I’ll never forget what happened at about 2:05pm on April 14. In front of my family, friends, and God, I swore in church. And then the girl standing next to me swore. It wasn’t inappropriate. It wasn’t bad; it was actually a good thing.
We swore that we would love each other faithfully for the rest of our lives and we begged God to seal and strengthen our commitment. We were so excited to get married, but we knew that the sacrament wasn’t just about us.
One of the reasons that the Church believes that weddings are always a public event is because the love between husband and wife is a visible sign that’s supposed to point to Jesus’ love for His bride, the Church. As a visible sign, our marriage tells the world what Jesus’ love is like for the Church and how the Church is supposed to respond to Jesus’ love.
To reveal His love for us, Jesus (God’s Word) became flesh when He was born among us (John 1:14).
In marriage, the words of our wedding vows “become flesh” in the way we speak to each other, the way we speak about each other, and the ways we act toward each other. On our wedding day, we promised that we would love each other:
- Freely: choosing to love each other, not just being pressured into something
- Totally: holding nothing back
- Faithfully: loving each other exclusively
- Fruitfully: being open to children
To take any of those four qualities out of the equation would offer a pathetic substitute for love. Imagine how sad the vows would sound if we tried to change just one part . . .
- “Honey I love you . . . mostly because I’m afraid of being alone”
- “I love you with almost all of my heart! At least 74%!”
- “You’re the only one for me. So is Susie, Katie, LaFawnda, and any other attractive women I meet in the next 40 years.”
- “You’re so wonderful, but I don’t think it would be a good idea if the world had another little version of you running around.”
The most profound way that the words of the wedding vows “become flesh” is through sexual union. When a husband and wife make love they are renewing, with their bodies, the vows that they made on their wedding day (CCC 2360). Both the husband and the wife are called to give themselves freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully.
Some people are shocked to discover that the Catholic Church teaches that getting married doesn’t mean you can just do whatever you want in the bedroom.
When a couple uses contraception, one person is choosing to hold something back from their spouse. It’s as if the person using contraception is saying, “Here is almost all of me, except for that part of me (my fertility) that allows us to become partners with God in creating new life.”
Many have mistakenly believed that contraception would bring freedom to marriages by taking away the “risk” of children. Instead, both husband and wife experience less-than-love when they give each other less than everything. The love between husband and wife, specifically in their sexual union, was always meant to be an image of God’s free, total, faithful, and fruitful love for us.
The Church’s call to married couples is simply to love as Christ loves. The Catechism expresses this beautifully: “God who created man out of love also calls him to love, the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is Himself love.” (CCC 1604)
This doesn’t mean that every Catholic family should compete with the Duggars and their 19 kids. At certain points, the couple may have serious reasons to postpone pregnancy and that’s okay and a responsible thing to do sometimes. But even in these situations, contraception is never the answer.
The couple may abstain (a.k.a. not have sex) during the fertile phase of the woman’s cycle if they are trying to postpone pregnancy. This careful monitoring of the woman’s cycle is called Natural Family Planning (NFP), and it gives the couple the opportunity to learn to show their love for each other in nonsexual ways during those periods when they’re choosing to abstain.
Even though both may seem to be aimed at the same goal of postponing pregnancy, NFP and contraception are vastly different. Here is what the body language of each is saying:
- NFP: “I really want to be with you, but because we have prayerfully discerned that this is best for our marriage right now, I am willing to sacrifice my desire. That’s how much I love you.”
- Contraception: “I really want to be with you right now. I know that we’re not hoping to get pregnant, but I really want to be with you right now and I’m willing to put barriers between our love because I really can’t wait.”
Polls have shown that many Catholic couples use contraception; we shouldn’t be surprised that the Catholic divorce rate isn’t too much better than that of non-Catholics. (Those couples following the Church’s teaching on NFP have a dramatically lower divorce rate.)
Is this teaching easy? Nope. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
My life now is very different than it was before I got married. I’m learning that even though love costs everything I have, I receive so much more. Just like everything else, I’m finding that marriage is about us giving God the little that we have and watching Him transform and multiply our efforts.
Want to read more about God’s plan for your sexuality? Check out these blogs!