Background: We’re reading through the Viewer’s Guide to “Made for Life,” a video about the gift of children and the need for fathers and mothers. In the last installment, we looked at what openness to life means and why love and life are inseparable. In this section, we’ll reflect on the unique gift of self in marriage and how that gift of self opens to the gift of life.
“You give yourself, then, totally and completely . . . saying ‘I love you so much, I’m going to give myself to you as a gift, and I am open to whatever that brings and whatever God wants.’”
Katie is speaking here about the very foundation of what makes marriage “made for life”: the total gift of self between a man and a woman as husband and wife. We have already mentioned this gift of self in marriage, but it deserves some more attention. Indeed, every person is called to a generous and sincere gift of self. [i] But marriage is a unique instance of self-gift. In marriage, husband and wife give not just part of themselves to each other, but give all—their whole person, body and soul. This gift of self in marriage is not something temporary like a loan; it is meant to last for a lifetime. [ii] It is a total, lifelong gift of husband to wife and wife to husband. [iii]
A husband and a wife’s total gift of self in marriage, with its lifelong permanence, makes their bond absolutely unique and different from any other relationship between two people. Although two persons of the same sex can have an authentic and holy friendship, only a man and a woman can pledge themselves to each other in marriage. Through their sexual difference, only a husband and a wife can speak the “language” of married love—total, faithful, and fruitful self-gift [iv]—not only with their words, but also with their bodies. [v]
The couples in Made for Life all bear witness to the fact that the gift of self in marriage, which begins with the spouses, does not end with them. As Pope Paul VI taught, married love is fruitful because “it is not confined wholly to the communion of husband and wife; it also aims to go beyond this to bring new life into being.” [vi] Precisely because husband and wife are “made for each other,” their bond is “made for life,” made for fruitful love and for the adventure of fatherhood and motherhood by being open to the gift of a child.
[i]. See Gaudium et Spes, no. 24: “Man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake . . . [and] can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”
[ii]. See Letter to Families, no. 11: “The indissolubility of marriage flows in the first place from the very essence of the gift: the gift of one person to another person” (emphasis in original).
[iii]. Letter to Families, no. 11: “When a man and woman in marriage mutually give and receive each other in the unity of ‘one flesh,’ the logic of the sincere gift of self becomes a part of their life.”
[iv]. In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI lists “the characteristic features” of conjugal [married] love as fully human, total, faithful and exclusive until death, and fecund [fruitful] (no. 9). Pope John Paul II expands upon Paul VI’s description of love by reflecting on how a husband and wife “speak” the message of married love through the “language of the body.” He writes, “The human body speaks a ‘language’ of which it is not the author. Its author is man, as male and female, as bridegroom or bride: man with his perennial vocation to the communion of persons” (Catecheses on the theology of the body [TOB], no. 104:7 [emphasis in original]). This means that the language of love is given to men and women, who are then called to “speak” this language truthfully to each other. The body—as male or female—is essential to “speak” the language of love. Pope John Paul II continues, “[The human person] is constituted in such a way from the ‘beginning’ that the deepest words of the spirit – words of love, gift, and faithfulness – call for an appropriate ‘language of the body.’ And without this language, they cannot be fully expressed” (TOB, no. 104:7).
[v]. As we saw in the first video, Made for Each Other, the sexual difference between men and women is not just a flat “biological” reality or an anatomical detail. Instead, it includes the whole person, body and soul, at every level of his or her existence. As Pope John Paul II explained, the body reveals the person. Encountering a living human body is encountering a human person—male or female—who is inseparable from his or her body. See TOB, no. 9:4.