‘Profound intimacy’ of marital act

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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Our loving creator has designed us for self-giving love rather than self-getting love. Human beings only find true fulfilment in giving themselves in service to others. In this day and age we live in a culture which teaches us to seek our own pleasure, our own interests and our own gain.

In his Theology of the Body Pope St John Paul II the Great constantly reminded us that such self-assertion is a dead end that will never lead to the love and happiness we long for.

The origin of this total gift of self we are called to make in our lives is the very life of the Trinity. We know from revelation that God exists as a trinity of persons. Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist as a continual outpouring of love, one to the other. We learn from the book of Genesis that we human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. This means that we are created to be in relationships where we go out of ourselves. We are created to be related. We have been built to make gifts of ourselves in love to others.

We see in the life of the Triune God an intimate communion of persons giving themselves completely in love to each other. Our true path to happiness lies in trying to imitate the divine life. Created in the image of the Trinity, man and woman are made to live in an intimate personal communion of self-giving love. We go against our own design and the will of the creator when we live as isolated individuals, each seeking our own pleasure and advantage over others.

Ultimately we only find the happiness we desire when we learn to live like the Trinity, giving ourselves in love to others.

Man alone is only half of the full picture of what it means to be human. In the Garden of Eden, Adam finds himself alone. He is surrounded by nature and the other animals but he has no-one with whom he can fully relate. God says of Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Adam cannot make a gift of himself until there is another creature like him. He cannot be fully human until he is able to live for and with another person.

In order to help Adam complete his humanity, God creates an equal, another human person, Eve, to be his wife. Adam’s response is one of joy and exultation. Finally Adam has someone to whom he can give himself. Through his union with Eve, Adam can become who he was meant to be. This is why Adam responds ecstatically sighing

“This at last is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones!”

Adam and Eve form a one flesh union. This oneness in flesh is not merely bodily but is also a deeper spiritual union, a union of persons. A person consists of body and soul. John Paul II illustrates how this union of body and soul in a person sheds light on human sexuality. The body has a language that is able to communicate something much more profound than information or ideas. What one does in his body reveals his very self, the “living soul”. The body expresses the person and makes visible what is invisible, the spiritual dimension of man.

The marital act then is not meant to be merely a physical union. It is meant to express an even deeper personal union. Since the body reveals the soul, when man and woman give their bodies to each other in marital intercourse, they give themselves to each other. Bodily union is meant to express a deeper spiritual union.

The physical intimacy is meant to express an even more profound personal intimacy.

John Paul II calls this unique language of the body “the nuptial meaning of the body”. He says our bodies have a nuptial character in the sense that they have “the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift and – by means of this gift – fulfils the meaning of his being and existence”

A man can view sex as a way of deepening his personal union with his wife, giving himself completely to her and expressing his total commitment to her as a person and to what is best for her.

Or he can approach sex merely as a physical act with some woman who happens to give him pleasure – without any real commitment to that woman’s well-being. Instead of being truly committed to the woman as a person and to her good, such a man is committed to the woman in that moment primarily for what she provides him: his own sexual satisfaction. Such a denigration of sex, which is pervasive in our culture today, certainly is a far cry from the beautiful nuptial meaning God has given to the body.