What is love?
The formulation of Humane Vitae insists that it is not permissible to break the connection between "the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning which are both contained in the conjugal act" (n.12). And in another classical formulation, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church talks of marriage as of its very nature "ordered to the communion and good of the couple and to the generation and education of children" (n.338). In this way, the sexual act expresses a double meaning that is true for the whole of a married relationship, and not just for its bodily, sexual aspect.
The phrase "good of the couple" indicates that, through their shared married life, a husband and wife will come more and more to fulfil their natures as persons called to love and the specific vocation they have received to life with this particular spouse. They should "grow" as persons. This vocation is one to communion with God, and so one should expect religion to be a part of the common life of a couple, and growth in the practice of religion to be part of the "good of the couple" that is a purpose of marriage. In a marriage, this becomes a common endeavour between two people, rather than one that is undertaken by an individual person.
This growth is linked to the communion between the husband and wife. They are called to a life lived in common, a shared life. This should not be a life in which each spouse does just their "own thing" while happening to live in the same house as the other spouse; it should be a genuinely shared life. It involves a style of poverty in the sense that what was previously owned or undertaken "just for myself" can now only be undertaken for the community of the marriage, "for us". I might still earn the same salary and have the same job, but that salary and the work undertaken to earn it, are no longer just mine, they belong to the community of the marriage. Common life means doing things together - meals, chores, prayer.
I happen not to find the language of "mutual self-giving", usually used in the context of the unitive meaning of sexual intercourse, a language to which I can relate very well.[OK, being single might have something to do with that!] But, used with a wider reference to the whole communion of the marriage, it can express something of what each spouse needs to try for during each day. They give what would otherwise be their own to the common life of the marriage.
Where the openess to life that was the subject of the third post in this series is excluded, then the ability of the two spouses to undertake this mutual self-giving cannot help but be affected.
None of this is easy, and I expect that we can all think of marriages we know where the life of communion is not lived to this high expectation. There are spouses, though, who are trying their best, and hoping to get nearer to the communion of life that marriage is really about, even though they slip up. In the "catechetical moment" we owe it to them to talk about our high expectations, with all due charity, so that they can keep in sight what the aim is. We also owe it to young people who will in the future get married.
UPDATE (Thursday 12th February)
The February issue of New City dropped through the letter box this morning. One of the articles is entitled "The Root of Our Lives", and the introduction to it says: "Family life is beautiful, but as any married couple will tell you, it is not without its difficulties".
Once, when the children were growing up, the Schwingers drove to the seaside on holiday. They had found a reasonably priced cottage through some friends. Soon after they arrived, however, the family started arguing. The children wanted to buy all sorts of things which were not within their means. The parents suddenly remembered the words of the Gospel "Seek first the kingdom of Heaven ... and all these things will be given to you", which meant keeping the peace, being patient with one another, nor responding to unkind behaviour and above all including the children in sharing the responsibility.
"We put all our holiday money into a basket", Hans recalls, "and together we decided how we would spend it". The basket was accessible to everyone and everyone developed a sense of responsibility for the money. The children even shared in planning the meals, cooking and cleaning. "And harmony was maintained long after the holiday had ended".
I think the basket, containing all the money, and everyone's having a shared access to the basket, is a nice parable for marriage as a sharing of a common life.