Spousal Love in Conjugal Spirituality | Christopher J. Stravitsch | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Spousal union is sacramental because it makes visible the invisible reality of God’s spousal love for his people.
Our Catholic faith is lived through an array of spiritual traditions. While each observes the same theological truths, the Church is enriched by the different emphases within each tradition. The same is true of conjugal spirituality. Married couples, who give rise to the Domestic Church, are as varied as the schools of spirituality. While Catholic marriages are built upon a common theological foundation, each couple’s spirituality may emphasize certain aspects of their vocation to which they are particularly drawn, and in which they can live quite well. This paper explores perspectives of conjugal spirituality that cultivate reverence for, and understanding of, spousal love. First, a masculine perspective is presented, through which husbands are tutored in spousal love as they contemplate Christ, the Divine Bridegroom, whose agape is poured out from the cross. A feminine perspective approaches Mary’s fiat as a model for wives, who are called to image the Church as they receive and respond to spousal love. Next, a liturgical analogy is presented as a means for fostering reverence for what is sacred in conjugal union. Finally, contraception is critiqued as an antithesis to conjugal spirituality, while conceiving new life through the chaste practice of natural family planning is lauded as a noble fulfillment of it.
Christ’s Agape Tutors Husbands in Spousal Love
“Precisely because Christ’s divine love is the love of a Bridegroom, it is the model and pattern of all human love, men’s love in particular.” 1 Both the crucifixion and conjugal union consist in pouring out love for the bride; therefore, husbands can be invited to contemplatively place themselves at the foot of the cross in order to learn the meaning of spousal love.
In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI invites us to reflect on the pierced side of Christ as a starting point for contemplating love. He writes:
His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (cf. 19:37), we can understand…“God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move. 2
The beauty of the crucifixion is that it communicates the total outpouring of Christ’s love for his Bride. On the “marriage bed” of the cross, 3 Jesus exclaims, “It is consummated” (Jn 19:30). Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, describes the union of Christ and the Church as coming about, not in a “bed of pleasures,” but “‘in blood,’ on the cross.” 4 The consummative love of the Divine Bridegroom is not satisfied in stopping short of death, of suffering, or of withholding anything; rather, Christ is completely poured out as a libation. The Gospel of John recounts that “when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (Jn 19:33-34). As we stand beneath the crucified Christ and “look upon him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37), we are bathed in the blood and water that pours forth from his wounded side.