Theology of the Sacrament of Marriage


                The Sacrament of Matrimony and family life are the foundations upon which society is based. The Church states: “The well being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life”.[1] It is therefore important that something be said on the Church’s consistent teaching on marriage.


Marriage is a “Vocation”


Pope John Paul II firmly proclaims and teaches that “vocation” does not exclusively refer to those who pursue a call to the priesthood or religious life: “Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is, in its own proper form, an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being ‘created in the image of God.’”.[2] Therefore, let there be no misunderstanding that the sacrament of marriage is truly a legitimate calling by God and furthermore, holy. Moreover, it is the love between a husband and wife that serves as the foundation stone upon which every other Christian vocation is built. Strong marriages and families are what comprise a joy-filled Church. In addition, as Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM, Cap., has stated: “The opposite is true: Families who are lukewarm in the love for God and indifferent in their worship weaken every other dimension of Catholic life. That’s why the Church so urgently needs men and women who can provide the example and guidance our families need.”[3]


The Nature of Marriage


The Code of Canon Law summarizes the essence of marriage:


The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a communion of the whole life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.[4]


Scriptural Understanding


The starting point in understanding the above declarations by Pope John Paul II and the Code of Canon Law is Scripture. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:


Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of "the wedding-feast of the Lamb." Scripture speaks throughout of marriage and its "mystery," its institution and the meaning God has given it, its origin and its end, its various realizations throughout the history of salvation, the difficulties arising from sin and its renewal "in the Lord" in the New Covenant of Christ and the Church.[5]


Marriage in Old and New Testaments


All of Sacred Scripture, from its beginning to its final verses, can be seen as a wedding feast. The first covenant God established with man was in the context of marriage. The last verses of Scripture end with an invitation to the wedding feast: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’”[6] This marital covenant illustrates God’s desire and plan to bring us into communion with Him. All of salvation history shows God’s unfathomable love and mercy to reconcile us to Himself and to lead us into his covenantal family through the sacrament of Baptism.


In his 1960s audio series “Life is Worth Living,” Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen brilliantly shows us how God expresses His relationship with man in terms of nuptials throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, God continually calls Himself the “bridegroom” with the Chosen People of Israel His “bride.” This is essential in understanding Christ’s relationship to mankind when He comes.


“In the due course of time, God becomes man—the Bridegroom becomes man. Did Our Lord ever call Himself the Bridegroom? Yes, He did. And He did it in such a very natural way that the people were not at all astounded whey they heard Him, because they knew the background of God being related to their people as the Bridegroom. One of the occasions which Our Blessed Lord spoke of Himself that way was when a question was hurled at Him as to why He and His disciples did not fast, whereas the disciples of John the Baptist did fast. The answer of Our Lord was: “Can you expect the men of the Bridegroom’s company to go fasting when the Bridegroom is still with them?”[7] Then He went on to say that the Bridegroom will be taken away. John the Baptist called Himself the friend of the Bridegroom. In other words, a kind of “best man.”[8]


At most weddings we go to, we hear the reading of the marriage feast of Cana, where Christ performs his first public miracle. Archbishop Sheen says the timing of this was no accident.


“…There’s a beautiful mystery hidden somewhere in the marriage feast of Cana. Our Lord began His public life by assisting at that marriage feast, typifying his relationship with His Church would be exactly the relationship unfolded in the Old Testament, and when the old Kahal (chosen people) of Israel became the new Kahal, or the Church, or the New Israel, through Redemption and Pentecost, we had the continuation of the symbolism. Eve was the continuation of the body of man, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh.[9] What is the Church? The Church in the New Testament is described as the New Eve because [of] the continuation of the New Adam, Christ. Everywhere there is the idea of espousal, body, oneness, and we must get first things first. Remember, that the union of Our Lord and the Church is not like a human marriage; rather, a human marriage is like the union of Our Lord and the Church. When, therefore, the bride and groom stand at the altar and we read to them the marriage ceremony, we are informing them: “You, the bridegroom, stand for Christ. And you, the bride, stand for the Church.” That is the mysterious grace that is conferred upon you. How beautiful marriage becomes!”




In the Book of Genesis we see that marriage is a union brought about by God. Of all the things created by God, the only thing which was not good was the solitude of man. God, therefore, created woman from the side of Adam, who would serve as his helpmate: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”[10] God created man and woman, therefore, for companionship. The differences we find in man and woman illustrate that the reality of a helpmate does not mean inferiority, but rather complementarity. Marriage is not just a contract, but rather a union that has been made by God and a union that endures until death. Soon, we will see how the natural order of marriage is elevated to the supernatural by the coming of Christ, Who makes marriage a sacrament.


“In the beginning,” we see how the first marriage was seriously ruptured by the introduction of sin and its transmission throughout every generation until the present. The Book of Genesis illustrates that the original justice which existed between man and woman—that they lived in a perfect right relation with each other, with God, and with creation—has been destroyed by Original Sin. The consequences of the sin of our first parents are described by God Himself when He says:


To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule it over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return.”[11]


The Original Sin of Adam and Eve shattered the integrity and harmony of all relationships. This was to be transmitted to their offspring. The marital relationship between Adam and Eve becomes a struggle, as there now exists a disorder of the domination of man over woman. This misguided mentality has survived to the present day and in many cases is accepted as what God has always intended. The Book of Genesis clearly points to the contrary. The domination of man over woman is an injustice, a disorder, which was never intended by God “in the beginning.” This does not remove the fact that God’s design for man and woman involves a differentiation in function within their relationship. After Original Sin, however, the disordered relationship between husband and wife was in need of redemption.


St. Paul


This relationship becomes elevated, redeemed and finds its true meaning in Jesus Christ and His love for the Church. This is precisely what St. Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Christians of Ephesus:


Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.” This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.[12]


This text is also a popular selection read at wedding liturgies, and it is often misunderstood. As Archbishop Sheen beautifully explains: “Very often when women read that passage of Scripture, they do not like it. But, they should read what follows, that man is the head of a woman in exactly the same way that Christ is the Head of the Church. Now, how was Our Lord the Head of the Church, the Head of His Bride? Well, He was the Head by dying and sacrificing Himself and pouring out His blood! The Headship was based upon self-forgetfulness for the sake of the Beloved. Now, how is the wife related to the husband? Well, she is related to the husband in the same way the Church is related to Our Blessed Lord. And if the husband is to sacrifice himself for the wife, so, too, the wife, like the Church, is to be related to her husband just as the Church to Our Lord through love, service, devotion, and striving for perfection.”


An Unbreakable bond


The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a profound understanding of what Our Lord stated in respect to the permanence of marriage (found especially in Matthew 19:3-9): “…Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’? What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Interpreting Christ’s reference to “the beginning” (Genesis 2:24), the Church states:


Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: “It is not good for man to be alone.” The woman, “flesh of his flesh,” his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a “helpmate”; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been “in the beginning”: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”[13]


The Nature of Love


To understand marriage is to understand the nature of love. Archbishop Sheen said marriage is enduring by the very nature of love. That also calls of spouses to mean what they say when they tell each other, “I love you.”


There are only two words in the vocabulary of love: you and always. ‘You,’ because love is unique; ‘Always’, because love is enduring. No one ever said, ‘I will love you for two years and six months!’ That is why all the love songs have the ring of eternity about them such as, ‘Till the sands of the desert grow cold…’ Why is there jealousy in the human heart, if jealousy not be the safeguard of monogamy and an enduring marriage?


Archbishop Sheen likens man and woman to two vines, and the love is the soil in which they are united and grow.


“And so, two hearts are united because of the love that is outside both. Then the impotence of the ‘I’ to completely possess the ‘thou’ is overcome by the realization that there is something outside of both, hovering over, turning the ‘I’ and the ‘thou’ into ‘our love.’ And that is why people who are in love always speak of ‘our love,’ and although they may not put their love into these words, this is practically what they’re saying one to another.”


Three to “stay” Married


From what has been illustrated from Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is clear that from the very beginning marriage has always included three parties: God, man, and woman. You may have heard the phrase, “It takes three to get married.” Why is this critical to ponder and understand? In a society where divorce is found in approximately one out of every two marriages, we are left to wonder what has gone wrong. The answer, however, is hinted at in the above slogan. Yes, it takes three to get married, but it also takes three to stay married. Because of Original Sin, man is in need of grace to bring all things into right relation with God, his neighbor, and creation. This grace is available to those who receive the sacrament of Baptism and remain in the state of grace. Thus, marriage between two baptized spouses is a sacrament; it becomes a means of the needed grace to love as Christ loves his Church.


Marriage Redeemed


Although there exists the consequences of Original Sin, the Church stresses that Jesus Christ, out of his infinite mercy, has merited for us the grace needed to heal the wounds of sin. He never refuses this grace to those open to receive it. The Church adds, “Without his help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them ‘in the beginning.’”[14]


Although the consequences of sin affected the first marriage and, thus, all others, God still intended to use marriage as a means for sinful man to overcome them. The Church states, “After the fall, marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one’s own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving.”[15]


The “Sacrament” of Marriage

As a sacrament, marriage contains two key elements, according to Archbishop Sheen, which correspond to the dual nature of all sacraments: the visible and invisible, natural and supernatural.


“One is very visible and evident. It is the exchange of consent which is signified not only by the joining of hands, but also by the words of consent. And this is witnessed by a priest. There is the invisible grace, also, which is communicated for their married state of life, and because this grace symbolizes another marriage—the marriage between Christ and His Church. That is the meaning of sacramental marriage (and it is found throughout the Epistles of Paul).”


It is by reflecting on how Christ served the Church that we get to the core of why the marriage of baptized persons is considered permanent by the Church.


“It is because they symbolize the unbreakable, eternal union of Our Lord and the Church. When the Son of God came to earth and took upon Himself a human nature, which flowered into His Mystical Body, the Church, He did not take it for three years or for 33 years, but for all eternity. So, too, when a husband takes a wife, he takes that wife as Christ took the Church. He takes that wife until death does him part! And in order to symbolize that enduring union of the espousals of Christ and His Church, they are to love one another until death separates them.”


The Church frowns upon divorce and practices such as polygamy precisely because of how Christ served the Church. In taking one bride, the Church, for eternity, so it makes sense that man and woman honor their marriage commitment for eternity.


“You think Our Lord could have many brides? Many spouses? That would be spiritually adultery, would it not?” Archbishop Sheen says. “He does not have 200 varieties of spouses—or churches! There is one spouse—there is one Church—and that union continues forever. That, then, is the reason why marriage of husband and wife is unbreakable in the sacramental order.”

When is my marriage “official”?

Contrary to popular belief and Hollywood stories, a wedding is not official when the couple says “I do.” Rather, it becomes official, or ratified, in the eyes of the Church when the husband and wife have consummated their union by becoming “one flesh.” During that moment of communion, with the husband and wife giving themselves completely to each other in the glory of God, the marriage covenant is sealed and it is unbreakable.


“How beautiful marriage is in the Church!” Archbishop Sheen says. “Fidelity is an engagement with the future, and when that future is eternity, when the soul knows that it cannot be saved unless it is faithful to the spouse, it remains faithful, even in the midst of trial. That God’s love is never withdrawn from His Church, so too, the love of husband and wife are never withdrawn one from another. It is made in the full consciousness that their love is a proclamation to the world of another marriage—the marriage which gives joy and happiness—the beautiful union of Christ and His Bride, the Church!”

We see, therefore, how God’s merciful love and justice have elevated the state of marriage by the redemption merited by Jesus Christ for the whole world. Not only does Jesus restore the broken relationship from Adam and Eve’s sin, but He also raises it to a new level in which He comes to dwell within us and loves through us by means of the sacrament of Baptism. God’s justice always gives more than what is due, restoring us to an even greater state than Original Justice. It is for this reason that the famous hymn commonly attributed to St. Ambrose, The Exultet, sung at the Easter Vigil exclaims: “O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!” (O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!). And in the case of man, such love and mercy from God is not even deserved. However, the sacrificial love of Christ for the Father has merited for us the Justice mankind has lost through sin. Only in Jesus Christ is man justified by his obedience of faith in Him. Marriage as a sacrament, therefore, is not just an institution, but a means of grace and sanctification.  In other words, every day of a marriage, whether it is incredibly exciting or incredibly boring, is another step toward true holiness.

“Essential Goods of Marriage”


There are three essential goods in marriage: unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility. The openness to fertility needs to be examined amidst a world strongly influenced by a contraceptive mentality. The openness to children is inextricably intertwined into the love between the spouses. Love is creative as we see in the book of Genesis. The world was not created out of necessity, but out of love. God Himself is a loving communion of Persons in which we see the fruit of the Love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When God created man in His image, man is given the power to participate in the loving creative power of God through the conjugal union of man and wife in the marriage covenant. In offspring, one clearly sees the reality of the two becoming one flesh. Therefore, anything which contravenes this exchange of life-giving love is a grave offense against the essential goods of marriage and results in the conjugal act becoming a means of self-gratification instead of a life-giving and love-making act.


Regarding children, the Church teaches “The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is rightly called ‘the domestic church,’ a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and Christian charity.”[16]


Marital “Tensions”


The Church admits that these three essential goods of marriage are not without difficulties, or tensions. They are to be expected in every marriage—NOT because of a defect in the persons, but simply because of our fallen human nature. Archbishop Sheen elaborates four common tensions: alone together; the ecstasy of love and the way love actually turns out; loving too much and being loved too little; and the tension between sex and love: searching for the infinite in the finite.


“Alone Together”


This tension involves wanting to be one with another person and at the same time feeling so alone—almost alone together. This tension is experienced during those times when, for example, your spouse does not understand a deep pain, or deep joy in your heart. The very fact that man and woman have distinct personalities, which would take more than a lifetime to unravel their mystery, will lead to these moments of misunderstanding and frustration.  


Says Archbishop Sheen: “There will come moments when your self is lost in another and then afterwards, a terrific sense of being thrown backwards on your own solitary personality. Why is this? The reason is because there is nothing material, or fleshy, or carnal in the world that can unite. You just try making two blocks of marble one. Why can’t the two unite then? Because they are material. The flesh alone (and here I emphasize alone) cannot unite. Only the soul, the spirit, can unite. For example, if we learn together the Our Father: My knowledge of the Our Father does not deprive you from learning it. And if we pray together, we are much more one that we could be in any material fashion.”


The flesh of the husband and wife may be a means to unity, but the spirit unites them.


“Your flesh is a means to your unity because it is bound up with the soul. And to the extent that love loses its soul, it loses its unity in the sense of oneness. When the spirit is gone, there’s left only body proximity—with boredom and fatigue. Now this passion, or crescendo, for intimacy until oneness is achieved cannot be completely satisfied in the physical order because after the act of unity, there remains the status of two distinct personalities, each with his own individual mystery. You see the paradox? Souls of lovers aspire to unity, but the body alone, though it is the momentary symbol of that unity, is of and by itself exclusive of unity. The flesh is impervious to that kind of unity which alone can satisfy the spirit. . . . And the tension increases, too, as the body will go through the motions of love without the soul. And you will find that the tension of the body decreases as the soul loves.”


Archbishop Sheen says that no marriage is free from this tension of trying to be one with another, yet feeling so alone. God provides us the relief to this tension, he says, with the begetting of children.


“… The child becomes the new bond of unity outside of father and mother. Husband and wife will never feel the emptiness of their relations one with another when their relations are filled up with a new body and soul (soul directly infused by God the Creator). God made man right, and man is unhappy if he tries to frustrate these laws. The children, therefore, are the answer to the paradox of the aloneness together. They are the link that binds the lovers together, body and soul.”


Many emphasize that materialism is one of the primary causes for the demise of so many marriages. This is almost certain to be the case when work and finances are placed before the spiritual needs of the couple. “Making money” and being “successful” become the goals of the marriage instead of sharing a reciprocal life-giving love rooted in God. Many say that the lack of money in families (and in the world at large) is the reason for their unhappiness. If that were true, then all the millionaires should be paradigms of virtue. But, we know this is clearly not how things are. If a couple places their marital security in financial stability, then they will find themselves living a hollow life without the love of God and neighbor in their soul. This would be contrary to the call of the Gospel, where faith, hope, and charity, combine to become the rule of life. It is true, man has a responsibility and duty to work and provide for his family, but when that becomes the meaning and end of marriage, he will only find a life of anxiety and emptiness. Jesus knew how serious this matter is and chose to teach about this topic without using a parable, so that all will clearly understand Him. The following words of Jesus Christ are especially for spouses:


"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”


“Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and these things shall be yours as well.


Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.”[17]


This is why Mother Theresa’s phrase: “A family that prays together stays together” is a beckon to all families in the modern world where the materialist and consumerist mentality dominate western thinking.  When a marriage and family are centered on the Lord, there is nothing which can separate them from the love of Christ[18], Who gives them the grace to conquer all obstacles. It is not enough to be “balanced” between the material and spiritual, for nobody can maintain a perfect balance forever. Couples have to be anchored in God and trust in His promise to provide for us. Therefore, those marriages which place God first in everything will plant the seeds of eternal happiness in this life and bear its fruit in heaven.


“The ecstasy of love and the way love actually turns out”


A married couple can also be torn between the unending ecstasy of love which is dreamed about and the way love actually turns out in marriage. Archbishop Sheen warns us that this tension can lead us to be cynical about love. Rather, he says, this tension derives from asking from the other person for the kind of happiness and fulfillment that only God can give.


“If one starts with the assumption that the other person is God, then one is doomed to drink the bitter dregs of disappointment. We must not, therefore, attribute too much to the other party. If we do, we are going to feel let down because the other partner did not give all that he promised to give (which he is incapable of giving—only God can give it as we said). Sometimes the other feels betrayed, deceived, disappointed, and cheated. In other words: “I entered this marriage to be supremely and infinitely happy and you’re not making me happy!” Well, the reason that kind of discontent comes over the soul is because someone expected from marriage something that is not there.”


If we place all of our hopes for happiness on another person, we will end up unhappy. This is why the church teaches that prayer must be at the center of every marriage and family. If we remove God from the core of the marriage and family, we will be duped into traveling along this dead-end road that never leads to happiness.


No human being in the world is love. God alone is love. We creatures are just lovable and only to a limited degree,” Archbishop Sheen says. “When a creature begins to take the place of the Creator and is made to stand for love, then marriage turns to hate. One marries expecting a god and a woman to be a kind of an angel; she turns out to be a fallen angel, and man turns out to have feet of clay. And when the ecstasy stops, and the band no longer plays, and the champagne of life loses its sparkle, then there are some who will call the other partner a cheater and a robber. Then they go to divorce court and they say, ‘We’re not compatible. We want a divorce because we are incompatible!’


“No two people in all the world are compatible absolutely. Then they begin looking for a new partner and they go through the same mistake—expecting another wife or another husband to give that which only God can give. They enter into a new marriage. They do not find happiness. Why not? Because they’re only adding zeros! The reason that marriage failed was because they refused to see married love as the vestibule to the divine. It’s strange to think that another love can supply what the first love lacked. Cows can graze on other pastures, but there’s no substitute for a person to whom one has committed his whole being for life. Remember, then, that you are not to expect too much. What you want is in heaven—not here on earth. Your partner is a fraction—God alone is the whole. Do not expect, therefore, the other partner to give you infinite happiness. There is a heaven, but it is not here on earth.”

                    Every relationship, whether in the courting or married status, experiences waves of passion that inevitably ebb. So many couples mistake this "down time" for a lack of love or romance, but these times are natural. Too often we mistake love for only passion, but love is just as strong in the quiet periods. In fact, it is how love is nurtured in those quieter times that will dictate the success of the marriage. Anyone who looks for pure passion 100 percent of the time will end up placing unrealistic expectations on his or spouse and/or even worse, will end up marrying several times but will never be satisfied. The overload of sex by our entertainment industry is one damaging factor in why so many people are hooked in the fruitless search for nonstop passion.



“Loving too much and being loved too little”


A third tension involves the struggle of loving too much and being loved too little.


Says Archbishop Sheen: “Love too much—there is discontent. Love too little—there is emptiness. Now this is what you are going to feel—but do not be cynical about it. There’s a reason why you are this way, and the reason is this: You were made for the great Sacred Heart of love and no one, but GOD, can satisfy you. Your heart is right in wanting the infinite, but your heart is wrong in trying to make its finite companion the substitute for the infinite. The solution of this tension is in seeing that the disappointments which it brings are just so many reminders that love is God’s love on pilgrimage. Both the being loved too much and being loved too little can go together when seen in the light of God. When this longing for infinite love is envisaged as the yearning for God, then the finiteness of our earthly love reminds us of the words of St. Augustine: ‘Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in Thee.’”


An example of this tension is seen in the fact that every couple desires and needs to have “alone time”. Why is this? If you were both doing everything together, you would drive each other crazy. It is impossible for you to fulfill every need of your spouse all the time. The only one who can is the One Who is always with us, namely God. Even His name tells us He is always with us: Emmanuel. We are never alone with God, which tells us that this relationship is our top priority in our lives. We are not all powerful, only God is. There will be times when you feel drained from supporting your spouse through a hard time, such as the loss of a job or death of a parent. We are limited in how much we can give, but God has no limits in His compassion and love. Therefore, married couples must foster a deep prayer life in their marriage, both as a couple and individually, that they may find their fulfillment together in God, and their love is the means to carry them there.


Sheen concludes: “Just keep in mind this fact: in every marriage, man promises a woman something that only God can give. And in every marriage every woman promises a man something that only God can give. And that is the reason of the pull between the too little and the too much. The too little, because we want God. The too much, because the human cannot completely satisfy.”


“The tension between sex and love… Searching for the Infinite in the finite”


The fourth tension is the tension between sex and love. These two terms are constantly intertwined and rightfully so--if meant in the context of married sex and love. In marriage, the two are complementary. Outside the marriage, sex does not include true love no matter how much we rationalize it.


Says Archbishop Sheen: “In married life the two are to be united. Sex is the highest expression of the love between a husband and wife. But, when the two are not correctly understood or when they are divorced, then we find these differences: Sex seeks the part—love, the totality. Sex is biological and has its very definite zones of satisfaction—and love, on the contrary, includes all of these, but is directed to the totality of the person loved—the totality—namely, the person made of body and soul and created in the image and likeness of God. Love sees the clock and its purpose—sex concentrates on the main spring and forgets that it was made to keep time. An organ does not include the personality, but the personality includes the organ—which is another way of saying: Love includes sex, but sex does not necessarily include love.”


Archbishop Sheen said that sex is “moved by a desire to fill a moment between having and not having.” Those who put too much emphasis on sex for happiness end up living for the next moment of passion, sometimes with a person other than one’s spouse.


“Now, love frowns on this notion, for it sees in this nothing but the killing of the object’s love for the sake of self-satisfaction,” Archbishop Sheen says. “Sex would give birds flight, but no nest. It would throw the whole world into the experience of voyagers at sea, but with no port. Instead of purifying an infinite which is fixed—namely, God—it substitutes the false infinite and never finds satisfaction.”


Archbishop Sheen believed that one of the reasons why so many suffer from psychosis and neurosis is because they’re in a “fruitless and constant search for the infinite in the finite.” In other words, they expect humans to be God.


“How different is real love,” he says. “Real love admits the need, the thirst, the passion, the craving; but it also admits a real adhesion to a value that transcends all space and all time. In love, poverty becomes integrated to riches. In real love, the need becomes the fulfillment, and the learning becomes a joy.”


“And to sum it all up: You will feel a tension, therefore, between the romance and the marriage, between the chase and the capture. Is there any way of ever combining the two--to have always the thrill of the romance and always the thrill of the capture? Yes, there is, but not in this world. The only real answer to this paradox of the chase and capture is to be found in eternity. When your love leads you back to God, then you will capture something so infinitely ecstatic that it will take an eternity of chase to discover its meaning.”


Understanding true love in that vein will lift one’s marriage to new heights of happiness and excitement.


Adds Archbishop Sheen: “Your marriage will become like a tuning fork to the song of the angels. It will be like a river that runs into the sea where the romance and the marriage fuse into one; or since God is boundless eternal love, it will take that eternal chase to sound its depths; that in one and the same moment, a limitless receptivity and a boundless gift. This is what you marry for: for love—and love leads you to God.”







Recommended Reading:


Familiaris Consortio: The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, Pope John Paul II.


“The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan,” Pope John Paul II, Pauline Books and Media, Boston, 1997.


Catechism of the Catholic Church—2nd Edition (n.1601-1666)


Christopher West, The Good News About Sex and Marriage. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications,



Recommended Listening


“Life is Worth Living” (Marriage and Marriage Sacrament), Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Available in the audio library at


[1] Gaudium et Spes [GS], n. 47, §1.

[2] Familiaris Consortio [FC], n. 11.

[3] Christopher West, The Good News About Sex and Marriage. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications,


[4] Code of Canon Law [CIC], 1983, canon 1055, §1.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], Second Edition, n. 1602.

[6] Rev. 22:17.

[7] cf. Mt. 9:15.

[8] cf. Jn. 3:29.

[9] Cf. Gn. 2:23.

[10] Gn. 2:18.

[11] Gn. 3:16-19.

[12] Eph 5:21-3.

[13] CCC, n. 1605.

[14] CCC, n. 1608.

[15] CCC, n. 1609.

[16] CCC, n. 1666.

[17] Mt. 6:24-34.

[18] Cf. Rm. 8:35.