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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Comiskey

Dignifying Marital Sexuality: Day 20

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

‘The task of conjugal chastity, and still more specifically of continence, lies not only in protecting the importance of and the dignity of the conjugal act in relation to its procreative meaning, but also in safeguarding the importance and dignity proper to the conjugal act inasmuch as it expresses interpersonal union, by revealing to the consciousness and experience of the spouses all the other possible “manifestations of affection” that are to express their deep communion.’ (TOB 128:6)

‘Constraining concupiscence in marriage can be realized only though a deep understanding of the personal dignity of both the feminine and the masculine “I” in reciprocal shared life. This spiritual understanding is the fundamental fruit of the gift of the Spirit that impels the person to reverence for the work of God. It is from this understanding, and thus indirectly from this gift, that all the “affective manifestations” that form the fabric of the stability of the conjugal union draw true spousal meaning. This union is expressed though the conjugal act only in some circumstances, but it can and should be manifested continually every day, though the various “affective manifestations” that are shaped though the power of a “disinterested” emotion by the other “I” in relation to femininity and—reciprocally—in relation to masculinity.

Pope St. John Paul II

The attitude of reverence for the work of God, which the Spirit stirs up in the spouses, has an enormous significance for those “affective manifestations” because it goes hand in hand with the capacity for profound pleasure in, admiration for, disinterested attention to the “visible” and at the same time “Invisible” beauty of femininity and masculinity, and finally, a profound appreciation for the disinterested gift of the “other.”’ (TOB 132:4)

TOB concludes with a robust ‘yes’ to marital love in the context of spousal communion. Sexual orgasm has not the last word—dignifying love for the beloved does. This is a more obvious reference to Humanae Vitae, the radical encyclical written in the late sixties by Pope St. Paul VI that forbade contraception. So how does a married couple not contracept but wisely plan a family, asks Sts. Paul VI and John Paul II? By expanding one’s lovemaking repertoire beyond orgasm.

Wow. Radical thought. Context matters. I picture a traditional scenario of a man insisting on sex rather than ‘burning’ while the woman lies there limply, hoping not for a 9th child. Here we see St. John Paul II’s genius. He says, in essence, ‘You both bear God’s image, possessing a mind and a will: learn how to manifest love to each other in a manner that confirms your union but does not require an explosion each time you come together.’ I behold here something progressive and profound that challenges both parties to love beyond a quick release. It is a call to communion.

A few things that I hear St. John Paul II say: confirm every day the other’s desirability. Cultivate ‘affective manifestations’ of appreciation for one’s masculinity or femininity. Admire your spouse’s distinction from you: see and say the virtues you witness within the other’s visible gender ‘gift.’ Work at self-disinterest and discover what the other needs. Talk about your sexual life together. What secures? What confuses? Honestly, I hear St. John Paul II speaking for most women everywhere and challenging men to consider the whole of their spouses, not merely sensational possibilities. Both parties also must track cycles of fertility, taking cues from the wife.

I hear a call for couples to intentionally grow to know and love this other in the full spousal meaning of masculinity and femininity. Sexual communion. More than an orgasm.

As I consider Annette and the ebbs and flows of passion we’ve experienced in many seasons of life, St. John Paul II rings like a bell. I have grown much in savoring the whole of Annette’s feminine beauty, which anchors me as man--a husband and father--more than anything else. Our kids and grandkids benefit. We’ve opened to life together ‘out of reverence for Jesus’ (Eph. 5:21)--the thesis for true communion. We cultivate an appreciation for the whole marvelous gift of each other. May all who aspire to the ‘spousal meaning of the body’ do the same.

‘Grow us into true communion, Jesus. We are foolish, equating sex with explosions rather than caring for the whole of another. Teach us to deepen appreciation for our spouses’ sexual gift. We want to open to real life together and so prepare a home for children in which sexual love is as earthy as it is holy, dignifying to all. Thank You for commissioning Your son, St. John Paul II, to help us toward that end.’

'Jesus, thank You for confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court, Your bright light in a dismal political season.'

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