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Most Reverend Father Angelo,
My name is…, I am x years old and I write from… I congratulate you greatly for your web column and I pray the Lord to bestow on you bountiful blessings for this pastoral work you do for the benefit of all those who contact you to receive good advice.
The importance of the topics covered and the depth of the answers prompt me to bring to your kind attention a problem of mine in the area of sexual and marital morality.
I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, but I prefer to outline all the personal and family issues in order to provide you with sufficient background.
I have been married for five and a half years in the Catholic rite, my wife being a … national and Orthodox. We currently have no children. I respect my wife very much and we get along quite well. I think differences on some issues of the “common faith” are not a problem for our path. However, I always attend Sunday Mass while my wife does not attend any local Orthodox community, rarely participates in Catholic Mass with me (mainly on major solemnities) and accesses the sacraments only when she visits her mother in her country. Let’s say that we have never proselytized each other. For my part, in fact, I don’t really feel like lecturing her: being a sinner, I lack authority and prefer to remain silent.
My main problem in married life is that I definitely suffer from the so-called Rebecca syndrome, that is, that retroactive jealousy concerning my wife’s sentimental and sexual past. Before marriage I was aware that she was no longer a virgin and I confess that this situation caused me a lot of pain. However, we got married anyway because I, guiltily lying to myself, pretended that this torment of mine did not exist. But, as you know, sooner or later all the knots come to the boil. Sometimes it happens to me, just as per the symptomatology of those with this disorder, to imagine sexual situations experienced by my wife with her other partners in the past, especially at the time when she lost her virginity, wasting this great gift into nothingness. You can imagine my suffering… my blood boils in my veins! Sometimes I think that I am reaping what I sowed with my sins of youth. Unfortunately, when I was young, I also fornicated and committed impure acts, but I never allowed myself to defraud a girl of the gift of virginity, even though I had the opportunity.
A first consequence of this problem of mine consists in the onset of a feeling of dislike or, worse, veiled resentment towards my wife. However, I would also like to point out that I consider her to be a special, mature, sensitive, honest person. From a purely spiritual point of view, I would very much like to love her even more, to give her all of myself… but I really can’t… I am like stuck because of this shame of the past.
A second consequence of this problem consists in my fear of welcoming a new life. Obviously, if this were to happen, the option of abortion would not be contemplated at all. Moreover, my wife and I do not practice contraception, but resort to the natural method, that is, we have intercourse only on infertility days. The fear of having a child with my wife stems precisely from her past sexual experiences which, moreover, I do not even know. Sometimes I liken my wife’s womb to a “horribly desecrated temple” and the loss of her virginity to an unspeakable abomination, although she was consenting… and, with these thoughts, I fall into a bleak sadness.
The third problem, on the other hand, concerns a form of current closure to life on the part of my wife, who is 37 years old and adduces some practical reasons. In fact, about three times a year, for a period of two to three weeks, she travels to her country to be near her elderly mother and her relatives, especially at Easter, Christmas (January 7: Orthodox Christmas) and during the summer. Humanly, I understand her, because I too am quite present in the lives of my elderly parents and offer support especially to my father, who is not self-sufficient at all. However, I am fortunate enough to live very few kilometers away from my parents. It should also be mentioned that in the past we tried the experience of a three-way cohabitation (me, my wife and my mother-in-law) with catastrophic results that were leading us towards separation.
After describing the above issues, I would like to present to you my doubts of conscience. In fact, whenever a physical union with my wife occurs, I feel in a state of sin because I think we are abusing the natural method, degrading it to a real contraceptive method and using marriage only to satisfy the concupiscence of the flesh. At this point I also thought that, given the situation, it would be better to live as brother and sister; but then the mutual passion takes over and union takes place. When this happens, I refrain from receiving the Eucharist until the next confession, to which I resort, as you advise, with humble perseverance. However, in confession I cannot expound our condition in as much detail as I do now in writing, and perhaps this is also why I have sometimes received conflicting opinions from confessors. My conscience tells me, in a very faint but clear voice, that in order to receive the Eucharist, without committing sacrilege, I must go to confession. What do you think, Father Angelo? Do I make a useless confession? Would I be committing sacrilege if I approach the Eucharist without confession?
I thank you infinitely for the valuable advice you would like to give me and which I will take into great consideration. May the Lord bless you and this pastoral work of yours.
I assure you of my personal prayers and greet you with great affection.
1. I re-propose for you what Pius XII said in his address to obstetricians on October 29, 1951.
A premise: the Pope takes two hypotheses into consideration.
The first is that prior to marriage the spouses agreed on the intention to restrict the marital right itself to the periods of sterility. In this case the marriage would be invalid.
The second hypothesis: they did not make such a promise, but in fact they behave that way. In this case the marriage is valid.
2. The Pope then says:
“If, on the other hand, the limitation of the act to the times of natural sterility refers not to the right itself but only to the use of the right, there is then no question of the validity of the marriage. Nevertheless, the moral lawfulness of such conduct would be affirmed or denied according as to whether or not the intention to keep constantly to these periods is based on sufficient and reliable moral grounds. The sole fact that the couple do not offend against the nature of the act and that they are willing to accept and bring up the child that is born notwithstanding the precautions they have taken, would not of itself alone be a sufficient guarantee of a right intention and of the unquestionable morality of the motives themselves.
The reason is that marriage binds to a state of life which, while conferring certain rights, at the same time imposes the accomplishment of a positive work which belongs to the very state of wedlock. This being so, the general principle can now be stated that the fulfillment of a positive duty may be withheld should grave reasons, independent of the good will of those obliged to it, show that such fulfillment is untimely, or make it evident that it cannot equitably be demanded by that which requires the fulfillment – in this case, the human race.
The marriage contract, which gives the spouses the right to satisfy the inclinations of nature, established them in a state of life, the married state. Nature and Creator impose upon the married couple who use that state by carrying out its specific act, the duty of providing for the conservation of the human race. Herein we have the characteristic service which gives their state its peculiar value – the good of the offspring. Both the individual and society, the people and the State, and the Church herself, depend for their existence on the order which God has established on fruitful marriage. Hence, to embrace the married state, to make frequent use of the faculty proper to it and lawful only in that state, while on the other hand, always and deliberately to seek to evade its primary duty without serious reasons, would be to sin against the very meaning of married life.
Serious reasons, often put forward on medical, eugenic, economic and social grounds, can exempt from that obligatory service even for a considerable period of time, even for the entire duration of the marriage. It follows from this that the use of the infertile periods can be lawful from the moral point of view and, in the circumstances which have been mentioned, it is indeed lawful. If, however, in the light of a reasonable and fair judgment, there are no such serious personal reasons, or reasons deriving from external circumstances, then the habitual intention to avoid the fruitfulness of the union, while at the same time continuing fully to satisfy sensual intent, can only arise from a false appreciation of life and from motives that run counter to true standards of moral conduct”.
3. As you can see, the pope links the goodness of those acts to grave reasons. Among them he mentioned “serious reasons, often put forward on medical, eugenic, economic and social grounds“.
Here the Pope did not intend to enumerate all the reasons.
Perhaps there are serious psychological reasons between the two of you.
This you must judge, in conscience coram Domino (before the Lord).
4. You write: “My conscience tells me, in a very faint but clear voice, that in order to receive the Eucharist, without committing sacrilege, I must go to confession… Do I make a useless confession? Would I be committing sacrilege if I approach the Eucharist without confession?”
Confession is never useless, even if there are no serious sins. On the contrary, it is always useful, and I urge you to approach this precious sacrament on a regular and frequent basis even if there are no grave sins.
It seems to me that in your opinion there are no sufficient reasons, because a very faint but clear voice tells you that you are not behaving well.
In this case, confess, especially since, as I said, confession is never useless.
5. On my behalf, throw yourself into the adventure of begetting a child.
Your marriage will flourish again. You will feel an everlasting blessing from the Lord upon you.
For this reason, too, I assure you of my prayers and I bless you.