Marriage, Human Sexuality, and the Body: The Spousal Meaning of the Body (Part V)October 14th, 2015
This is part of a series of articles on marriage, human sexuality and the body. Read Part I here. Read Part II here. Read Part III here. Read Part IV here. Read Part VI here.
Within marriage, we discover what John Paul calls the “spousal meaning of the body.” We are created for marriage. To even say that today sounds controversial, because we have been so versed by our culture to the strains of solitude. But Jesus repeats this in Matthew 19 “a man shall leave his mother and father and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” There are, of course, those who are called to celibacy and marry the church. There is a profound dignity in singleness which we will explore later on in these homilies. But, the basic design is marriage. Our modern discomfort with this is perhaps illustrated by the recent trend in the elimination of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day in the church. This has been driven mostly because of concerns that those who are single or childless might feel excluded. But, this is a sign of the inward gaze which is the anti-sacrament of autonomous solitude. Surely, the more profound insight is that our very presence in the world, or in this room, is a testimony that we have or had a father and a mother. And we stand even in our singleness and honor our father and our mother, which is the first commandment with a promise.
The contemporary world has set the genders at war with one another in endless cruel and destructive ways. Remember, the trajectory of the fall is always pushing towards autonomous solitude; the trajectory of redemption is always summoning us to communion with the Triune God. The world lives under the gravity of sin and self-orientation; we live under the gravity of holy-love. This is the heart of what John Paul meant by the “spousal meaning of the body.”
It is in Genesis 4:1 that, even in a post fallen world, the mirror of the Trinity is not fully broken in us. Adam lay with his wife and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. Eve says, “with the help of the LORD – Yahweh – I have brought forth a man.” It is marriage between a man and a woman in the mysterious communion of sexual union which unites us as “one flesh” and, in the gift of God allows us to join him as little co-creators with God. A new little life proceeds from that sacred union, which further dispels our solitude and further deepens our self-donation. Eve came out of Adam, and a new little Adam comes forth from Eve. A child comes forth, and we now have a Trinity; an intimate unity of father, mother and child whereby we discover the mysterious spousal meaning of our bodies in all its masculinity and femininity, each given to the other, and both given to the child as a reciprocal gift of self-donation. The world we inhabit, which only knows autonomous solitude, actually scorns the reproducibility of the body. That rejection is actually, at its root, a rejection of the Trinity. Reproducibility is impossible in same sex arrangements, but through the lens of autonomous solitude, the inherent problem is not recognized. I realize that, for quite a few of you, when you think on your family you may be saying, “Wait, my family was not a picture of the Trinity, it was more of a picture from hell.” Certainly, the cultural landscape is littered with painful brokenness. But, this is another reason why your generation must “go back to the beginning” and do a reboot on the whole system. You have inherited my own generation’s chaos whereby marriage was actually used to promote autonomy and eschewed any notion of reciprocal self-donation.
However, the Triune God keeps the constant sign before us because, even today, there are signs of hope. I have seen many, many students over the years who have stood up in the midst of unspeakable wreckage and re-captured God’s design, because God’s design remains intact. Even in painful situations, the echo of the Trinity is there in the bearing of children. And in that family – the little Trinity – God, once again, assigns to the body the signs of love and faithfulness and conjugal loyalty. Just as we saw last week how all the means of grace find their expression in the body – you baptize a body, you take Eucharist into your body, etc. So, we find the communion of the Trinity not merely in a place of worship like this, but in the daily life of the couple. Each day acts become tasks, and these tasks becomes acts, all deeply spiritual and so liturgical in its daily-ness that we can miss the glorious mystery of the whole thing. Because, it is in our daily lives that we find a thousand fresh ways to say to our spouse, “this is my body, given for you,” and it is that phrase which, of course, becomes the central declaration of the Eucharistic mystery where Jesus says, “this is my body, given for you.” However, this declaration is not only about Jesus giving his life for us, but is the fundamental truth of God’s whole relationship with us as His creation. He has given himself to us – completely – God’s self-donation of Himself. We, in turn, are called to give ourselves to one another because that is the very mystery of divine communion found only in the Triune God.
Read Part VI here.
Please fill out the form below if you would like to provide feedback to Dr. Tennent concerning this blog entry.