Protecting, Respecting, and Cherishing the Union of the Marital Act

Today’s readings (Isaiah 7:10-14, 8:10; Psalm 40:7-11; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38) of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord prophesy and highlight Mary of Nazareth’s virginal self-giving love in her fiat or “yes” to God. Would Mary consent to be the Mother of the Son of God Incarnate? She responds to the angel Gabriel, “Be it done unto me according to your word.” (The first part of this response is almost identical to Jesus’ fiat in His agony in the garden, as well as the centerpiece of the Our Father, “Your will be done.”) The Virgin Mary’s unconditional and profoundly obedient love of God informs her fiat. Mary’s sexuality, and therefore her motherhood, embrace her affirmation to love God in return.

In today’s world, social decline in faith, virtue, and family stability, among other reasons, have weakened the concept and exercise of “commitment,” so clearly embodied by the Virgin Mary. To “commit” to something, for many, seems too difficult, almost archaic, especially in reference to something other-centered. This is true, for example, concerning marriage. Do most couples, when exchanging marriage vows at their wedding, seriously intend faithful commitment for better or worse until death? Do they understand the meaning of a vow, and are they dedicated to spousal love “no matter what?” Total, self-giving commitment to another in marriage is slowly (or not so slowly) becoming culturally anomalous, if not anachronistic. This is not surprising since commitment to God—the foundation of all other just and loving commitments—is a notion slowly receding into oblivion in our collective, cultural mindset. Without commitment to God, universal truths, and absolute moral norms, relativism spawns, multiplies, and destroys soul and society. In Scripture, God warns us about this contagion, such as corrupting the absolute character of the Decalogue, the Commandments of love (e.g., Isiah 5:20-24; Torah in v.24 is an Isaian reference to the Decalogue).

By disuse and even wholesale rejection of virtue—the greatest of which is love of God—our culture has atrophied in wisdom and moral character and no longer recognizes the purpose of sexuality. We, the people, by and large, view sexual activity as a multi-method approach of obtaining orgasmic pleasure. This is no overstatement—our pervasive and long-standing contraceptive mentality and practice, cohabitation, seduction into the multi-billion dollar pornography enterprise, and political and legislative eradication of the meaning of marriage (in favor of formalized consensual license to engage in sexual activity), reflect our true colors.

In the order of nature, sexual activity—elicited by sexual desire—is oriented toward union of bodily persons. Self-giving, marital love is God’s signature design of this union. To effect it, four conditions must be met.  First, the union must be willed. Second, it must be complementary of one man to one woman to create the union. Third, it must be faithful because of its profound intimacy. Fourth, it must be respectful of the life-giving act of lovemaking, and therefore be open to life, i.e., must not sterilize lovemaking because of its reproductive character. This procreative dimension—the reproductive character—is an intrinsic aspect of conjugal union. A denial of the procreative, fruitful dimension of the conjugal act is a denial of its union. A partial, but not total self-gift in lovemaking contradicts the complete gift of self expressed in the body language of love, so well-illustrated by St. Pope John Paul the Great’s theology of the body.

Among proponents of the oxymoron, “gay marriage,” some argue that the Catholic Church’s teaching of procreation as a fundamental good of marriage is erroneous because elderly married couples would cease to be married, or elderly couples could not marry because of their inability to procreate. However—as (most) everyone knows—a married couple does not conceive a child each time they make love! Marital union does embody a reproductive character: to denigrate this character denigrates the sacred union.

The Virgin Mary’s courageous, unwavering fiat must be ours, as well. Our undying commitment and loyalty to God embraces all of His will, including those facets most countercultural, such as respect for the marital act. Let us imitate Mary, and serve God faithfully, bravely, chastely. By doing so, we will live with integrity. In addition—God willing—we will serve as an example for others to follow, stimulate personal and social growth in virtue, and thereby reclaim and even advance the grace and teaching of Christ. “Though grass withers…the Word of our God stands forever!” (Isaiah 40:8).

Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

8 thoughts on “Protecting, Respecting, and Cherishing the Union of the Marital Act

  1. Very good points. Just a thought. No one intelligent and moral should argue with the natural order or natural law the God created and established through His moral law. Is this a valid point?

    Rev. Mark Davis (Protestant Pastor on a journey to the Catholic Church)

  2. Well said. Mary’s fiat is an inspiration for us. Today, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, is the day of the Gospel of Life. The Word of God who is Life and would be made flesh was announced to Mary and she said “yes.” And Mary’s “yes” resulted in the conception of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords in the tabernacle of her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Mother was open to life.

    Today is the 20th Anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae. You touched upon many of the realities present in our culture today which St. John Paul II warned about. Thank you for your observations, particularly of the “yes” that married couples vow on their wedding day, which includes the “yes” to God’s will in being open to life.

    • Ed, thank you for your response, and for the example you, your wife, and your family give as a witness to the truth about conjugal and familial love.

  3. Mark,
    Well articulated on the marital union. Much like the studies on T.O.B.
    I am curious about your thoughts on the family system. There is a rant on the family decline debate which I posted on my blog. I would very much like your opinion on it.
    Let me know what you think.

    • Hi Tommy–nice to hear from you…I like your post on “Why Stay Married So Long”! I do think marriage and family life, as instituted by God as the primary cell of society, are in big trouble. Cheating, using, sterilizing, redefining, and destroying have hurt everyone.

  4. Your Eminence Brother Koehne,
    I love how the last paragraph in this piece interweaves beautifully, supportively with Susan O’Hara’s Laetare. I see you and Susan saying the same thing but going about it differently due to the titles of your pieces. So, let us rejoice in the Immaculate Virgin Mary’s POV (point of view), who was full of wisdom on her short time here. She knew without a doubt her son was the Christ child, the messiah and the miracle of conceiving without the sexual act itself (an act of God alone).
    Besides, respect for the marital act and all it entails biblically facilitates wisdom – respect, honor for the elderly (the wisdom) and respect, honor for the future (our children). In comparison, if we just honor, uphold the journey between, then we have nothing, because eventually we will become old and dissipate or never make it out of our juvenile to our adolescent years. The time between the two would just be temporal., without meaning as you eluded to earlier Mark. The gist of my interpretation on the years between, i.e, 18 – 67 years old, would just be a passing moment, and nothing learned in God’s eyes or redemptive value for our souls – a state of Limbo (rarely mentioned even by the Vatican- not good enough for heaven, but not bad enough for hell).
    Next, this reminds me of the rainbow by God as a reminder not to destroy the world by flood; as he found hope among Noah versus the rainbow flag now of LGTBQ community who have misinterpreted this event in scripture as a diverse community of love (again half right, half wrong a type of limbo). I understand Mark, either your all in or not; this is the way to perfect humanity, love for each other via- all in for whatever God says. Thank you for sharing this wisdom, enlightenment and the only way to live with each other righteously and in harmony, but obediently and subserviently with God and his intentions for all of us. Love the first key to embracing God; but again the Catholic Bibles way is the right way to get the complete picture for us all.


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