The bride and bridegroom are [the ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony]. So that the very first and infinitely best wedding gift that they make to one another is Grace–grace in the divinest sense, such as is freely given by means of every Sacrament and by Christ Himself, and grace directed precisely towards making the married life well and truly livable to the end. -C.C. Martindale, Wedlock
Smile at each other, smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other — it doesn’t matter who it is — and that will help you to grow up in greater love for each other. -Bl. Mother Teresa
It is a grave mistake to believe that yielding to the wishes of another person is always a sign of love, whereas opposing them is indicative of selfishness. Much as any true lover wishes to comply with the legitimate desires of the person he loves, he must, out of love, oppose any wish which is either univocally wrong or detrimental to the person nurturing it. Weakness is not love, and true love is meek, not weak. -Alice von Hildebrand, Love and Selfishness
Love thrives on the joyful willingness to make sacrifices for the loved one, and the most difficult type of sacrifice is the one of dying to oneself. How many persons, willing to give the loved one all sorts of presents, refuse to give him the greatest gift they could give him: to become better persons.
Today there is much talk about self-fulfillment and, no doubt, there is a deep link between love and self-fulfillment. But what is often overlooked is the fact that self-fulfillment will never be achieved through the satisfaction of all our subjective wishes and inclinations but, rather, in the giving of ourselves: above all, in the love of Christ.
The spirit of sacrifice is indispensable to any true self-fulfillment, the readiness to change, or rather be changed by Christ, and thereby become what the one who truly loves us wishes us to be. -Alice von Hildebrand, Love and Selfishness
It is also quite conceivable that a man experiences a real solidarity with other persons not at all because he loves them but exclusively because he views them as his: his wife, his child, his servant. He may feel perfectly entitled to mistreat them, for they are “his” property, but for the very same reason, he will deeply resent their being mistreated by someone else. In such cases, the word “mine” is interpreted as meaning “my possession,” i.e. “the object I have a right to dispose of.” But in love, the word “mine,” assumes a completely different meaning: far from implying reference to a property over which I have a title, it essentially means “the person I have given myself to in a reciprocal self-donation.” In such a case, a matchless solidarity between the lovers will develop, but one which is radically different from the inevitable solidarity man has with himself. -Alice von Hildebrand, Love and Selfishness
A fundamental characteristic of love is that all the good qualities of the beloved are considered to be a valid expression of his true self; whereas his faults are interpreted as an unfaithfulness toward his true self. To say “this is not his true self,” when the beloved commits some fault, is a typical word of love.
Whereas we usually consider the values and the devalues in a person to be equally characteristic for him, to belong equally to his self, it is typical of love, which implies a response to the beauty of this individual person, to consider all the disvalues as non-characteristic for him, as an unfaithfulness toward his true self, a failure to be truly himself…Here love responds to the ontological value of the person, to his character as an image of God, seeing him in the light of the similitudo Dei, that is the sanctification which he is called upon to attain. Every fault is thus seen as a betrayal of his character as an image of God, an infidelity, an apostasy from his true self. -Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand, The Art of Living
No two persons perhaps are to be found, however intimate, however congenial in tastes and judgments, however eager to have one heart and one soul, but must deny themselves, for the sake of each other, much which they like or dislike, if they are to live together happily. -Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University
In everything here on earth, God is trying to teach us to love—so that we will be able to enjoy Heaven fully. Marriage is one of His most intensive schools of love, and the one where He tries to train most of His pupils. -Cormac Burke, Covenanted Happiness: Love and commitment in marriage
Why is the act of intercourse regarded as the act of selfgiving, the most distinctive expression of marital love? Why is this act—which is but a passing and fleeting thing—particularly regarded as an act of union? After all, people in love express their love and desire to be united in many ways: sending letters, exchanging looks or presents, holding hands…What makes the sexual act unique? Why does this act unite the spouses in a way that no other act does? What is it that makes it not just a physical experience but a love experience? The special pleasure attaching to it? Is the unitive meaning of the conjugal act contained just in the sensation, however intense, that it can produce? If intercourse unites two people simply because it gives special pleasure, then it would seem that one or other of the spouses could at times find a more meaningful union outside the marriage than within it. It would follow too that sex without pleasure becomes meaningless, and that sex with pleasure, even homosexual sex, becomes meaningful.
No. The conjugal act may or may not be accompanied by pleasure; but the meaning of the act does not consist in its pleasure. The pleasure provided by marital intercourse may be intense, but it is transient. The significance of marital intercourse is also intense, and it is not transient; it lasts.
Why should the marital act be more significant than any other expression of affection between the spouses? Why should it be a more intense expression of love and union? Surely because of what happens in that marital encounter, which is not just a touch, not a mere sensation, however intense, but a communication, an offer and acceptance, an exchange of something that uniquely represents the gift of oneself and the union of two selves.
Here of course, it should not be forgotten that while two persons in love want to give themselves to one another, to be united to one another, this desire of theirs remains humanly speaking on a purely volitional level. They can bind themselves to one another, but they cannot actually give themselves. The greatest expression of a person’s desire to give himself is to give the seed of himself. Giving one’s seed is much more significant, and in particular is much more real, than giving one’s heart. “I am yours, I give you my heart; here, take it,” remains mere poetry, to which no physical gesture can give true body. But, “I am yours; I give you my seed; here, take it,” is not poetry, it is love. It is conjugal love embodied in a unique and privileged physical action whereby intimacy is expressed—“I give you what I give no one”—and union is achieved: “Take what I have to give. This will be a new me. United to you, to what you have to give—to your seed—this will be a new ‘you-and-me’, fruit of our mutual knowledge and love.” In human terms this is the closest one can get to giving one’s self conjugally and to accepting the conjugal self-gift of another, and so achieving spousal union.
Therefore, what makes marital intercourse express a unique relationship and union is not the sharing of a sensation but the sharing of a power: of an extraordinary life-related, creative physical sexual power. In a true conjugal relationship, each spouse says to the other: “I accept you as somebody like no one else in my life. You will be unique to me and I to you. You and you alone will be my husband; you alone will be my wife. And the proof of our uniqueness to me is the fact that with you—and with you alone—am I prepared to share this God-given life-oriented power.”
In this consists the singular character of intercourse. Other physical expressions of affection do not go beyond the level of a mere gesture; they remain a symbol of the union desired. But the conjugal act is not a mere symbol. In true marital intercourse, something real has been exchanged, with a full gift and acceptance of conjugal masculinity and femininity. And there remains, as witness to their conjugal relationship and the intimacy of their conjugal union, the husband’s seed in the wife’s body.
Now, if one deliberately nullifies the life-orientation of the conjugal act, one destroys its essential power to signify union. Contraception in fact turns the marital act into self-deception or into a lie: “I love you so much that with you and you alone, I am ready to share this most unique power…” But what unique power? In contraceptive sex, no unique power is being shared, except a power to produce pleasure. But then the uniqueness of the marital act is reduced to pleasure. Its significance is gone.
Contraceptive intercourse is an exercise in meaninglessness. It could perhaps be compared to going through the actions without letting any sound of music pass one’s lips.
The mutual and exclusive self-donation of the marriage act consists in its being the gift and acceptance of something unique. Now this something unique is not just the seed (this indeed could be “biologism”), but the fullness of the sexuality of each spouse.
It was in the context of its not being good for man to be alone that God made him sexual. He created man in a duality—male and female—with the potential to become a trinity. The differences between the sexes speak therefore of a divine plan of complementarity, of self-completion and self-fulfillment, also through self-perpetuation.
It is not good for man to be alone because man, on his own, cannot fulfill himself; he needs others. He especially needs another: a companion, a spouse. Union with a spouse, giving oneself to a spouse—sexual and marital union in self-donation—are normally a condition of human growth and fulfillment.
Marriage, then, is a means of fulfillment through union. Husband and wife are united in mutual knowledge and love, a love which is not just spiritual but also bodily; and a knowledge underpinning their love which is likewise not mere speculative or intellectual knowledge; it is bodily knowledge as well. Their marital love is also meant to be based on carnal knowledge; this is fully human and fully logical. How significant it is that the Bible, in the original Hebrew, refers to marital intercourse in terms of man and woman “knowing” each other. Adam, Genesis says, knew Eve, his wife. What comment can we make on this equivalence which the Bible draws between conjugal intercourse and mutual knowledge?
What is the distinctive knowledge that husband and wife communicate to one another? It is the knowledge of each other’s integral human condition as a spouse. Each “discloses” a most intimate secret to the other; the secret of his or her personal sexuality. Each is revealed to the other truly as spouse and comes to know the other in the uniqueness of that spousal self-revelation and self-gift. Each one lets himself or herself be known by the other, and surrenders to the other, precisely as husband or wife.
Nothing can undermine a marriage so much as the refusal to fully know and accept one’s spouse or to let oneself be fully known by him or her. Marriage is constantly endangered by the possibility of one spouse holding something back from the other; keeping some knowledge to oneself that he or she does not want the other to possess. This can occur on all levels of interpersonal communication: physical as well as spiritual.
In true marital intercourse each spouse renounces protective self-possession, so as to fully posses and be fully possessed by the other. This fullness of true sexual gift and possession is only achieved in marital intercourse open to life. Only in procreative intercourse do the spouses exchange true “knowledge” of one another, do they truly speak humanly and intelligibly to one another; do they truly reveal themselves to one another in their full human actuality and potential. Each offers, and each accepts, full spousal knowledge of the other.
Normal conjugal intercourse fully asserts masculinity and femininity. The man asserts himself as man and husband, and the woman equally asserts herself as woman and wife. In contraceptive intercourse, only a maimed sexuality is asserted. In the truest sense sexuality is not asserted at all. Contraception represents such a refusal to let oneself be known that it simply is not real carnal knowledge. A deep human truth underlies the theological and juridical principle that contraceptive sex does not consummate marriage.
Contraceptive intercourse, then, is not real sexual intercourse at all. That is why the disjunctives offered by this whole matter are not sufficiently expressed by saying that if intercourse is contraceptive, then it is merely hedonistic. This may or may not be true. What is true—at a much deeper level—is that if intercourse is contraceptive, then it is not sexual. In contraception there is an “intercourse” of sensation, but no real sexual knowledge or sexual love, no true sexual revelation of self or sexual communication of self or sexual gift of self. The choice of contraception is in fact the rejection of sexuality. The warping of sexual instinct from which modern society seems to suffer represents not so much an excess of sex as a lack of true human sexuality.
True conjugal intercourse unites. Contraception separates, and the separation works right along the line. It not only separates sex from procreation, it also separates sex from love. It separates pleasure from meaning, and body from mind. Ultimately and surely, it separates wife from husband and husband from wife. -Cormac Burke, Covenanted Happiness: Love and commitment in marriage
What really happens then in true Christian marriage, is that a man and a woman abandoning their own individual life, give themselves completely to one another, as Christ does to His Church (only think of Christ giving Himself in Holy Communion!) and together form one new unit, living one new life. They are not only two in one flesh, they are two in one life. –This Tremendous Lover, M. Eugene Boylan, O.C.S.O.
The man and the woman are both members of Christ; to receive the grace of the sacrament they must be living members in the state of grace. Otherwise no supernatural love between them is possible. Just as two cells in the human body unite to form one, which is the beginning of a new human life, so two people in marriage become one in Christ, and one with Christ to the end that the life of Christ may be fruitful–that a new member may be given to Christ. –This Tremendous Lover, M. Eugene Boylan, O.C.S.O.
Man’s authority over women is not meant to be the ugly domination it sometimes becomes in this fallen world, but on the contrary, a loving service he owes her, and which she has every right to demand if he neglects to perform it. St. Theresa was vociferous in exacting it from the reluctant!
Husbands are to love wives as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered himself up for her (Eph 5:25). He must answer to God for any misuse of his authority serving selfish purposes.
Obedience to man is woman’s chief protection against Satan, as Joseph was Mary’s against Herod, and as Adam should have been Eve’s against the serpent, who tempted her precisely to be a law unto herself over Adam. Today Satan is not so much Herod or serpent as he is Jezebel, for in the rabid feminist he has become a woman. Rather than allow her to enter man’s world as a helper like to himself as God today clearly wants her to, he tempts woman to become man temporally and spiritually, and compete with him.
-Solange Hertz, Feast For A Week
I’m finding in the book of Esther much food for thought for the way wives approach their husbands, especially when a sensitive issue comes up. In our day, wives aren’t immediately put to death for approaching their husbands unsummoned, but spousal abuse and even murder are quite common, and divorce, which is relational death, is rampant. There must be a better way!
First of all, Esther recognized the danger. She knew this was a potentially deadly endeavor and prepared herself thoroughly beforehand. She also recognized that this was bigger than she was. She didn’t try to handle it all herself. She threw herself on the mercy of God, fasting and praying for three days and getting lots of other people to fast and pray with her. When she approached her husband, she made herself appealing to him. She came with dignity, but also in awe of him. Her courage took her just so far before she fainted! Even when she had his attention, she didn’t just blurt out her needs. She needed time to prepare and she wanted him to have time to prepare, so she invited him to a banquet the next day, out of the public eye and presumably with his favorite foods. She was looking out for his needs, and giving his curiosity time to grow. But when he came to the banquet, she still didn’t explain her problem. She took time to be with him, to let him enjoy her company, and become even more curious (is that why he couldn’t sleep that night?). Finally, at the second banquet, when the king pressed to know what was going on and said again that he’d do anything for her, she spilled her news. The king was angry, although not at her, and left the banquet for a walk in the garden. Esther very wisely let him go. When he came back to find Haman on the queen’s couch, he vented his anger on the man. Later, in another audience, Esther begged again for concrete action to solve her problem. She proposed a solution, and when he gave his approval, she put it into practise.
We who are wives need to honor our husbands and to look out for what’s best for them, not just ourselves. If something sticky comes up, the first thing we need to do is pray about it, seeking God’s help and guidance and asking Him to prepare our husbands to receive our words. Fasting is a good idea, especially if the issue is serious, and getting other people to pray with and for us (without airing our marital “dirty laundry” to them) is wise. Our first approach to our spouse should be as positive as possible. We want to be appealing to our husband (dressing up just for him isn’t a bad idea), but not to put him on the spot, especially not in public. We schedule a special time to be alone with him and to strengthen the overall relationship. Depending on how that goes, that might be a good time for our talk, or we might want to schedule yet another special time together. When the time is ripe to bring up our concern, we need to do so as graciously as possible, keeping his needs, desires and emotions in mind. If he storms off in anger or hurt, we need to let him go. And when he’s calmed down we need to gently broach the subject again. If we can come up with a solution and carry it out for him, so much the better. -Kathy Coughlin
This outward expression of love in the home demands not only mutual help but must go further; must have as its primary purpose that man and wife help each other day by day in forming and perfecting themselves in the interior life, so that through their partnership in life they may advance ever more and more in virtue, and above all that they may grow in true love towards God and their neighbor, on which indeed “depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”(Matt. 22:40). For all men of every condition, in whatever honorable walk of life they may be, can and ought to imitate that most perfect example of holiness placed before man by God, namely Christ Our Lord, and by God’s grace to arrive at the summit of perfection, as is proved by the example set us of many saints. -Pius XI, “Casti Connubii”
The same false teachers who try to dim the luster of conjugal faith and purity do not scruple to do away with the honorable and trusting obedience which the woman owes to the man. Many of them even go further and assert that such a subjection of one party to the other is unworthy of human dignity, that the rights of husband and wife are equal; wherefore, they boldly proclaim the emancipation of women has been or ought to be effected. This emancipation in their ideas must be threefold, in the ruling of the domestic society, in the administration of family affairs, and in the rearing of the children. It must be social, economic, physiological-psychological, that is to say, the woman is to be freed at her own good pleasure from the burdensome duties properly belonging to a wife as companion and mother (We have already said that this is not an emancipation but a crime); social, inasmuch as the wife being freed from the cares of children and family, should, to the neglect of these, be able to follow her own bent and devote herself to business and even public affairs; finally economic, whereby the woman, even without the knowledge and against the wish of her husband, may be at liberty to conduct and administer her own affairs, giving her attention chiefly to these rather than to children, husband and family.
This, however, is not the true emancipation of woman, nor that rational and exalted liberty which belongs to the noble office of a Christian woman and wife; it is rather the debasing of the womanly character and the dignity of motherhood, and indeed of the whole family, as a result of which the husband suffers the loss of his wife, the children of their mother, and the whole family of an ever-watchful guardian. More than this, this false liberty and unnatural equality with the husband is to the detriment of the woman herself, for if the woman descends from her truly regal throne to which she has been raised within the walls of the home by means of the Gospel, she will soon be reduced to the old state of slavery (if not in appearance, certainly in reality) and become as among the pagans the mere instrument of man. -Pius XI, “Casti Connubii”
For it is a sacred ordinance that whoever shall have first subjected himself to God will, by the aid of divine grace, be glad to subject to himself his own passions and concupiscence; while he who is a rebel against God will, to his sorrow, experience within himself the violent rebellion of his worst passions. -Pius XI, “Casti Connubii” (i.e., if you rebel against God, your desires will rebel against you)
…marriage…is the isolation of two persons in God, and as a form of community, which is more than the mere sum of two partners and something higher, the image of God’s Kingdom, the Church; and in every aspect as a fertility duly ordered. As such it cannot be established merely upon the basis on those natural forces which tend towards marriage
(To many this may seem a paradox; and it is. But when we have long pondered the forms of human life; the relation between their aims arising from their very nature and the forces actually at their disposal…we come to understand that what superficially seems a paradox is often the only truly natural thing. Paradox is embedded in the very heart of normality. It is so here.) The forces which normally produce marriage are insufficient to make a marriage which fulfills its own inner nature. Such a marriage requires a perfect capacity of assent and surrender, but also an equally great independence of the sexual factor. Without the former the union is too superficial; without the latter it lacks inner dignity and the capacity for fidelity. Nature, however cannot by itself produce this. It is only that perfect surrender in the conduct of life, which “thinks only of the things that are God’s,” which, by the constant influence it has exerted upon others through the centuries, awakens in the married also the strength requisite for complete surrender, with all the sacrifices that this entails… Marriage must display that profound inner wealth, must possess that nobility, must be that miraculous product fashioned by the co-operation of natural and supernatural forces, which Christ willed, Paul suggested, and the Church has always cherished…. Every form of life can be lived in an heroic or in a mediocre spirit. And the resolve to live a life of heroic and unreserved self-devotion does not of itself determine the form of life in which it shall be accomplished. The “good will” decides the former choice, “vocation” the latter. We need men and women to live the extraordinary form of life [life-long virginity] heroically. But we have just as great need of others to live the ordinary form of life heroically. Heroism in marriage is just as indispensable as heroism in virginity. And it is certain that both types of heroism…mutually support each other. -The Church And The Catholic, by Romano Guardini, Translated By Ada Lane
…reverence is everywhere essential. In marriage reverence is more important even than love: love will not find its own self without it. Reverence does not mean remoteness or exclude lightheartedness: two who reverence each other can play together. But it does mean a steady awareness in each other that the other has a kinship with the eternal. -F. J. Sheed, Marriage and the Family
the women who sits in her house as in some school of true wisdom, and collects her thoughts within herself, will be enabled to apply herself to prayers, and readings, and other heavenly wisdom. And as they who dwell in deserts have none to disturb them, so she being continually within can enjoy a perpetual calm…and it is possible for her both to be herself truly wise, and receiving her husband when agitated to calm and compose him, to abate the excess and fierceness of his thoughts, and so to send him forth again, having put off all the mischiefs which he collected from the market-place, and carrying with him whatever good he learned at home. For nothing, nothing is more powerful than a pious and sensible women to bring a man into proper order, and to mould his soul as she will… I could tell of many hard and disobedient men who have been softened in this way. For she who shares his table, his bed, and his embraces, his words and secrets, his comings in and goings out, and many other things, who is entirely given up and joined to him, as it is likely that a body would be joined to a head, if she happen to be discreet and well attuned, will go beyond and excel all others in the management of her husband. Wherefore I exhort women to make this their employment, and to give fitting counsel. -St. John Chrysostom, Homilies On The Gospel According To St. John
The true woman rules by submitting; she humbles her husband by the generosity of her love. She strengthens him by her dependence, she builds up his character by throwing responsibility upon him; she is queen of his heart by her love. -Fr. Eugene Boylan, This Tremendous Lover