We often ask in the beginning of marriage preparation classes, “Should the marriage relationship be equal?” “How much should each spouse give?” Responses range from “Marriage should be 50/50” to “It depends on the circumstances.” However, truly the best answer is that marriages should be 100/100. This represents the total self-giving that St. John Paul II often refers to in his famous “Theology of the Body” teachings. He reiterates many of the teachings of his predecessors by highlighting the beauty of marriage, originally created by God, which can be revealed through the couples’ expression of love to one another.
There is a lot to say on the teachings of Theology of the Body. In fact, many of the fantastic resources of these teachings are presented in an easy-to-understand format. We will briefly look at four of the popular teachings the Holy Father stated regarding married love: that it should be free, total self-giving, faithful and fruitful.
What does freedom in a marriage mean? Truly, our Lord calls us to love with a spirit of sacrifice and the view that the two should become one. If we ask conditions of our spouse, then it is not free. The Holy Father reminds us, in a world too often focused on consumerism, that this mindset does not translate into a healthy and life-giving marriage. Love is an act of will. Spouses choose to love one another in a way that serves more than a utilitarian purpose. This freedom also transcends circumstance as marriage vows echo the call to love in sickness and health, good times and bad.
Total self-giving echoes the covenantal love that God has for us. We can love our spouse unconditionally because God has loved us first unconditionally. A good analogy of total self-giving love is an adoption. When a couple adopts a child, there is very often a total gift of love given to that child. The child is given full rights to the family and many times even takes the family name. The love the family gives the adopted child is unconditional. St. John Paul II spoke extensively on this total giving of love between couples, especially in the area of sexuality. There should be no barriers between couples preventing them from a total gift of love for each other.
Fidelity in a marriage is a given. There is no room in a healthy marriage for anything to come between the couple. This is not just about extramarital affairs. Very small things often come between a husband and wife. Material items, career ambitions, outside interests, even extended family and friends can shift the focus away from the couple creating a “third party” intrusion. Unfaithfulness can be described in terms as something (not necessarily someone) disrupting the marriage bond. However, St. John Paul II calls couples to a deeper meaning of faithfulness. A faithfulness that grows by learning to love, even to the point of sacrifice for other, by putting aside our own wants at times, and by being faithful in thousands of small ways.
Last but not least, couples are called to enjoy the fruitfulness of their marriage. When celebrating matrimony, the bride and groom are asked questions before they take their vows. “Have you come here freely?” “Will you remain faithful?” “Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God?” This notion of fruitfulness is one of the main aspects of marriage, bringing a couple together in unity and open to new life. While a couple may utilize natural family planning to postpone having a child, the pope is clear that the marital act should correspond to the couples’ love. There should be no barriers to prevent the creation of life.
This message has been proclaimed for many years. To honor it, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae with a gala event, in partnership with the St. Gianna Molla Clinic, on Nov. 6. The Office of Marriage and Family Life invites couples to attend to learn about this topic more deeply. It will also be a celebration of the clinic, which strives to live these teachings within their health care practice. In a special guest appearance, St. Gianna Molla’s daughter, for whom the saint gave up her life, will be present. For more information and to register for the event, visit www.stmgb.org/gala. We hope to see you there!
Tremblay is director of Marriage and Life Ministries for the Diocese of Green Bay.