“Marriage in God's Plan”
by David Utsler
(Lay Witness, June 1999)
David Utsler writes: “In order to grasp the full meaning and power of marriage, it is necessary to understand why man was created. ... Man's deepest vocation as a person is to love God. This also entails loving one's neighbor, who is created in the image and likeness of God.
“God Himself ‘lives a mystery of personal loving communion.’ God made man in His image and likeness to share in that loving communion, not out of need, but purely as an act of goodness. Marital love best images the kind of love that God lives in Himself and that which we were created to share with Him.”
Utsler takes up the Catechism's description of “marriage as a sacrament at the service of communion. ... This means that it is directed toward the salvation of others. Other sacraments contribute in various ways to the salvation of the recipient. Those at the service of communion, when one receives them, are given to contribute to the salvation of another.”
Marriage predated the Fall, and since it was meant to reflect God's image, “marriage was restored to the dignity of a sacrament [by Jesus]: to aid in the restoration of that communion of love for which man was first created. Therefore, the single most important duty or task of married love is to be at the service of communion. This clearly means that spouses bear a certain responsibility for each other's salvation and together for that of their children. From this fundamental obligation all other duties and responsibilities of marriage flow.”
Utsler also draws on Pope John Paul II's teaching that “love is the only adequate response to persons. This is what Pope John Paul II calls the ‘personalistic norm.’ A person can never be used as a means to an end, but must be viewed as an end in himself. In marriage, a spouse is loved for his or her own sake.”
It follows that “the nature of marriage requires total self-donation and self-giving to another that is completely indissoluble. Sexual union is intrinsically a part of this, and for this reason, is proper only to marriage. ... The sexual union is not reducible to the satisfying of a bodily instinct, but is part of the mutual self-giving of the spouses. In sexual union, spouses are not merely giving their bodies to one another as if the self could be momentarily suspended, but they are giving their very selves to one another with their bodies. This is why, outside of the indissoluble covenant of marriage, sex is always a lie and is always the use of another person for self-satisfaction.”
Utsler next turns to procreation. “Did God command procreation merely to populate the earth, using man and woman as a means to that end? No. ... The true beauty of procreation lies in the fact that it flows from marital love.
“It is sad when a spouse ignores the value of the other and uses the other for sexual satisfaction alone — even within marriage. When this happens, the value of the child is not reduced, because such value is intrinsic to the child. However, the spouses deprive one another of the full power of their sexual union and may not appreciate the child's incalculable worth. The connection between sex and procreation is far more profound than the mere biology of human reproduction.
“This is why every contraceptive act is an offense against spousal love. Contraception not only frustrates procreation, but it strikes at the very heart of procreation, which is spousal love. It is irredeemably depersonalizing.”
Couples who are aware of the significance of their union, “through their mutual, self-giving love ... actually participate in each other's sanctification. They become a channel through which Christ confers Grace to live the Christian life. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church and gave Himself up for her, sanctifying her by the washing of water by the word (Ephesians 5:26). This speaks of total self-giving, as Christ gave Himself for us. The submission of wives to husbands in the same passage is not an issue of equality or a designation of value, but a response to that love. As the Bride of Christ, the Church — and thus all her members — are called to love Christ without holding anything back.”
“Marriage and family in God's plan is a ‘civilization of love.’ It is first in the Christian family that new persons are introduced into the world. Through this family, the ‘first herald’ of the Gospel, children are introduced into God's wider family, the Church.”
Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidson, Maryland.