A Word in Season
On Faith, Grace, Sex, Kids, and Love, after Three Decades
Consent in the context of the Sacrament of Matrimony is the heart of marriage. Being married in the Catholic Church requires living a vowed life. This consent is the full, no-holds-barred, generous gift of singular self-donation that unleashes the power to say "yes" to one another over and over again. It is a free-will gift, a choice that decides, in advance, that come what may, "I choose you. Again." It is so powerful that no Catholic marriage is valid without this fearless, informed consent. There is no substitute for it.
The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that "makes the marriage." If consent is lacking there is no marriage.
The consent consists in a "human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other": "I take you to be my wife"—"I take you to be my husband." This consent that binds the spouses to each other finds its fulfillment in the two "becoming one flesh." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1626-1627)
That the two lovers become one flesh is the fulfillment of church teachings on consent. It is, for us, a good and holy thing. Do I still think that after thirty years? Did you read the paragraphs about grace and how attractive love is? Let me indulge you a little bit more.
Recently I was chatting with some young single people about chastity, and the grace-fueled integrity it takes to refrain from sexual intercourse, and all its intimate foreplays, before marriage.
If you want the real deal—a faith-filled, committed marriage for life—you're going to need the trust that comes from sexual integrity that is borne of prayer and graces from the sacraments. It also comes from a spirit of self-sacrifice and self-denial on behalf of the future beloved, cultivating an attitude that another's good is more precious than your own. Developing that side of your relationship before your marriage will pay dividends after your wedding day. (Let it also be said that even couples that have erred in this area, can renew their sexual integrity through the graces of confession and the Eucharist, and grow in sacrificial love for one another as they prepare for marriage. We all need graces to strengthen our love!)
Chastity is not about being against sexual love, it's about being for sexual love, but more concretely, it is being for the dignity of the other person. Chastity means one thing before marriage, and another thing after marriage.
Chastity, practiced as a virtue before marriage, honors you as it honors someone's future wife or husband, who eventually may be your future mate. Chastity, or refraining from sexual encounters, protects the another person from feeling bonded to you, especially when you might not be ready to be bound by the responsibilities and the high costs that true love almost always demands.
The dignity of the human person means recognizing, in your beloved, that everything about them is sacred, most especially their immortal soul—their destiny before God. It also includes their fertility that God may use to bring future souls into this world. That means, before even entering into the covenant of marriage, you honor the other's body as "a temple of the Holy Spirit." (See 1 Cor. 3:16-17, 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16.) This is learning to love another through physical restraint and self-mastery.
Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press. Subscribe to “A Word in Season” via email or RSS.