04 September 2011

Conjugal Love

Dietrich von Hildebrand's Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love is a little masterpiece and gem, and provides some profound meditations on the true nature of conjugal love. This short little work has transformed and enriched my understanding of marriage; I think it's required reading for all Catholics, unmarried or married for 50 years.

Von Hildebrand speaks of three categories of conjugal love: the highest is that of two souls united in one burning flame of love, where there is mutual attraction, adoration, and a wholehearted willingness to sacrifice all for the beloved. This is but a reflection of the Divine Love itself, which burns as a blazing furnace and with a fiery intensity for each human soul. Of such unions, Lacordaire said, "There are not two loves--an earthly and a divine one. It is one and the same feeling, with the sole difference that one is infinite."

Rare are those whose unions are so blessed!

The second type of conjugal love is that between those who may be betrothed to each other, but lack that natural attraction that is a gift of other unions. In this case, they love by fulfilling their obligations toward each other, serving each other, bearing each other's faults patiently, and sacrificing for the sake of the other; they always hope for the other's good.

The third type involves one who loves while the other is a source of suffering. The spouse who suffers injury must continue to remain faithful, bear this heavy cross without resentment, and always hope and pray for the other's conversion and salvation. It is a heavy cross indeed; the injured spouse takes part in Christ's own agonies, who was rejected "by His own"--there is no deeper cut than that inflicted by those closest to one's heart, by those most dear. Those spouses who faithfully bear this cross can be assured of the great crown that awaits them in Heaven.

On the first category:
In the beloved we love Christ.

By this fact conjugal love assumes also a character of purity and unselfishness not to be found even in the highest natural love. Conjugal love, like every authentic love, implies a genuine intention to make the beloved happy. He who loves is even more anxious for the happiness of the beloved than for his own. The lover lives in the beloved, seeks the happiness of the beloved, and not the enjoyment of his own love. But in the supernaturally transfigured conjugal love, this intention is elevated to a fervent desire for the eternal welfare of the beloved. The eternal welfare of the beloved is not only desired in the same way as the salvation of our neighbor in general, but with the particular consciousness that this is the person destined for me, whose salvation concerns me in a particular way and above all others. Collaboration in the sanctification of the beloved becomes the focus of our love, raising it gloriously above the life of this world. It embraces the beloved not only within the limits of this life and for this life, but also for eternity. The eternal welfare of the beloved is the culminating point of all that his love affirms. This lends to this love a touching selflessness which is not possessed even by the highest natural love.