Christian Spirituality of Marriage by Living According to the Spirit

Author: Pope John Paul II

Christian Spirituality of Marriage Possible Only by Living According to the Spirit

Pope John Paul II


At the weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall on Wednesday, 14 November, Pope John Paul II continued his treatment of the spirituality of married life, drawing from the teachings contained in "Humanae Vitae".

Following is our translation of the Holy Father's address.

1. In the light of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, the fundamental element of the spirituality of married life is the love poured out into the hearts of the couple as a gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5). In the sacrament the couple receive this gift along with a special consecration. Love is united to conjugal chastity, which, manifesting itself as continence, brings about the interior order of married life.

Chastity means to live in the order of the heart. This order permits the development of the manifestations of affection in their proper proportion and meaning. In this way conjugal chastity is also confirmed as "life by the Spirit" (cf. Gal 5:25), according to St. Paul's expression. The Apostle had in mind not only the immanent energies of the human spirit, but above all the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit and his special gifts.

Chastity at the centre

2. At the center of the spirituality of marriage, therefore, there lies chastity not only as a moral virtue (formed by love), but likewise as a virtue connected with the gifts of the Holy Spirit—above all, the gift of respect for what comes from God (donum pietatis). This gift is in the mind of the author of the Ephesians when he exhorts married couples to "defer to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21). So the interior order of married life, which enables the manifestations of affection to develop according to their right proportion and meaning, is a fruit not only of the virtue which the couple practice, but also of the gifts of the Holy Spirit with which they cooperate.

The Encyclical Humanae Vitae, in some passages of the text (especially 21 and 26), dealing with the specific asceticism of married life, that is, the commitment to acquire the virtues of love, chastity, and continence, speaks indirectly of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, for which the couple acquire a sensitivity in proportion to their development in the virtue.

Power of the Spirit

3. This corresponds to man's vocation to marriage. Those two who—according to the oldest expression in the Bible—"become one body" (Gn 2:24), cannot bring about this union on the proper level of persons (communio personarum) except through the powers coming from the spirit, and precisely from the Holy Spirit who purifies, enlivens, strengthens, and perfects the powers of the human spirit. "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless" (Jn 6:63).

It follows from this that the essential lines of the spirituality of marriage are inscribed from the beginning in the biblical truth on marriage. This spirituality is also open from the beginning to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. If the Encyclical Humanae Vitae exhorts married couples to "unremitting prayer" and to the sacramental life (saying: "...let them drink deep of grace and charity from that unfailing fount which is the Eucharist"; "humble and persevering, they must have recourse to the mercy of God, abundantly bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance" HV 25), it does so insofar as it is mindful of the Spirit who "gives life"
(2 Cor 3:6).

Spirit's gift of fear

4. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, and especially the gift of respect for what is sacred, seem to have a fundamental significance here. This gift sustains and develops in the married couple a particular sensitivity to everything in their vocation and life that bears the sign of the mystery of creation and redemption: a sensitivity to everything that is a created reflection of God's wisdom and love. Therefore that gift seems to introduce the man and woman to a specially profound respect for the two inseparable meanings of the conjugal act, which the encyclical speaks of in relation to the Sacrament of Marriage (HV 12). Respect for the two meanings of the conjugal act can develop fully only on the basis of a profound reference to the personal dignity of what in the human person is intrinsic to masculinity and femininity, and inseparably in reference to the personal dignity of the new life which can result from the conjugal union of the man and the woman. The gift of respect for what is created by God is expressed precisely in this reference.

5. Respect for the twofold meaning of the conjugal act in marriage, which results from the gift of respect for God's creation, is manifested also as a salvific fear. It is a fear of violating or degrading what bears in itself the sign of the divine mystery of creation and redemption. The author of the Ephesians speaks precisely of this fear: "Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21).

If this salvific fear is directly associated with the negative function of continence (that is, to resistance with regard to concupiscence of the flesh), it is also manifested—and to an ever greater degree as this virtue gradually matures—as sensitivity filled with veneration for the essential values of the conjugal union: for the two meanings of the conjugal act (or, to use the terminology of the previous analyses, veneration for the interior truth of the mutual language of the body).

On the basis of a profound reference to these two essential values, that which signifies union of the couple is harmonized in the subject with that which signifies responsible fatherhood and motherhood. The gift of respect for what is created by God enables the apparent contradiction in this area to disappear and the difficulty arising from concupiscence to be gradually overcome, thanks to the maturity of the virtue and the power of the Holy Spirit's gift.

Interiorly authentic

6. If it is a question of the problem of so-called periodic continence (or recourse to natural methods), the gift of respect for the work of God helps, to the greatest extent, to reconcile human dignity with the natural cycles of fertility, that is, with the biological dimension of the femininity and masculinity of the couple. This dimension also has a significance of its own for the truth of the mutual language of the body in married life.

In this way, even what refers to conjugal union in the flesh—not so much in the biblical meaning as directly in the biological meaning—finds its humanly mature form thanks to the life in the Spirit.

The whole practice of the upright regulation of fertility, so closely linked to responsible fatherhood and motherhood, forms part of the Christian spirituality of married life and family life; and only by living "in the Spirit" can it become interiorly true and authentic.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
19 November 1984, page 1

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