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Man, Woman, and Marriage under Lockdown

The Catholic Church's “No” always defends a deeper “Yes"

Living in lockdown these past couple months has put most of us in close and constant proximity to those entrusted to us in our primary vocation—our spouse and our children. In many cases this has meant that these same people, whom we often see mainly in passing as we navigate the seemingly endless onslaught of practices, play dates, and piano lessons, have suddenly come into much clearer focus. Though I wouldn’t wish this Covid situation on a dog I didn’t like, it has been a gift and an opportunity to not just see my wife and children, but to truly behold them, which, to be honest, I don’t do nearly often enough.

Working from home, with everyone’s activities canceled, I have found myself reflecting on how grateful I am to have been called to the vocation of marriage and family, particularly how grateful I am for the gift of my wife. It has been a blessing to see her feminine genius up close and personal as she works her motherly magic in all sorts of ways, making our home and family life a place where all those entrusted to her can flourish. It calls to mind what a great blessing marriage is.

As Catholics, we have a profound understanding of the mystery of marriage. We know marriage is a sacrament—a vehicle of grace and a visible reality which signifies and makes present a deeper, invisible reality. In the case of marriage, the reality signified is the eternally fruitful personal communion of self-gift, which is the Blessed Trinity. Furthermore, the sacraments of vocation – marriage and holy orders – supply the grace needed not just to do something we are called to do, but to be who we were created to be. Knowing this should remind us, as Catholics, that marriage belongs to God and is entrusted to us as the source of grace and mercy that two striving sinners will need to love Him, and one another, well.

In Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II tells us that God desired to make His plan for marriage so obvious that He stamped that call to communion into our bodies. This means that our bodies are not just biological realities, they are theological realities – they make manifest in a finite, created way the eternal essence of the Trinity itself. Our creation as male and female speaks to God’s plan to make of the spouses one flesh, and to make that one-flesh union of husband and wife the means through which He would create new human persons.

God didn’t need our cooperation to create new human life. As Jesus says in Matthew 3:9, God can raise up children from the stones at the side of the road if he so wills. Rather, God created man and woman for fruitful, life-giving union through our sexual complementarity because he is from all eternity a fruitful, life-giving union of personal self-gift, and He created us in His own image and likeness.

Even our basic biology testifies to this fact. I have been blessed with a healthy reproductive system. Becky and I have been blessed with six children. But here is the crazy thing: half of my reproductive system is walking around in my wife’s body, and half of her reproductive system is walking around in mine! Think about what that means: when God created us, He intentionally designed our reproductive system so that it could only be complete, and achieve its purpose, by being brought into union with the reproductive system of a person of the opposite sex.

This is not true of any other biological system. For instance, I have a healthy gastro-intestinal system (unless I hit the salsa caliente too hard) and it is completely contained in my body; my small intestines are not walking around in my wife’s body. The same is true of my cardio-pulmonary system, my nervous system, and so on. But my reproductive system is incomplete and ineffective unless and until I unite it to my wife’s healthy-but-incomplete reproductive system in the marital embrace. Our reproductive system is created unique in a way reflective of truths far deeper than mere biology.

This is not some accident of unguided evolution. This is our human nature as created and intended by God, which reveals that our creation as male and female—our sexual complementarity, the one-flesh union of marriage, and our ability to be co-creators with God—are, by his design, central to what it means to be created in his image and likeness. He made marriage to be an icon of the Trinity, and he created the marital embrace to be the highest and most complete expression of the human person this side of eternity.

Small wonder then that the Catholic Church unceasingly defends the truth about man and woman, about sex and marriage, and about the sacredness of all human life and the act which brings it about.

It is worth remembering here that whenever the Church says “No” to something—and, spoiler alert, the Church sometimes says “No” to some things—it is always because she has already said “Yes” to a deeper truth, and a greater good. The “No” always defends the deeper “Yes.”

So, when the Church says “No” to all the ways that human beings have found to get sex, marriage, and the whole man and woman thing wrong, it is not because the Church is the universal buzzkill (“Oh no, somebody is experiencing pleasure! Quick, send the pope and make him stop!”). Nor is it that the Catholic Church sees sex as dirty and shameful. On the contrary, when the Church says “No” to sexual sin, it is simply defending the great truth, goodness, and beauty of the meaning of marriage that has been entrusted to her, and which she never stops contemplating, clarifying, and communicating.

As Catholics we know, or ought to know, that marriage is not whatever we want it to be. The same is true for sex and the deep biological and theological realities of masculinity and femininity. They are all gifts with a God-given nature and purpose—gifts that make manifest the imago dei and call us to the live-giving communion of persons that is marriage. The Church still treasures truths the world has chosen to forget, to the great detriment of family life and society, and with staggering cost to the dignity of the human person.

As always, the Church has what the world needs. With that in mind, as we slowly make our way back to life in what we pray will be an open and functioning society, let us ask Jesus to make our marriages healthy and holy, so that our faithful living of this vocation might bear witness to the truth that there is great joy in embracing God’s will. The truth is, in these troubled times we have been given a marvelous opportunity to pay forward the great gift of marriage. May God grant us the grace to make the most of it.

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