For those of us who remember the Baltimore Catechism, you likely have those fond memories of Sr. Mary Margaret asking you:
- “Who made us?”
- “Why did God make us?”
- “What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?”
We quickly answered with the appropriate memorized formula and saved our souls from parochial perdition. These are important questions because they address the most basic needs of what it means to be a human being. For us, married men and those who will be following in our footsteps, one of the most intriguing statements we should ask questions about is,
The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
But why? The answer to this question seems to be hidden in the reason for our creation:
Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26)
Traditionally, we as Catholics, have understood that to be made in the image and likeness of God is to have a spiritual soul that is endowed with the powers of intellect and will: one power to know the truth and the other to choose the good. These powers alone neither sufficiently describe the human person nor explain what it means to be in God’s image and likeness. To answer these questions we need to see how our father, Adam, dealt with these questions.
We know that after Adam was created he experience what JPII termed the “Original Solitude.” This solitude was two-fold. It was first experienced after God led all the animals to Adam who then named them (Genesis 2:20) and found that “none were a suitable partner for him.” It was then Adam discovered that he was substantially different and alone, precisely because he was the only rational being around. Only he could name and till. He discovered that he was the only one who was self-aware. He knew what he was meant for. He knew and could talk with God.
The second experience was an ontological aloneness. We all have a need to share ourselves with an equal. Adam looked around and discovered that there was none like him. There was no one to share his life with. He was truly alone, he was the only human being.
We know the next part of the story…woman. The Lord gave Adam a suitable partner that we call Eve. Symbolized by God taking a rib from his side and forming it outside of Adam and not from dirt, the Lord teaches us that man and woman are equal in dignity. Suddenly, there was another that Adam could share his life with AND, he had no competition.
But, is this the meaning of what the Lord meant when He said that “it is not good for man to be alone.” – yes on one level. But, is there is a deeper truth that He wants us to see as well? The more profound truth is to see that “to be made in the image and likeness of God” and “it is not good for man to be alone” are two truths that find their meaning in each other. As it turns out, only Adam and Eve in their nuptial complimentarily can express the imago deo.
Man became the ‘image and likeness’ of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning…Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. Right ‘from the beginning,’ he is not only an image in which the solitude of a person who rules the world is reflected, but also, and essentially, an image of an inscrutable divine communion of persons.(TOB, November 14, 1979)
This human communion of persons is specifically male and female. Only man and woman can consummate the meaning of communion. This communion described in Genesis 2:23-24 dispels original solitude and ushers in the original unity of mankind. They may be alone in a world of creatures, but they have each other. We hear this when Adam exclaims,
This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.
Communion is not just a spiritual or intellectual communion, but a bodily one as well.
Here we now begin to understand what the Lord meant when he formed us in His “image and likeness.” The Blessed Trinity is a communion of persons. In the nuptial act, Scripture teaches that the husband and wife become one flesh. Is this not how Jesus described his communion with the Father (John 10:30)? Isn’t this unity of persons how we describe the nature of the Trinity?
The Church teaches that the three Divine persons of the Trinity are consubstantial. The immanent Trinity’s life is a relationship and life of eternal love. What do we know about this life of love? Revelation has unveiled for us that the Father and the Son’s eternal exchange of self-giving love is so complete that it is the person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has also taught us through the Last discourses of the Gospel of John that the Trinity is the template and “ideal” (my tribute to Plato) for marriage. The spiritual is revealed through the material and material is giving its true purpose through the mystery unveiled.
It is for this reason that the Church zealously protects the union of spouses. Not just the institution and sacrament of marriage, but the fullest expression of that unity which is their nuptial union. Nothing on earth better describes (although all analogies fall short of the eternal truth) the Trinity than the nuptial union and communion of a husband and wife that needs to name their love.
The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God [God’s love for man], and thus to be a sign of it. (TOB, February 20, 1980)
All the sins we connect with sexuality are not just sins of the flesh against us or “the other.” They are also sins against the Most Holy Trinity. The marital gift is meant to point towards an eternal communion and provide that material for meditation to ponder the nature of who God is. The Culture of Death, on the other hand, twists this sacred act and thus who God is and what it means to love not only God but each other:
God created man and woman in such a way that through their bodies it would be self-evident to them that they are called to love, called to give themselves to one another. The very purpose and meaning of life is found in this imaging of God by becoming a gift to another. “God is love.” (1 Jn. 4:16) Therefore, we fulfill the reason for our existence by loving. Our physical bodies were made precisely to show us this and be the means by which we accomplish this. (Anastasia M. Northrop, “The Sincere Gift of Self: The Nuptial Meaning of the Body, October 16, 2003)
Husbands and fathers have an enormous opportunity to teach their children from an early age what marriage and marital communion is meant to point to. They need to hear and see (by word and deed) that our marriage and communion is not only meant to “incarnate” the Trinity, but prepare us to experience the eternal communion of the supper of the Lamb. This is the husband’s responsibility: first with our wives and then our children:
The husband is above all, he who loves and the wife, on the other hand is she who is loved. (TOB, September 1, 1982)
Our children (and the world) need to see we love our wives. And it must start in our hearts. We are meant to express that love first in all that we do and say. Do we hug our wives? Do we say I love you? Did you know that flowers are for more than apologizing or “buttering her up” for something?
From the all eternity the Eternal Father designed marriage to be the instrument to get our spouse to heaven. Pope John Paul II went to great pains to correct the common misunderstanding and attitude that Marriage was somehow inferior to Holy Orders as a means to heaven. He said in his Letter to Families (Familiaris Consortio):
The sacrament of marriage is the specific source and original means of sanctification for Christian married couples and families.
Marriage and the nuptial union are not at odds with celibacy and Holy Orders. In fact, they compliment and vivify each other. While marriage “incarnates” the Blessed Trinity here on earth, Holy Orders points to the consummation of our true marriage and experiencing the life of the Trinity in heaven. There is no marriage between human beings in heaven because we the bride are eternally wed to the heavenly Bridegroom.
The joys of marriage and heaven are too sublime to worthily treat on this blog or in all the tomes of the saints that have passed on to us. But hopefully, this will light a passion in our hearts to study more on the subject and provide a few tidbits for our minds to consider today. Happy Friday!
 TOB is a reference to Pope John Paul II’s Wednesday catechetical teachings known as the Theology of the Body.
 Immanent Trinity – The internal life of the Trinity; how the divine persons relate to and act within their interior communion.