Christís love is the source of the love which unites husband and wife, enabling them to love each other with total commitment and fidelity
Married life as a way of holiness was the theme of the Holy Father's weekly catechesis at the General Audience of Wednesday, 3 August. Fidelity to the marriage bond and generosity in begetting and raising children are the two essential aspects of this holiness, and for Christian spouses the grace of God through the sacrament of marriage strengthens and renews their love as they carry out these tasks. Here is a translation of the Pope's address, which was the 97th in the series on the mystery of the Church and was given in Italian.
1. We have stressed woman's role in the Church. Obviously, the task of man is no less important. The Church needs the collaboration of both to carry out her mission. The basic context where this cooperation is shown is married life, the family, which is "the first, primordial expression of the social dimension of the person" (Christifideles laici, n. 40).
The Second Vatican Council acknowledged that "the forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one" and expressly cited married life as a way of holiness: "Christian married couples and parents, following their own way, should support one another in grace throughout life with faithful love, and should train their children (lovingly received from God) in Christian doctrine and evangelical virtues. Because in this way they present to all an example of unfailing and generous love, they build up the brotherhood of charity, and they stand as witnesses and co-operators of the fruitfulness of Mother Church, as a sign of and a share in that love with which Christ loved his bride and gave himself for her" (Lumen gentium, n. 41).
Thus the path of the married couple and the family has two essential aspects: sanctification in a union of faithful love and sanctification in fruitfulness, by fulfilling the task of raising their children as Christians.
Marriage is sign of Christís love for the Church
Today we wish to reflect on the way of holiness proper to Christian married people, and therefore, to most of the faithful. It is an important way, but one badly shaken today by certain intellectual trends fueled by the rampant hedonism in society as a whole.
2. We go back to the Council's beautiful statement that the way of marriage is a way of holiness, because it is meant to be a "sign of and a share in that love with which Christ loved his bride and gave himself for her".
In this ecclesiological view, Christ's love is the source and foundation of the love uniting the spouses. It should be stressed that true conjugal love is meant, and not a mere spontaneous impulse. Today sexuality is often exalted to the point of obscuring the profound nature of love. Certainly, sexual life too has its own genuine value, which can never be underestimated, but it is a limited value that is an insufficient basis for the marriage union, which by its nature depends on total personal commitment. Every sound psychology and philosophy of love is in agreement on this point. Christian teaching also emphasizes the qualities of the individuals' unitive love and casts a higher light on it, raising itóby virtue of a sacramentóto the level of grace and of sharing in the divine love of Christ. Along these lines St. Paul says of marriage: "This is a great mystery" (Eph 5:32), in reference to Christ and the Church. For the Christian, this theological mystery is at the root of the ethics of marriage, conjugal love and sexual life itself: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25).
Grace and the sacramental bond enable conjugal life, as a sign of and share in the love of Christ the Bridegroom, to be a way of holiness for Christian spouses and at the same time, to be an effective incentive for the Church to invigorate the communion of love that distinguishes her. As stated by the Council: "married couples build up the brotherhood of charity" (Lumen gentium, n. 41).
3. The Council states and explains the demands of this noble love of Christian couples. In asserting that they must support each other, it underscores the altruistic nature of their love: a love which finds concrete expression in mutual support and generous devotion. By speaking of a "faithful love... all through life", the Council calls attention to fidelity as an obligation based on the absolute fidelity of Christ the Bridegroom. The appeal to this duty is more necessary than ever, especially with regard to one of the great evils of contemporary society the widespread plague of divorce, with its serious consequences for married couples themselves and their children. With divorce, husband and wife inflict a deep wound on each other, fail to keep their own word and break a vital bond. At the same time they harm their children. How many children suffer over the departure of one or the other parent! It must be said over and over again to everyone that, with his absolutely faithful love, Jesus Christ gives Christian spouses the strength of fidelity and enables them to resist the temptation to separate, which today is so widespread and seductive.
4. We must remember that, since the love of Christ the Bridegroom for the Church is a redemptive love, the love of Christian spouses becomes an active participation in Redemption. Redemption is tied to the Cross: and this helps us understand and appreciate the meaning of the trials that the couple's life is certainly not spared, but which in God's plan are meant to reinforce their love and bring greater fruitfulness to their married life. Far from promising his married followers an earthly paradise, Jesus Christ offers them the opportunity and the vocation to make a journey with him which, through difficulties and suffering, will strengthen their union and lead them to a greater joy, as proven by the experience of so many Christian couples, in our day as well.
5. Fulfilling the task of procreation contributes to the sanctification of married life, as we noted in regard to motherhood: the love of husband and wife, which is not turned in on itself, but according to the impulse and law of nature is open to new life, becomes with the help of God's grace an exercise of holy and sanctifying charity, in which the spouses contribute to the Church's growth.
Deeper faith comes from raising children
The same thing occurs in carrying out the task of education, which is a duty connected with procreation. As the Second Vatican Council said, Christian married couples "should train their children in Christian doctrine and evangelical virtues" (Lumen gentium, n. 41). It is the most essential apostolate of family life. This work of giving their children moral and spiritual formation also sanctifies the parents, who are themselves blessed with a deeper, renewed faith, as the experience of Christian families often shows.
Once again we can conclude that married life is a way of holiness and apostolate. This catechesis thus serves to deepen our view of the family, which is so important in this Year of the Family for the Church and the world.
L'Osservatore Romano August 10, 1994