Love as God loves.
Okay, not really the end, but that basically sums it up, doesn’t it? To love as God loves: fully, freely, faithfully, and fruitfully?
Today, I read a disturbing article that seemed to have a mixed view on that assertion. It’s title is The Mistake Christian Husbands and Wives Should Avoid in the Bedroom. It comes from a Christian family and marriage expert who shares that spouses should be fully available to each other because they no longer have rights to their own bodies – as he puts it, “According to God, your spouse has access rights to your physical body.”
The author argues that to avoid sin in a marriage, spouses must give and have full access to their partner’s body for sexual gratification as much as they desire. And what’s more, those that withhold that for any reason are in sin. He touts frequent sex as the ultimate will of God in marriage going so far as to proclaim God requesting an account for the frequency of sexual relations within a marriage as a test of our fidelity to Him.
The reality is this. Christ elevated something human, marriage, to a sacrament – where we can receive sanctifying grace in our souls. Through our spouses in a marriage covenant, we not only have the chance live in love, we have the chance to live it out in a heroic way. Marriage is not just about physical satisfaction. If it were, we would be reduced to the level of the animals.
Marriage is a great mystery. The place where God enters into the two-become-one with His grace to perform what can be miraculous – with the grace of the sacrament we live out the love of the Trinity. We are called to love sacrificially – thinking not of ourselves, but of the other. We are given the chance to be co-creators by being open to life discerningly – not merely procreating for the sake of a skewed ideology like the quiver-full movement. When we enter marriage, we become a communion of persons, meant to be Gift.
This is what St. Paul meant when he speaks of marriage – “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church”. Sacrificially, to the point of shedding blood, heroically for her sake even if it doesn’t feel good, thinking not of yourself, always looking to get your beloved to heaven at any cost. In other words, be another Christ to your spouse.
And “wives be submissive to your husbands”. Be under the mission (sub-missio) of your husband. The mission of Christ. The mission of the sanctification of each other, the family, and the world. The mission of love. The mission of self-giving, serving, and selflessness. In other words, be another Christ to your spouse… do you see a pattern?
The author’s article misses this important distinction – in the bedroom, we give because we love. But it always must be a gift freely given. Because that is the example of Christ. We follow the way of Love, not solely sexual urge.
Is withholding sex from your spouse a sin? It can be. Is it always? No. I can think of countless examples proving it to be both sin and not sin. To say that it is sinful, point blank, is completely misguided. It simply isn’t true.
The truth is that if we say our spouse’s body is ours for the taking, to have as we please when we please, we are beginning to walk into the realm of usage which St. Pope John Paul II talks extensively about in Love and Responsibility. Whenever we use another person as a means to an end, it is usage. And that, my friends, is sinful.
God calls marriages to express the truth of the full person – body, soul, heart, mind – through gift of self. The marital act is truly beyond this world when it involves the entire person given freely as a gift – connecting more than just genitals, but two souls united through a total gift. The Church rightfully teaches that using Natural Family Planning is acceptable and often times virtuous as couples face the challenges of family size, fertility issues, or other serious issues. The morality of the sexual act in marriage has a lot more to do with intention and true love than frequency and availability. God has given spouses the gift of discerning when and how many children to welcome. That means sometimes saying “not now” to your libido which can help couples grow in patience, love, and understanding of one another. This author would seem to disagree on all of this.
The Church has never taught that our sanctity is dependent solely upon how often we have sex or how many children we have. Rather, in a faithful Christian marriage, the spouses are united for a common goal. The marital act is both unitive (unites the spouses) and procreative (is open to life). But that doesn’t mean that more is always better. While one couple may discern frequent intercourse is best for their marriage, times of less intercourse for another couple may be just as holy depending on their circumstances. The mystery of the vocation and the bond between spouses and Christ is not something we can lay a blanket statement on as this author did.
A mature and holy marriage is always based on seeking to be a gift of self instead of seeking to get a gift of another. And sometimes, as already stated, that means a small death to self. My good friend Tim (you can read more about him here when I interviewed him for my Friday Feature) sums it up best I feel. Here’s a snippet of his response he graciously allowed me to share in regards to the original article:
A husband does not have the right to his wife’s body whenever he feels like it. Nor is the inverse true. A wife does not have the right to her husband whenever she wants… This philosophy is completely devoid of respect and understanding between the spouses. If the wife doesn’t want to have sex because she was with the kids all day, and she is exhausted, how is it respectful for the husband to insist upon it simply because it is his marital right? If the two are truly one, the spouse should be treated with the same respect as you would treat yourself… It IS wrong and sinful to hold sex as a ransom. However, do not confuse this with the thought that your spouse is sinning when he/she doesn’t want to have sex…What about kids? Sex whenever? You better be ready and willing to bring children up…lots of them. As Catholics, we have NFP… To assume that we as men (and women) are reduced to the sexual intelligence of animals, being that we can have sex with our mate as often and as much as we feel we have the right to, is insulting. We are better than that. I’m speaking for the men…WE ARE BETTER THAN THAT… It’s articles and thinking like this that leads the rest of the world to believe that a good Christian couple is nothing more than property to each other.
Right on, brother.
Let’s look at it like this instead … the good thing every Christian husband and wife should be doing in the bedroom is loving the other as Christ has loved us. Christ does not take. He does not demand. He does not lay claim to what is His for His own pleasure or desire. Christ invites, lays open His heart, leads by the example of self gift no matter the cost, shows patience, and thinks only of His beloved.
Let us follow the example of Christ, the one of mutual love and respect, not some Christian blogger who believes marriage is merely about ownership and usage.
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