The Goodness of Conjugal Love
Conjugal love is, after all, a part of God's good creation (Genesis 1:28; 31). Like all creatures, marital relations image transcendent realities. Seen through the eyes of the spirit, physical attractiveness reflects the Divine Beauty, romantic love images the love between God and humanity. Desire images our longing for God, while pleasure symbolizes joy and mystical ecstasy. Though the spiritual originals are "higher" than their physical images, that does not mean the latter are "bad". If the marital act is a dynamic icon of the Christ/Church union, then hatred of sex is a form of "iconoclasm". As the seventh century iconoclasts were wrong to despise icons of Christ and the saints made with human hands, so it would be wrong for us to despise conjugal relations, the God-made "icon" of Christ's union with the Church. Such an attitude is incompatable with a sacramental view of the universe.
The goodness of the heavenly original affirms the goodness of its physical counterpart. Thus earthly marriage and conjugal relations are essentially good, as is mystical marriage and union with God. In Catholicism, the latter two are often (but not exclusively) sought through consecrated virginity. The nun gives up marriage and its consolations for union with her Divine Bridegroom and the priest gives them up to serve the Church, his mystical "Bride". Properly understood, celibacy is not the rejection of a bad thing for a good thing, but the sacrifice of a good thing for a higher goal; of a symbol for its original.
Herein lies the paradox: consecrated virginity actually affirms the basic goodness of human sexuality and conjugal relations. Our Lord was celibate during His earthly life and He does not have literal physical coitus with Holy Mother Church (an impossibility!). Yet that does not diminish the fact that the marital act on earth images their heavenly union. Even so, though Mary is Ever-Virgin, her profound union with God and His infinite love for her may be poorly reflected in conjugal relations here on earth.
Gazing on her Divine Bridegroom, rapt in joyful ecstasy, Mary enjoys the unitive bliss of which a physical climax is a mere hint and foreshadowing. Her love for God is reflected in the eyes of every earthly bride as she gazes on her groom. Her perpetual virginity does not leave her cold and loveless, for she is consumed with a Divine Love that is stronger than death, with a passion relentless as the grave, whose "flames are a blazing fire, the very flame of the Lord" (Canticle of Canticles 8:6).
The image of the Bride of God - whether manifested in Bat Zion, Ecclesia or Mary - calls us to rejoice in the gift of sexuality and to use it for God's glory. It shows that God does not hate sex, since He uses it as a symbol of His relationship with His people. We see examples of this in Ezekiel's depiction of God "making love" to Israel (16:8-9), or Olier's statement that the God the Father loves Mary as a spouse (17), or Saint Paul's comparison of the Christ-Church union to the one flesh union of a married couple (Ephesians 5:30-31) or the parallel between the Spirit-Mary relationship and the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage. Hopefully, we can use this knowledge as a basis for a holistic and truly Christian perception of God's gift of sexuality.
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