In the last two articles in this series, I discussed two fundamental points about the Sacrament of Matrimony. One is that the couple ministers the sacrament to each other through mutual acts of offering and acceptance. The other is that marriage resembles the relationship between Christ and his church. It is a covenant.
These two points have further implications. One is that marriage is indissoluble. Another is that sex in marriage must always remain open to the possibility of children.
The Sacrament of Marriage is an enduring sacrament. It is publicly solemnized in church in the presence of witnesses. But the sacrament is not fully constituted until it is consummated with sexual intercourse. An unconsummated marriage is not a valid marriage.
This may seem puzzling because, in today's world, there is the tendency to reduce sexual intercourse to a biological act. More than enough movies and TV shows present sex in that manner. Sex education which steers clear of discussing moral values can only deal with physical mechanics and disease prevention.
But the church sees such an approach as too narrow. Pope John Paul has said that sexual intercourse concerns "the innermost being of the human person." It is the sign and the fruit of the total self-giving of two people to each other.
Sex outside of marriage is a lie because in it, the couple only pretend to give themselves totally to each other. In fact, they can and usually do walk away from each other.
But the sexual consummation of a Christian marriage is a sacramental act. Moreover, this is not only true of the first time the couple make love in a marriage. Every act of marital intercourse is a sacramental sign. Through it, the paschal mystery of Christ's death and resurrection is made present and, through it, God's grace is given to the couple. The baptized couple continue to minister the sacrament to each other through every act of sexual offering and acceptance.
Now, if the love of a married couple is to resemble God's love, it must be open to procreation. The most basic reality in all being is the love within the Trinity. The love among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is complete. It lacks nothing. Yet out of that love came all of creation, including humanity. The love within the Trinity is fertile; it is not closed within itself. Even though the love of the Trinity was perfect and complete, it still reached out beyond itself.
If that is true of God's love, it should also be true of human love. To resemble God's love, the meaning of acts of conjugal love must reach out beyond the couple. They too must be open to new creation; they must represent a love which expands beyond the couple itself. Resistance to the gift of fertility is a counter-sign to the great openness of God's love. It is a narrowing of love which ultimately is not love at all.
Our contemporary attitude is to try to control fertility. We worry about things getting out of hand if we celebrate our sexuality freely without keeping fertility under lock and key only to be let out for special occasions.
The Old Testament, however, saw children as a sign of God's favor. They are a blessing, not something to be avoided. The blessing lay not in a couple having the right number of children, perfectly spaced, but rather in having a "quiver full of them" (Psalm 127:5). Children are always a gift, whenever they come.
Married love must be like God's love -- "a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over" (Luke 6:38). This expansive, overflowing love will be indissoluble. God never breaks his covenant with his people, no matter how much they rebel against him.
Likewise, if marriage is a sacrament, it too is indissoluble. The total self-giving of conjugal love is not restrained by the clock. It is total and never counts the cost. Once begun, it never comes to an end.
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