Chapter Two: “The Best Way”
by Theresa Notare, PhD
My mother met my father as a teenager. They dated after high school. When he returned from the Korean War, they married. Like most Catholics at that time, they quickly had four children. As we grew older, and much to my mother’s embarrassment, my father liked to boast to us that they followed the Church’s teaching on birth control. Also he soberly added that there was only one choice in life, even when it came to sex—to follow God’s will and commandments. It wasn’t always easy, he said, but it was the best way.
My father was not theologically sophisticated, yet instinctively he understood God’s design for love and marriage. Dad “got it.” He knew in his heart that every man and woman has an inherent dignity. This understanding shaped his spousal relationship with my mother. The witness of my parents continues to speak to my heart of what it means to be made in God’s image and how that reality impacts the nature of married love.
These thoughts about my parents’ marriage filled my mind when I read Chapter Two of the official catechesis for the 2015 World Meeting on the Family. The theme is about God’s mission of love and how it is revealed in the conjugal relationship. To be made in God’s image speaks both of God’s invitation to share in His life and of the inherent gifts that God gives to each man and woman. The capacity and the vocation to love, just like God, is the foundation for all of human life. It is essential for marriage. And, the conjugal embrace is caught up in God’s divine plan of married love and life.
Scripture and Tradition reveal that God created marriage to be a life-long union between a man and a woman marked by fidelity, permanence, and fruitfulness (see The Code of Canon Law, §1055, Humanae vitae, no. 9). Marriage is a radical call to love like God.
When a man and woman become one flesh in marriage, sex is, by its nature, both unitive and procreative. Procreation is the invitation by the Lord of life to share in the wonder of conceiving children. This is why the Church teaches that children are the supreme gift in marriage (see Gaudium et spes, no. 50). This is also why the Church teaches that “when married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility…by using contraception” they deny “part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality” and actually do harm to their unity (see Married Love and the Gift of Life, USCCB, 2006). This may seem like a hard saying in today’s world, but the burden is lifted when we realize who we are as made in God’s image and God’s vision for married love.
In one of my many conversations with my father, he once admitted that sometimes he had to go to his room, shut the door, pray and remember why he loved my mother. Doing the right thing, even with someone you deeply love, is not always easy. Both he and my mother lived their joint mission of married love, and my siblings and I knew that we were the primary recipients. We saw their joy, playfulness, and reverence for one another.
In the last years of his life, my mother nursed my father through a long illness. My father died at home in my mother’s arms. His last words to her were that she was the love of his life. Their love was easy and passionate. At times it was hard and sacrificial. They chose the best way, they lived God’s mission of married love.
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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.