by Matthew Canter
Have you ever wondered if God has a plan for your family? He does, and if we think of our bodies as blueprints, we might come to a conclusion as to what that plan for the family is. We can see this plan in how we are created as male and female and how we are made to respond to one another. Let me explain.
In the realm of marriage, all intimate actions must share in a unitive and procreative nature to fulfill the expectation that our love be self-giving and divinely appointed. Such expectations about conjugal relations are best explained in St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, for the purposes of this article, we might better understand God’s plan for the family if we understand the unitive and procreative ends of marriage.
The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2363)
To properly fulfil the purpose of marriage the Catholic Church understands all marital relations must be both unitive and procreative. Sexual acts are unitive, in that they are monogamous and not separated in any form or obstacle. Likewise, the relations must be procreative in being open to the transmission of new life in a child. In such relations, the spouses do not hold back or impede their self-giving love to be hindered in any way. This unrestricted outpouring of love and sacrifice is the very foundation of how spouses should relate to each other in all circumstances, and serve as the model in raising a family.
When we think of the word unitive we naturally harken to other such words as unity, universal or unanimous. The biblical admonition that spouses share in a unitive approach sexually is taken from the account of Creation in that “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The two becoming one is perhaps the best example we have in understanding our sexual relations as unitive. Instead of the cult of “I” and “me,” all of the perceptions, thoughts and dreams become bound up in “we” and “us.” This transference of concern from “me” to “us” is understood as a sacrifice because we are giving up a part of ourselves. This is what is understood as self-giving. The gift of our self to our beloved is greater than anything else we can give, because it is everything we have to give.
Likewise, procreative is understood as being ‘for creation.’ Creating, creativity and creator are all bound together with the same energy of forethought, design and action. As creatures of our Creator, we share a unique relationship with Him: we are asked to perpetuate our species through the sexual method He designed to help us share in creating more to love and serve. Our marital sexuality is procreative when it is truly open to life, and not hindered by foreign obstacles or chemical dependency. Just as the unitive purpose turns the couple into an “us,” the procreative transfers that “us” into the possibility of a “them.” The unity we share and the love we give manifests into a spiraling sharing-love affair that expresses our love for each other in the love to make another.
By understanding the unitive and procreative we can see that in these sexual ends are, in fact, the beginnings of the family. We can extend the same intentions we share together as husband and wife to become father and mother. As a family we give a united front toward the joys and challenges of life by sharing our love together. Furthermore, the creativity of God’s design made manifest by a marital union continues on as parents nurture their child’s own personality, character and education.
God’s plan for the family is that it be a bastion of relationship. Without barriers we are called to give ourselves over to our spouses. This self-giving love, similar to the love of Christ giving himself for all of us, reminds us that the truest love is one born of sacrifice. It matters most because it not only challenges us to think and move beyond ourselves, but because it recognizes the inherent value of the “two become one” and the nature of love that goes along with it.