God created the gift of sexual intercourse as the physical sign of the marital bond. It is the only expression of intimacy that unites husband and wife as one flesh and also can bring forth new human life. Since we are body-spirits, as the bodies of husband and wife operate as one on a biological level, there is a true union of not only bodies but of persons, body and soul. What was promised at the altar becomes a reality: a total, mutual gift of self.
Openness to children is the third of the three goods of marriage, after unity (fidelity to one spouse) and indissolubility (broken only by death). Openness to children means that in marriage the husband and wife will give of themselves in the marital act, and that each act of intercourse will respect the gift of fertility. They are open to welcoming children as the fruit of their love, possibly creating with God a new person who will never cease to exist!
Catholic couples are called to be as generous as possible in bringing new children into the world, but this does not necessarily mean having as many children as biologically possible. Husband and wife can prayerfully seek to follow God’s will in their lives, and they can choose to plan their families through forms of Natural Family Planning (NFP).
Not to be confused with the “rhythm method,” NFP is based on more than forty years of scientific research that allows for couples to know precisely when they are fertile and to choose whether to seek conception in a given month. It is highly effective, requires no pills or chemicals, and has no side effects. In recent years hundreds of thousands of couples have made the switch to NFP, and they usually report happier marriages and better sexual intimacy.
These experiences of improved relationships are not surprising, because every time these couples are making love, they are giving themselves to each other exactly as they are, not holding anything back. There are no physical, chemical, or spiritual barriers. This is one of the key spiritual advantages of NFP; in the use of contraception or sterilization, there is a certain holding back lack of the gift of self on a physical level. And since we are body-spirits, a holding back in the body is a holding back of oneself spiritually, and as a person. (Our teachings here are very beautiful, but I can’t do them justice in this small space. For a more helpful explanation of these topics, I recommend The Good News about Sex and Marriage in our parish library.)
Some thoughts for prayer and discussion:
- Mac computers, the iPhone, and the iPad will all one day be as forgotten as the telegraph; the only “inventions” of Steve Jobs that will last forever are his four children: Lisa, Erin, Eve, and Reed.
- If the marital embrace is not a total gift of self, and husband and wife hold back important aspects of who they are as persons, how might this affect their marital relationship outside the bedroom?
- Many couples have shared with me how they have read for the first time a Catholic book on marriage, like the one mentioned above. Even though they may have been married for years, they are amazed at the beauty and meaning they find in God’s plan. If you are married or planning to be married, have you ever read such a book? If not, why not try one?