June 19, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – St. Benedict in his Rule tells the monk that all the possessions of the monastery are to be treated with the same care that a monk would give to the vessels of the altar. The monk owns nothing, not even his own body, or his own will, says the saint.
The human body is a liturgical vessel. It is part of the sacrificial offering we bring to God, not just at Mass but throughout our lives: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service” (Rom 12:1).
Now, what do we offer to God upon the altar of sacrifice? Moldy bread and sour wine? How could that be something suitable for consecration? But the same question should be asked of that which a husband or wife offers to the other. Is it some artificially segregated portion of ourselves, sexual functionality separated from its procreative purpose or from the person as a whole? A hungry selfishness? Will they offer themselves in the totality of their human nature, body and soul, together with the children who may come? “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” (Mt 19:14)—let them come into being!
Will we offer the whole of creation, as the priests and rulers He has placed in this world? What is worthy of the Divine Liturgy? What is worthy of the cosmic liturgy? The bees, the grain, the grapes, the olives, are not selfish; they yield everything they are to man and to God. Consider the lilies of the field. They prodigally offer their scent and shape, giving glory to their maker and comfort to their beholder. They do not feel the need to hold back or to do this at their pleasure.
Each time a husband and wife embrace one another, it is a re-enactment of the sacrament of their marriage, as each Eucharist is a re-enactment of the sacrifice of the Cross. What do we offer God and each other in this act? In what condition is the matter we offer? “This holy and unspotted host,” “an umblemished lamb.” If God deserves gold and silver vessels for the Eucharist, and pure wine and bread, then at least we can say that husbands and wives deserve worthy intentions and honest fleshliness without chemicals or barriers.
Should not the giver of the most intimate gift give his or her best? What is best in man is not just his flesh or his “heart” but the whole man, body and soul, flesh and spirit, mind and will, the power to unite and the power to give life and receive it. We are not dualists: man is not two things but one. If he is to give himself, he must give all of himself, surrendering who and what he is to the beloved, that the union may be a complete and perfect union—not a business contract or a prostitution or a recreation, none of which has anything to do with true love of a person for the person’s own sake, for who he or she is in the fullness of his or her being.
Nature-defying, man-denying, God-hating nihilism is at the root of “recreational sex” as well as “sex ed.” People who do not love one another for who and what they are live in a world without realism, love, or hope. They learn the cynical arts of distraction and dissipation to forget the miserable isolation of their condition. If one has nothing worth giving up one’s life for, the only thing left is a ceaseless pursuit of pleasures or frenetic business. In this way one tries to escape the asking and answering of existential questions like: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? What does death mean? The reason religion seems to be irrelevant to so many people today is that religion exists to ask and to answer these questions. When people no longer ask them, religion has nothing to say to them.
The action of nuptial union carries with it immense meaning and responsibility, which is why it ought to be freely and consciously chosen with the full weight of one’s being and with an unspoken but vital awareness of what it is. The best of Christian customs and pious traditions surrounding marriage always underlined this truth; Christians today should thoughtfully retain or recover them as they plan and celebrate their weddings and embark on the pilgrimage of married life in Christ.
Those who are engaged or betrothed and not yet married do not really know what the Lord will ask of them, what the burden of joy and suffering will be, until it has come upon them. But when they receive humbly and trustingly the mysteries handed down from eternity to time, from one age to another, they also receive the grace to be broken and healed, to hold on and let go, to die and rise again. It is a lifelong initiation into the paschal mystery, and its fruit is perfect conformity to the Bridegroom and the Bride, the oneness of eternal life, and a family beyond all earthly families.