Conjugal act dietrich von hildebrand

Happily Ever After And The Beauty of Indissolubility

6:00:00 AMAnne Foster

Many of us knew what love was best when we were children. Particularly, if we were raised by loving parents who read us fairy tales. For it was our parents who showed us what sacrificial love looked like and it was the fairy tales that ingrained in us the phrase,

“ … and they lived happily ever after.”

This idea of “ever after” is an important and serious theme of true love, explicitly love within marriage. Only upon the supernatural threshold of the sacrament of matrimony can the noble vow of “till death do us part” truly and fully be realized.

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However, for some of us, as we grew older that fairy tale ending has become a distant dream and it’s value and worth within marriage has evolved into a troublesome formality. We grow to resent the fantastical stories which led us to believe that those three magic words, ‘I’ and ‘love’ and ‘you,’ implied, “happily ever after.”

In today’s world, more and more it appears as if ‘forever’ is what everyone wants but not what everyone gets to have.

Hence, the controversies which ensue among present day Catholics whenever the Church lays down the hammer concerning the word: Indissolubility.

For those who have undergone terrible and tragic divorce and annulments, this topic can be sensitive. However, I don’t believe we should shy away from sensitive topics. Because, the difficult and uncomfortable aspect of our lives are worth talking about.

Growing up a cradle Catholic, I have accepted and practiced the teachings of the Church in the same fashion as I listen to the wise and authoritative words of my Father.  I may not have always understood the ‘why’ but I listened out of respect and obedience.  Yet, luckily my faith never became merely an allegiance to a list of dry and solemn rules and theological formulas. Rather, my parents felt it important to present the faith as both intellectual and personal. And this is what I wish to do here for you concerning the Church's teaching on the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage.

For it is easy enough to say this is what the Church teaches … obey it. However, if these teachings do not become personal to us, they become extremely difficult to live up to. Christ wishes to reveal to our hearts the beautiful meaning of marriage. The heart knows things which reason knows nothing of and when it comes to the topic of marriage our hearts are extremely in tune to its spiritual nature.

Therefore, let’s get right to it. How can the intimidating word indissolubility become not only beautiful but inviting and captivating for us.

Most people understand spousal love as natural. However, we aim to investigate God’s intentions for spousal love, namely, to make it supernatural, granting to it the dignity of a sacrament . Within the sacrament of marriage, our spousal love is given the proper ammunition to defend itself against both the unmerciful stack of bills on the kitchen table and the Devil himself.

Dietrich von Hildebrand’s describes marriage as such; “the most intimate human I-Thou communion, the irrevocable bond which Christ elevated to a sacrament.”
(Humanae Vitae - A Sign of Contradiction, 22)  

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This statement alone says a lot of the ecstatic, mysterious character and essential intimacy which this sacrament possesses.

First, let’s touch upon the irrevocable bond which he speaks of.

This bond is forged by no earthly means but rather is solemnly pronounced before God, entrusted to Him, sealed by Him. No longer is your love union merely natural… it radiates supernatural life. Pope Pius XII expresses this supernatural transformation most eloquently,

“But what new and unutterable beauty is added to this love of two human hearts, when its song is harmonized with the hymn of two souls vibrating with supernatural life!”
(Allocution to newlyweds, 23 Oct. 1940)

When we can grasp the splendor of God’s vision for marriages we can begin to realize that God’s irrevocable seal is not set in place to trap or oppress us. Rather, entrusting and binding your marriage vows to the unshakable and impenetrable chains of heaven will only make it stronger. We can trust Christ with our marriages, with our love. Hildebrand again quotes Pius XII, this transformation of spousal love by Christ “neither destroys nor changes nature, but perfects it.” (Ibid.)

True love makes no sense apart from an irrevocable union.

When two lovers wish to give of themselves completely and unreservedly to each other, this desire which Hildebrand calls the intentio unionis, can only reach its fulfillment when their act of self-giving is irrevocable. No one wishes to be told “ I love you … for now. But, who knows how I’ll feel next week.”

Likewise, the irrevocable union of marriage is fulfilled by the conjugal act, in the consummation of the marriage, whereby two become one flesh .

Hildebrand claims we can not fail to grasp the words of the Lord referring to the indissolubility of marriage:

“For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  Therefore, now they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore, God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10:5-9)

The bodily union, it’s complete and total act of self-donation, when sealed by God, is clearly the act which realizes the irrevocable bond.

Lastly, something must be said of marriage as a sacrament.

It’s a big deal.

Too often when times are tough we don’t flee to the grace of the sacraments like we ought. Similarly, many married couples fail to recognize the treasure trove of heavenly aid which awaits them within the sacrament of their own marriages,  if they only ask for it.

Hildebrand claims that we can not question the fact that the dignity of the sacrament not only means marriage is sacred but also that it is a source of special graces.

Therefore, it is important for all those who are either married or considering marriage to understand the beautiful reasoning behind a 2,000 year old teaching. And to then allow Christ to transform their love into something supernatural, perfect and fulfilling.

Indissolubility is not just some fancy theological term for us to memorize. And the tie between spousal love and this irrevocable bond is not merely factual, but a staggering mystery, an ineffably deep and glorious fact. (41) The mystery of sacramental marriage, is a matter of the heart which Christ gives us insight into so that we may passionately and reverently desire it.  As St. Augustine explains, “He who made you without you, will not justify you without out you.”
(Sermon 169)

Likewise, He who made us wishes to grant us the fairy tale ending we’ve been dreaming of.

      Our very own … “Happily Ever After.”

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