Marriage The Movement

An Ideal to Rediscover

Third in a series

The reality of marriage, presented in a homily to Pope Francis and his associates during Lent 2016, by the Preacher of the Pontifical Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap.

Editor’s Note: The use of the word “ideal” can be confusing. It is ideal to follow God’s plan or “live the ideal” because that is not only what God intended but it corresponds with how we made (in the image of God, the Trinity) and the reality of what we are made for. People in our culture talk about a family with a married mother and father as the ideal situation for raising children, but that does not tell us what marriage is in a culture that has forgotten its meaning. The objective for members of the Marriage Reality Movement should not merely be to convince people to seek the ideal, but to actually reintroduce the reality of marriage in such a way that our children and friends can see its goodness and beauty, and freely choose to enter into it in preparation for receiving children as a gift, instead of just seeking marriage solely to memorialize their love  and make commitment to each other. In the reality of God’s plan, the choice to marry starts the circle of irreplaceability that we call the family.

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Series: Marriage and Family in Gaudium et Spes and Today

  1. Marriage and family in the divine plan and in the gospel of Christ
  2. What the biblical teaching says to us today
  3. An ideal to rediscover (This article)

As Fr. Cantalamessa says, our first duty is to rediscover the reality of marriage ourselves before we can reintroduce it to the culture.

Fr. Cantalamessa’s text:

Not less important than the duty of defending the biblical ideal of marriage and family is the duty for Christians to rediscover and live that ideal fully in such a way as to reintroduce it into the world by deeds more than by words. Early Christians changed the laws of the state about the family by their practices. We cannot consider doing the opposite and change people’s practices through the laws of the state, even though as citizens we have a duty to contribute to the state’s enactment of just laws.

Since Christ, we correctly read the account of the creation of the man and woman in light of the revelation of the Trinity. In this light the statement that “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them” finally reveals a significance that was enigmatic and unclear before Christ. What connection can there be between being “in the image of God” and being “male and female”? The biblical God does not have sexual attributes; he is neither male nor female.

The similarity consists in this. God is love, and love requires communion and interpersonal communication. It requires an “I” and a “you.” There is no love that is not love for someone; if there is only one subject there cannot be love, just egotism and narcissism. Whenever God is conceived of only as Law or as Absolute Power, there is no need for a plurality of persons. (Power can be exercised by one person alone!) The God revealed by Jesus Christ, being love, is unique and one, but he is not solitary: he is one and triune. Unity and distinction coexist in him: unity of nature, will, and intentions, and distinction of characteristics and persons.

When two people love each other — and the strongest example is the love of a man and a woman in marriage — they reproduce something of what occurs in the Trinity. In the Trinity two persons, the Father and the Son, in loving each other produce (“breathe”) the Spirit who is the love that unites them. Someone has defined the Holy Spirit as the divine “We,” that is, not as “the third person of the Trinity” but as the first person plural.[9] It is precisely in this way that the human couple is the image of God. Husband and wife are in fact one flesh, one heart, one soul but are diverse in sex and personality. Unity and diversity are thus reconciled in the couple.

In this light we discover the profound meaning of the prophets’ message about human marriage: it is a symbol and a reflection of another love, that of God for his people. This symbolism was not meant to overload a purely earthly reality with a mystical significance. On the other hand, it is not merely symbolic but instead reveals the true face and ultimate purpose of the creation of man as male and female.

What is the reason for the sense of incompleteness and lack of fulfillment that sexual union leaves both inside and outside of marriage? Why does this impulse always fall back on itself, and why does this promise of the infinite and eternal always fall short? People try to find a remedy for this frustration, but they only increase it. Instead of changing the quality of the act, they increase its quantity, going from one partner to the next. This leads to the ruin of God’s gift of sexuality currently taking place in today’s society and culture.

Do we as Christians want to find an explanation for this devastating dysfunction once and for all? The explanation is that the sexual union is not occurring in the way and with the purpose intended by God. Its purpose was that, through this ecstasy and joining together in love, the man and the woman would be raised to desire and to obtain a certain foretaste of infinite love; they would be reminded of where they came from and where they are headed.

Sin, beginning with that of the biblical Adam and Eve, has damaged this plan. It has “profaned” the sexual act, that is, it has stripped it of its religious value. Sin has made it an act that is an end in itself, that is closed in on itself, so it is therefore “unsatisfying.” The symbol has been disconnected from the reality behind the symbol and deprived it of its intrinsic dynamism, thus crippling it. Never so much as in this case do we experience the truth of Augustine’s saying: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[10] We were not created to live in an eternal relationship as a couple but to live in an eternal relationship with God, with the Absolute. Even Goethe’s Faust finally discovers this at the end of his long period of wandering. Thinking back to his love for Margaret, he exclaims at the end of the poetic drama, “All that is transitory / is only a symbol; / what seems unachievable / here is seen done [in heaven].”[11]

In the testimony of some couples who have experienced renewal in the Holy Spirit and live a charismatic Christian life, we find something of the original significance of the conjugal act. That can hardly be a surprise to us. Marriage is the sacrament of a reciprocal gift that spouses make to one another, and the Holy Spirit is the “gift” within the Trinity, or better, the reciprocal “self-gifting” of the Father and Son, not as a fleeting act but as a permanent state. Wherever the Holy Spirit comes, the capacity to make a gift of oneself is born or rekindled. This is how the “grace of the married state” operates.


[9] Heribert Mühlen, Der Heilige Geist als Person: Ich-Du-Wir [The Holy Sprit as Person: I-You-We} (Munich: Aschendorf, 1963).

[10] Augustine, Confessions, 1, 1, trans. John K. Ryan (New York: Doubleday, 1960), p. 43.

[11] Wolfgang Goethe, Faust, part 2, Act 5, in Goethe: The Collected Works, trans. Stuart Atkins (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 305.