Adam spoke “up” when he spoke with God, and “down” in the naming of the animals, but it was not until the creation of Eve, “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23), that he had a dialogue with an equal. Adam and Eve had no proper names of their own before they met each other (cf. Gen 3:20). The animals were altogether other; he was himself; but Eve was, in a way, himself and yet other—formed from him and for him by God, just as the Father and Son, though distinct, are not separated from each other, the One ever proceeding from the Other and turned towards him, from and for him. The unity of the Father and Son in the Love of the Holy Spirit is the source of all our dialogue, communion, and fruitfulness. For Adam and Eve, their awakening was an extasis in love; their state not the monism of manipulative autonomy but the oneness of unashamed communion (cf. Gen 2:21–25). This is the nuptial state to which husbands and wives are striving to return, just as the Church on earth is striving for it with her Bridegroom: “that they may be one, even as We are One” (Jn 17:22). Consecrated life is eschatological by its very essence as sacramental sign and anticipated reality of the future state here and now, but marriage, too, is eschatological, foreshadowing and in a certain sense embodying the ultimate rest of the beatific vision and the ultimate perfection of the Church in her embrace of Christ.
Just as the love “until the end” manifested in the Last Supper (cf. Jn 13:1) presupposed the Cross yet to come, so the fleshly union of husband and wife presupposes sacrifice through children yet to be received—posterior in time but present in intention, present in eternity (cf. Eph 1:4). From this we can see the perversity of the intentionally barren union. He who partakes of the flesh unworthily partakes of his own damnation (cf. 1 Cor 11:29). The communicant must be willing to bear the Cross of Christ, for that is the meaning of the gift of which he partakes. Spouses, too, must be open to the cross and crown of children, for that is inherent in the gift they give to each other; the child is excluded or thwarted only by doing violence to the gift.
Would we receive Holy Communion as casually as some receive their partner into bed? There are those who do one or the other or both. But neither of these should be done casually. When we come into contact with God, we are touching fire. When we come into contact with the other person, we are touching God’s property, God’s image, God’s sacrament, and in this way, we are playing with fire. It is no mere recreation for the sake of pleasure, it is self-revelation and a self-emptying, the most intimate in its immediacy and the most cosmic in its implications. The Church does not “intrude” into this sphere, she rather shows how this sphere extends to the depths and opens to the heights. Spousal friendship is the only realm great enough, stable enough, strong enough, to sustain the full impact of this communion, which is meant to increase the life of God within us. The dwelling together of spouses is a sacramental domain. The Holy Spirit moves over the face of these waters and, according to His inscrutable mercies, takes away their formlessness, the reproach of their emptiness.
The body is a liturgical vessel. What are we offering God in the liturgy? Moldy bread and sour wine? Is this to be consecrated? And what are we offering our spouse? Some artificially segregated portion of ourselves? Our hungry selfishness? Will we offer ourselves in the totality of our human nature, body and soul, together with the children who may come? “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” (Mt 19:14)—let them come into being! God help us, will we offer the whole of creation, as the priests and rulers he has placed in this world? What is worthy of the Divine Liturgy? What is worthy of the cosmic liturgy? The bees, the grain, the grapes are not selfish, they yield everything they are to man and to God. Consider the lilies of the field. They prodigally offer their scent and shape, giving glory to their maker and comfort to their beholder. They do not feel the need to hold back or do this at their pleasure.
Each time a husband and wife embrace one another, it is a re-enactment of the sacrament of their marriage, as each Eucharist is a re-enactment of the sacrifice of the Cross. What do we offer God and each other in this act? In what condition is the matter we offer? “This holy and unspotted host,” “an umblemished lamb.” If God deserves gold and silver vessels for the Eucharist, and pure wine and bread, then at least we can say that husbands and wives deserve worthy intentions and honest fleshliness without chemicals or barriers.
Should not the giver of the most intimate gift give his or her best? And what is best in man is not just his flesh or his “heart” but the whole man, body and soul, flesh and spirit, mind and will. We are not dualists: man is not two things but one. If he is to give himself (and not something which is not truly himself), then he must give all of himself, surrendering who and what he is to the beloved, that the union may be a complete and perfect union—not a business contract or a prostitution or a recreation, none of which has anything to do with true love of a person for the person’s own sake, for who he or she is in the fullness of his or her being. Nature-defying, man-denying, God-hating nihilism is at the root of “recreational sex” as well as “sex-ed.” People who do not love one another for who and what they are live in a world without realism, love, or hope. They learn the cynical arts of distraction and dissipation to forget the miserable isolation of their condition. If one has nothing worth giving up one’s life for, all that is left is a ceaseless pursuit of pleasures or frenetic business, so that one need not have to face existential questions like: who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? What does death mean? The reason religion seems to be irrelevant to so many people today is that religion exists only to ask and to answer these questions. When people no longer ask them, religion has nothing to say to them.
The action of nuptial union carries with it immense meaning and responsibility, which is why it ought to be freely and consciously chosen with the full weight of one’s being and with an unspoken but vital awareness of what it is. This, of course, is precisely what the best of Christian customs and pious traditions surrounding marriage always underlined, and what Christians today should thoughtfully retain or recover as they plan and celebrate their weddings and embark on the adventure, or better, pilgrimage, of married life in Christ. Those who are not married do not really know what will be asked of them or what the burden of joy and suffering will be until it has come upon them, but when they receive humbly and trustingly the mysteries handed down from eternity to time, from one age to another, they also receive the grace to be broken and healed, to hold on and let go, to die and rise again. It is a lifelong initiation into the paschal mystery, and its fruit is perfect conformity to the Bridegroom and the Bride, the oneness of eternal life, and a family beyond all earthly families.Peter Kwasniewski, Ph.D. is a founding professor of Wyoming Catholic College and a widely-published author on liturgy, sacred music, Thomistic theology, and Catholic social teaching. His most recent books are Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014) and Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church (Angelico Press, 2014). He lives with his wife and children in Lander, Wyoming.
- Nietzsche’s Self-Conqueror and Procreative Self-Sacrifice
- The Personalist and Sacramental Meaning of “Paying the Debt”
- The Cosmic and Eucharistic Meaning of Openness to Life, Part II
- The Cosmic and Eucharistic Meaning of Openness to Life, Part I
- Love for Life and Contempt for Children