Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 1, 2003
Marital sex a foretaste of heaven
Author says marriage a foreshadowing of heavenly love
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Marriage here on earth is simply preparation for heaven, says Christopher West. "For the most of us this is the way we become men and women fit for heaven, by living out the marital vocation. It trains us, if you will, for heaven."
West led a conference on marriage at Mayfield Inn Nov. 21-22. More than 400 people attended the event, which was organized by Catholic Family Ministries.
Drawing on Pope John Paul's theology of the body, West, a Denver-based author, professor, lecturer and video host, shared God's original plan for marriage and sexuality and how an understanding of this plan gives meaning to people's lives. West and his wife Wendy are the parents of three children.
"In the resurrection men and women are no longer given in marriage," he said. "In the resurrection we will be raised male and female but we will not unite in that one flesh embrace, as we understand it here on earth.
"Heaven is not going to be some eternally magnified experience of sexual union. It will be a new experience beyond anything we can possibly comprehend."
But West said here on this earth "we get no more profound window or icon of that reality than the union of men and women in one flesh."
Marriage is a foreshadowing of the heavenly reality of love and communion. The free exchange of consent properly witnessed by the Church establishes the marriage bond. Sexual union consummates it - seals it, completes it, perfects it. Sexual union, then, is where the words of the wedding vows become flesh.
"The language that God has inscribed in sexual intercourse is the language of the marriage covenant: the free commitment to a union of love that is indissoluble, faithful and open to children."
If spouses willfully contradict any of these goods of marriage in their sexual expressions, marital intimacy becomes less than God intended it to be.
Sexual attraction itself, originally given by God to be the power to love as he loves, tends to be - because of sin - a desire for self-gratification at the expense of others.
If marriage is meant to be a foretaste of heaven, why is that some people experience it as a living hell? "Because this is the devil's prime target and all of us have inherited the flat tires that resulted from original sin," West said. "If you are experiencing marriage as a living hell, it is probably because we are trying to get from point A to point B with flat tires."
He also reminded his audience that marriage involves a degree of suffering. "If you don't think true love involves suffering, remember the cross. Marriage involves four rings: the engagement ring, two wedding rings and a suffer-ring."
But there is hope. "In the resurrection we will live the nuptial meaning of the body in an eternal dimension. God will be a total gift to us. Christ himself will donate his body to his bride and we the bride will open to receive his body and we will give ourselves back to him."
West said Catholicism does not devalue the body. "Authentic Christianity raises the body to the heights of heaven. This is why the devil attacks the body. He does not want your body to participate in the life of the Trinity. He wants to cut you off from that body."
The sexual union of men and women on earth "is meant to be a foreshadowing of the joys of heaven," according to West. "This is why we crave sexual intimacy. You know what all the sexual confusion in the world amounts to? It's the human desire for heaven gone berserk."
The problem with our culture is not that it overvalues sex, said West. "The culture that we live in has no clue how valuable sex is."
West said if we think lust is all there is, then we are bound to look at marriage as a legitimate indulgence of lust. That's the reason so many wives claim headache when their husbands want sex.
"You feel used and you are probably right. If you love your wife as Christ loves the Church, there will be no headaches because your wife would want to give herself to you as much as you want to give yourself to her so long as you are giving yourselves sincerely."
But most women have been so wounded by men that they may not even believe that kind of love is possible, West lamented. "But it is possible."
Like marriage, celibacy is meant to be living out the same redemption of sexuality. "The celibate person does not repress sexual desire; the celibate person is living out the true gift of self through redeemed sexual desire.
"Celibacy is not a life of hopeless repression. It is a continual life of surrendering lust to the redemption of Christ so he or she can be a real gift to others.
"Marriage is the same thing, continually surrendering our lust so we can be a gift to our children and ourselves."
Assuming a couple has a serious reason to avoid a child, what could they do to avoid a child that would not render them unfaithful to their wedding vows?
"Exactly what we are doing right now. They could abstain from sex," West said, adding self-control is the only method of birth control that respects the language of divine love. He recommended the use of several natural family planning methods that could help a couple to maintain respect for incarnate love.