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By Fr. James Farfaglia

10/6/2012 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

By being a total gift of themselves, married spouses, through the marital embrace, make visible the invisible reality of God who is love and God who loves us unconditionally

Sexual intercourse, the marital embrace, is an image of God who is love and gift.  The human body makes the invisible reality of God's love visible.  God created the human person for the purpose of being loving persons who freely choose to love.


By Fr. James Farfaglia

Catholic Online (

10/6/2012 (3 years ago)

Published in Marriage & Family

Keywords: Father James Farfaglia, Pope Paul VI, John Paul II, Theology of the Body, Humanae Vitae, marriage, family, sexuality, contraception, married love, marriage, matrimony, family lfie, chidlren

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) In his landmark 1968 encyclical where the Church reaffirms its' teaching that contraception is intrinsically evil, Pope Paul VI argues that every marital act must keep together "the inseparable connection , established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act" (Humanae Vitae, 12). 

The basis of the Pope's argument is the Church's understanding of natural law, human nature and God's plan for marriage, sexuality and family life.  Paul VI writes, ".they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will."

Why then is it true that the unitive significance and the procreative significance of the marital act cannot be separated? 

Pope Paul VI lays out the principles and the reasons.  However, it is John Paul II that brings the subject to an entirely new level of understanding. 

Father Karol Wojtyla had a profound love for young people.  We have all heard about his camping trips with university students when he was a young priest.  The long discussions about the nature of God, the meaning of life, the nature of marriage and questions regarding sexuality provided lengthy material for his famous book Love and Responsibility which was published in Polish in 1960.

But, it was as John Paul II, that he used his weekly General Audiences to develop what is now known as Theology of the Body.  His discourses, (129 teachings from September 5, 1979 - November 28, 1984), comprise a monumental work which is the most profound and most complete compendium of  Catholic teaching on the subject of human nature, marriage and sexuality.

By carefully reading Pope Paul VI's prophetic encyclical, students of John Paul's Theology of the Body will notice familiar language.   For John Paul II, Humanae Vitae launches him into its' defense through a more profound development of the principles already contained in Paul VI's work. 

Why then is it true that the unitive significance and the procreative significance cannot be separated? 

Perhaps most people have never even asked themselves this question.  Perhaps our modern conditioning has already reduced the conjugal act to a mere biological act. 

The Catholic Church's teaching on marriage reminds us that there is a theological dimension to marriage and sexuality. 

This is why we must gain a new vision of sexuality.

For John Paul II, the beginning principle is the spousal dimension of the human body.

What does this mean?

Think of it in this way.

For Christianity, all of existence is immersed in a giant ocean of love.  God is defined in the Sacred Scriptures as love.  Creation, as described in the beginning of Genesis, is an outpouring of God's love.  Man, as a rational being, is the only creature that can correspond to the gift of creation by being a gift to God and a gift to others.  Thus, everything is seen through the prism of marriage. 

Sexual intercourse, the marital embrace, is an image of God who is love and gift.  The human body makes the invisible reality of God's love visible.  God created the human person for the purpose of being loving persons who freely choose to love.  Through love, they give themselves as a total gift of themselves to each other.  Thus, by being a total gift of themselves, married spouses, through the marital embrace, make visible the invisible reality of God who is love and God who loves us unconditionally. 

"(Married love) is a love which is total-that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself" (Humanae Vitae, 9).

Interestingly, women instinctively know that all of this is true. Women know that after the conjugal act a couple seems unusually close on an emotional level.  Husbands often open up with their wives in a way not usual or even characteristic of them, but in a way that women crave from them all of the time. 

The marital act is designed by God to be completely and unreserved sharing of the "I do" and of the "husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church."  The totality of the gift: no reservations and no selfishness at all. 

If the Catholic Church knows this and is so sensitive to the inner nature of marriage and the conjugal act, even of its' emotional content, she can be fully trusted when she affirms and teaches that the unitive significance and the procreative significance of the conjugal act cannot be separated.


Father James Farfaglia, is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and author of Get Serious! - Survival Guide for Serious Catholics.  You can visit him on the web at


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