Since marriage is a total, unconditional gift of self between husband and wife, the marital bond is characterized by three essential aspects: it is faithful, it is broken only by death, and it involves a sexual giving of self that is open to new life. The catechism calls these three goods “unity, indissolubility, and openness to children.” (CCC 1664) Today we will look in more depth at protecting the good of unity.
Unity refers to the faithful, exclusive union between husband and wife. When a husband and wife are married, they give themselves completely to each other and only to each other. This is why polygamy is a counterfeit of true marriage; it is not possible for a man to give himself 100% to one wife and set of children and then also 100% to another.
What we do with our bodies truly matters, because we are body-spirits. The sexual act speaks a language of the body which says, “I am giving myself to you totally, body and soul.” This is why adultery is such a huge wound to a marriage, even if mutually agreed upon, as in the “open marriages” we see celebrated in some Hollywood circles. (It is important to note that God’s grace and mercy can bring healing to a marriage even after adultery or other serious wounds.)
Likewise, what we do with our hearts and minds truly matters. Jesus does not simply want a man to avoid adultery; he insists that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” (Matt 5:28) This is why pornography is so spiritually destructive in a marriage, as are novels or other media that foster an infidelity of the heart.
We know that fidelity is not easy, and therefore it is important for spouses to take great care to protect the unity of their relationship. They need to be unapologetic in recognizing that their relationship as husband and wife comes first: before their careers, before their extended families, and even before their children! (The latter sounds counter-intuitive, but it is like how parents on an airplane are instructed to put their own oxygen masks on first in the event of an incident, before helping their children put on theirs.)
Some thoughts for prayer and discussion:
- If you are experiencing habitual sins of impurity, the Lord wants to help you to conquer these sins and replace them with virtue. Have you brought it to him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
- If you are married, do you pray together on a regular basis, even if it is a small, simple prayer? Do you pray for your spouse and his or her spiritual growth?
- If you are married, are there ways in which you can do better putting your relationship as husband and wife first?
— Father Andrew