Father Cantalamessa on What Marriage Needs

More Than a Defense, Sacrament Must Be Rediscovered

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MEXICO CITY, JAN. 22, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of an excerpt of the Jan. 14 address from Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, at the 6th World Meeting of Families.

The World Meeting was held Jan. 14-18 in Mexico City.

Father Cantalamessa’s address was titled «Family Relationships and Values According to the Bible.» The full text of the address is available at ZENIT’s Web page.

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Christians’ task of rediscovering and fully living the biblical ideal of marriage and family is no less important than defending it. In this way it can be proposed again to the world with facts, more so than with words.

Let’s read today the account of the creation of man and woman in the light of the revelation of the Trinity. Under this light, the phrase: «God created mankind in his image, in his image he created him, male and female he created them» finally reveals its meaning, which was mysterious and uncertain before Christ. What relation could there be between being «in the image of God» and being «male and female?» The God of the Bible does not have sexual connotations; he is neither male nor female.

The similarity is this: God is love and love demands communion, interpersonal exchange; it needs to have an «I» and a «you.» There is no love that is not love for someone. Where there is only one subject there can be no love, only egotism and narcissism. Where God is thought of as Law and as absolute Power, there is no need for a plurality of persons. (Power can be exercised alone!). The God revealed by Jesus Christ, being love, is one and only, but he is not solitary; he is one and triune. In him coexist unity and distinction: unity of nature, of will, of intention, and distinction of characteristics and persons.

Two people that love each other, and the case of man and woman in marriage is the strongest, reproduce something that happens in the Trinity. There two persons, the Father and the Son, loving each other, produce («breathe») the Spirit that is the love the joins them. Someone once defined the Holy Spirit as the divine «Us,» that is, not the «third person of the Trinity,» but rather the first person plural.[1]

Precisely in this way the human couple is an image of God. Husband and wife are in effect a single flesh, a single heart, a single soul, even in the diversity of sex and personality. In the couple, unity and diversity reconcile themselves. The spouses face each other as an «I» and a «you», and face the rest of the world, beginning with their own children, as a «we,» almost as if it was a single person, no longer singular but rather plural. «We,» in other words, «your mother and I,» «your father and I.»

In light of this we discover the profound meaning of the prophets’ message regarding human marriage, which is therefore a symbol and reflection of another love, God’s love for his people. This doesn’t involve overburdening a purely human reality with mystical meaning. It is not a question simply of symbolism; rather it involves revealing the true face and final purpose of the creation of man and woman: leaving one’s own isolation and «egotism,» opening up to the other, and through the temporal ecstasy of carnal union, elevating oneself to the desire for love and for happiness without end.

What’s the reason for the incompleteness and dissatisfaction that sexual union leaves within and outside of marriage? Why does this impulse always fall over itself and why does this promise of infinity and eternity always end up disappointed? The ancients coined a phrase that paints this reality: «Post coitum animal triste»: just like any other animal, man is sad after carnal union.

The pagan poet Lucretius left us a raw description of this frustration that accompanies each copulation, which should not be scandalous for us to hear at a congress for spouses and families:

«And mingle the slaver of their mouths, and breathe
Into each other, pressing teeth on mouths –
Yet to no purpose, since they’re powerless
To rub off aught, or penetrate and pass
With body entire into body»[2]

The search for remedy to this frustration only increases it. Instead of modifying the quality of the act, the quantity is increased, moving from one partner to another. This is how God’s gift of sexuality is ruined, in the trend of culture and society today.

As Christians, do we want to find an explanation once and for all for this devastating dysfunction? The explanation is that sexual union is not lived in the way and with the purpose in which God intended it. The purpose was, through this ecstasy and fusion of love, that man and woman would be elevated to the desire and have a certain taste for infinite love. They would remember from whence they came and where they were going.

Sin, beginning with the biblical sin of Adam and Eve, has gutted this plan; it has «profaned» this gesture, in other words, it has stripped it of its religious value. It has turned it into a gesture that is an end in itself, which finishes with itself, and is therefore «unsatisfactory.» The symbol has been separated from the reality it symbolizes, bereft of its intrinsic dynamism and therefore mutilated. Never as much as in this case is St. Augustine’s saying true: «You made us, Lord, for you and our heart is restless until it rests in you.»

Even couples that are believers, sometimes more than others, don’t come to find this richness of the initial meaning of sexual union due to the idea of concupiscence and original sin associated with the act for so many centuries. Only in the witness of some couples that have had a renewing experience of the Holy Spirit and that live Christian life charismatically do we find something of that original meaning of the conjugal act. They have confided with wonder, to friends or a priest, that they unite praising God out loud, and even singing in tongues. It was a real experience of God’s presence.

It is understandable why it is only possible to find this fullness of the marital vocation in the Holy Spirit. The constitutive act of marriage is reciprocal self-giving, making a gift of one’s own body to the spouse (or, in the words of the Bible, of one’s whole self). In being the sacrament of the gift, marriage is, by its nature, a sacrament that is open to the action of the Holy Spirit, who is the Gift par excellence, or better said, the reciprocal self-giving of the Father and the Son. It is the sanctifying presence of the Spirit that makes marriage not only a celebrated sacrament, but a lived sacrament.

The secret to getting access to these splendors of Christian love is to give Christ space within the life of the couple. In fact, the Holy Spirit that makes all things new, comes from him. A book by Fulton Sheen, popular in the 50s, reiterated this with its title: «Three to Get Married.»[3]

We should not be afraid of proposing a very high goal to some especially prepared couples, who will be future Christian spouses: that of praying a while the wedding night, as Tobias and Sarah, and afterward giving God the Father the joy of seeing his initial plan realized anew, thanks to Christ, when Adam and Eve were nude in front of each other and both in front of God and they were not ashamed.

I end with some words taken once again from «The Satin Slipper» by Claudel. It is a dialogue between the woman of the drama and her guardian angel. The woman struggles between her fear and the desire to surrender herself to love:

– So, is this love of the creatures, one for another, allowed? Isn’t God jealous?
– How could He be jealous of what He Himself made?
– But man, in the arms of the woman, forgets God…
– Can they forget Him when they are with Him, participating in the mystery of his creation?[4]

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[1] Cf. Cf. H. Mühlen, Der Heilige Geist als Person. Ich -Du -Wir, Muenster, in W. 1966.[2] Lucretius, De rerum natura, IV,2 vv. 1104-1107.[3] F. Sheen, Three to G
et Married, Appleton-Century-Crofts 1951.

[4] P. Claudel, Le soulier de satin, a.III. sc.8 (éd. La Pléiade, II, Paris 1956, pp. 804):
– Dona Prouhèze. – -Eh quoi! Ainsi c’était permis? cet amour des créatures l’une pour l’autre, il est donc vrai que Dieu n’est pas jaloux ?
– L’Ange Gardien.- Comment serait-il jaloux de ce qu’il a fait ?…
– Dona Prouhèze. – L’homme entre les bras de la femme oublie Dieu.
– L’Ange Gardien.- Est-ce l’oublier que d’être avec lui ? est-ce ailleurs qu’avec lui d’être associé au mystère da sa création ?

[Translation by Thomas Daly]

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On the Net:

Full text of address: http://www.zenit.org/article-24868?l=english

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