have God for them, they have God with them ... as much as they want Him. Thanks to this Divine presence, the fullness of sublime love is no longer impossible for the spouses to attain but is now entirely at: their beck and call.
This presence of God, resulting from the sacrament, lasts forever. His grace is offered at every moment and is especially adapted to meet the particular needs of married life. Therein lies the great secret of Christian marriage. Therein rests also the first foundation of that perfection re≠quired of the married couple.
Here especially it is important to recall what has already been stated about the purposes of marriage ... the procreation and education of children, the mutual help, etc., in both lives. When they should be urging on to greater achievements, these tasks, cut off from their super≠natural source, become burdensome and exhausting; birth prevention, false education, disgust, separation, divorce, all these become the miserable estate of those who shut God out of their lives.
By contrast, when God is the foundation upon which matrimonial life is built, everything acquires a different meaning: the procreation and education of children become works of sublime cooperation with God; cohabitation becomes a unique way of growing in holiness through the gift of self; love becomes an illumination and spiritualization of the instincts, and not a wallowing in the flesh.
6) OUR EYES TOWARDS OUR MODEL Those who sincerely want to scale the heights must keep their eyes raised towards the summit. Because to be a Christian means to be striving diligently to become perfect, Christian couples can only attain this perfection by associating themselves with the very source and essence of Christianity - Christ. (There is no inspiration to be drawn from places, persons or things which are not concerned with Christ.) The union of Christ and His Church is their constant, perfect Model, the only model worth their while, and worthy of them. For them, to look constantly upon their Model, is to draw constant inspiration from it. Remove Christ, and what is there to distinguish that home from any pagan home?
"Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it ... that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself: for no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the Church ..."
In connection with this precept laid down by St. Paul, let us turn to the Encyclical "Casti Connubii," on Christian Marriage: "Truly, Christ has embraced His Church with a boundless love, not for the sake of His own advantage, but seeking only the good of His Spouse."
In order to realize to what heights Christ has raised Christian marriage, we must strive to understand what supernatural friendship and love really are. Otherwise, it is futile to study St. Paulís description of the splendor and magnificence of the union of husband and wife in Christian marriage. Conjugal love grows according to a well defined law wherein the husband is acknowledged as head of the wife, just as Christ is the Head of His Church. Thus, while the husband is the head, the wife is the heart; if the seat of government belongs to the husband, the throne of love belongs to the wife. Head and heart, understanding and love, all combine to bring about the peace and fruitfulness that makes the home.
The entire choice centers around this one point: Will Christian couples find their happiness and fullness of life in following the example of their Divine Model, OR will they disdain their Divine Model in order to seek elsewhere the happiness that will thus forever elude them? "My heart is restless, 0 God, unless it rests in Thee." Which will you choose ...?