Is it still possible nowadays to fully embrace conjugal spirituality and seek holiness in marriage? What are the various facets of conjugal holiness? What characterizes it? These are some of the issues and questions addressed in the Conference Holiness, Marriage, and Family , held on May 26, 2022 in Rome at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. In an increasingly secularized Western society that has long lost sight of the example of the saints, it’s not easy to read about such a topic, but it is certainly full of great prospects. The basis is the common belief that a family isn’t just comprised of two spouses and children, but that it includes God as well, whether or not family members are aware of His presence. The more one is aware that the Lord is a part of our families, the more He breathes life into the love between husband and wife ¾between parents and children¾a love that is made up of concrete actions and not just words or feelings.
Testimonies of five Christian married couples, for whom the process of beatification is underway and who lived holy lives, were the highlight of the Conference’s interesting interventions, offering a dose of reality from their life’s experiences.
Here we offer a summary of Professor Rossi Espagnet's paper, underscoring its inspiring ideas.
The foundations of Christian conjugal spirituality
In order to talk about conjugal spirituality, we must first understand its core foundations and characteristics. In the case of Christians, the sacramental origin is undoubtedly the first element that characterizes the conjugal spirituality. It is through the sacrament of marriage that spouses receive a specific gift that makes them bearers of a mission in the Church. Through their stable and fruitful union, God's love is made present and manifest in the world¾whatever religion the spouses profess. God is at the core of marriage. It’s not merely a sunny human invention, but rather He grounds every marriage in hope.
A second characteristic of conjugal spirituality is the marriage representing the "mystery of unity and fruitful love between Christ and the Church" and not just two individuals. God brings two spouses into one existence. When they decide to get married, two individuals agree to a challenge: that they will live together; that they will love each other; that they recognize there is a bond greater than each one’s personal interests; that love is stronger than pride, the temptation of controlling the other, impatience with their own and the other’s limitations.
A third feature of conjugal spirituality is that the conjugal "we" is substantiated by not only a spiritual union but also a bodily union of the spouses; the Christian tradition refers to this union effectively when it says that they are called to form "one flesh." Because of the sacrament they have celebrated, the spouses exercise their common vocation even in the sexual act, offering their union and joy to God, turning away the temptation to serve each other for selfish purposes¾putting the needs of the spouse first and welcoming possible parenthood.
They should be the first messengers of the Christian faith for their children
Parents should be for their children, in their words and actions, the first messengers of the faith. We could say that the mission of Christian spouses culminates in asking for their children to be granted their shared faith, either by baptizing them and helping them to partake in the foundational sacraments of Christianity, or by teaching them to love God, to give thanks for His gifts, and to have a filial dialogue with Him. Parents, not only with explanations, but first and foremost in their everyday lives, convey the Christian way of life to their children, which is essential for any subsequent teaching to be accepted and nurtured.
Providing for the family’s needs: work
In outlining the fundamentals of conjugal spirituality, one cannot ignore the responsibility we have to work, which was God-given, in the very beginning, to the man and woman who constituted the first human family (cf. Gen. 1:28). Work is indispensable for spouses to bring their familial goals to fruition. When one doesn’t have a job, one can’t even consider getting married or starting a family; it has an important impact on the balance of a household.
The marriage vocation
From what we have briefly discussed so far, we can conclude that marriage and the family constitute a Christian vocation and not a condition without purpose. In fact, God calls man and woman to be united in a communion of life full of love, and Christ accompanies spouses on their journey so that their love may mature through inevitable difficulties. They exercise their holy vocation by collaborating with God the Creator to pass on life to new children of God. Parents carry out their prophetic task by educating them in faith and love, so that the Christian vocation blossoms within them. Through their work, spouses provide for the populization of the world and securing necessities for their children, relatives, and neighbors. Spouses are a sign of Christ's love for the Church and God's providential love, and as such, as a couple, they can be an example to the Church and the world.