Chapter Four: “Two Become One” Takes More than Romance
by Theresa Notare, PhD
One of my married friends likes to say that marriage is an unrelenting demand to put others first. That’s because marriage is the union where a man and a woman –“the two”—become “one” (see Gn 2:24). Self-giving is at the heart of marriage. Chapter Four of the catechism for the 2015 World Meeting of Families (WMOF) shines a light on this biblical teaching.
Love, as many would agree, is central to marriage. “Married love,” however, is “more than romance” (no. 55). It’s not that romance is bad; it’s actually quite good, even exhilarating. It’s just that romance does not represent the full reality of love. Romance is only a tiny fruit of love, more like the frosting on a cake. Love, as God intends for marriage, is more.
Married love calls husband and wife to move out of the tight confines of their individual egos and blend their lives, hopes, dreams, and desires. Marriage requires that spouses share the unique gifts of their masculinity and femininity. The Church recognizes marriage as a vocation. It is a specific call from God to love in a nuptial manner, that is, in a way that builds the one-flesh union and is in service to life.
Living married love well is not automatic. Husband and wife will need to rely on God’s grace and consciously cultivate and live the Christian virtues, especially mercy and chastity (no. 62). It may be easy to see how mercy is part of marriage. After all, forgiveness is essential to all good relationships, especially marriage! The benefit of chastity, however, may not be so clear. The WMOF Catechism offers a helpful thought: “Chastity forms the good habits of self-denial and self-control, which are prerequisites for treating others with mercy” (no. 62). We can understand this benefit of chastity more deeply by looking to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him [which]… ensures the unity of the person, it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2338)
Chastity is that virtue which protects the whole person. It fosters respect and ensures that people do not treat each other as objects. Chastity helps people understand the meaning of human sexuality and the gift of procreation. It enables husband and wife to love each other with respect, joy and reverence since it assists in sexual self-control. It enables spouses to speak the nuptial language of the body (a language of total self-gift and openness to life).
Chastity fosters generosity. It helps spouses avoid any action that would assault their persons or the nature of marriage. So, for example, the chaste couple does not use contraception or pornography. Contraception falsifies the nuptial language of the body and assaults the gift of fertility, while pornography degrades their persons and mocks God’s design for married love.
In considering the nature of married love it is important to remember my friend’s words—marriage is an unrelenting demand to put others first! The nature of married love insists that husband and wife give themselves to each other, selflessly, totally, and for the whole of life. Building a strong marriage is a life-long process and the human ego can be difficult to tame. That’s why practicing the Christian virtues can be helpful to ensure that “the two” will “become one!”
About the author
Theresa Notare, PhD, is the Assistant Director of the Natural Family Planning Program in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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