The human vocation can be summed up in LOVE. God the Father sent His only Son as LOVE Incarnate to show us how to live and to love in a selfless manner. Only in knowing and loving God, can we know and love ourselves and our neighbor. Love is reciprocal giving and receiving. Our divine calling to holiness in love is revealed and made possible through Jesus Christ, as Gaudium et Spes (#22 and 24) reminds us, and each human person is created in love, for love, and can only be fulfilled “through a sincere gift of himself.”
Jesus Christ invites all of us to live as He lived on earth by practicing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Every human person is called to holiness in love through a life of the evangelical counsels, although the different vocations live these counsels in different ways. In the married state, a life of chastity involves respecting and serving one’s spouse and finding delight in that spouse as a unique human person with sexual powers, which are an integral part of our human nature. Conjugal union draws the spouses together and “binds” them as one flesh and creates new life as the fruitful expression of the mutual self-gift in married love.
Blessed Paul VI beautifully expresses God’s plan for marital love in his Encyclical Letter, Humane Vitae. God the Father designed marriage from the beginning so that man and woman might become “one heart and one soul” in a “personal friendship” founded on mutual love for the sake of the other that is “faithful and exclusive” and fruitful, mirroring God’s own love for His people. The love of husband and wife must be rooted in an act of the will, which must be nurtured with daily choices to love despite waning feelings or passions that at times may push the couple apart or test their fidelity. Both husband and wife must strive to act with mastery, not simply control, over their lower passions of the soul, choosing at times to give up one’s own pleasure when necessary for the good of the spouse or for the sake of the children. This type of human formation and training in virtue should begin in childhood, in order to establish within each person habits consistent with choosing the higher good. Sexual pleasure is a good that ensures the perpetuation of the human race (as food and drink pleasurably ensure bodily integrity), but it must be enjoyed in moderation, according to the virtue of temperance. If a man and a woman have not practiced chastity in thought, word and deed before marriage, it will be very difficult to learn those habits afterward. Sustaining love within marriage and caring for a family require virtue and self-mastery on the part of both husband and wife. Habits formed before marriage are foundations upon which the couple builds their love into a lasting, reciprocal, self-giving friendship that is mutually life- and love-giving.
Marital love and fidelity must be fostered and safeguarded for the good of the couple and of society. Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, there is rupture in our ability to love; our minds are blinded to truth, and our wills are hardened against love as self-gift, unless we seek to love as God loves and to master our lower passions for self-indulgence over self-gift. This takes arduous work. We live in a “hook-up” culture that idolizes sensual pleasure and physical beauty for its own sake, not as a reflection of the goodness and truth of our Creator. We are bombarded with unchaste images so frequently that they have become common-place. Blessed Paul VI challenges each of us with the obligation to safeguard chastity, marital love, and conjugal fruitfulness. We have to begin afresh by renewing our personal and family commitment to living the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance and to spreading the joy that virtuous living brings. A life built upon self-mastery through virtuous living is one ordered and beautiful, joyful and truly alive!
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Originally published in USA Today.