As we begin this special loving and sensitive series on Conjugal Love at the conclusion of the Jubilee of Families, we want to share with you why we will use the terms branches and buds in referring to the husbands and wives. When they reach the goal of marital bliss they indeed blossom in every way. Blossom is a beautiful strong and delicate word which perfectly compares the masculine side of the couple to a sturdy, solid tree and the feminine side of the couple to a delicate, tender rose bud. Notice we are not isolating the husband as merely and solely masculine nor the wife as exclusively feminine, but rather the couple having both qualities. Remember they are one. And the elements of masculinity and feminity are qualities that must be shared. Oh, are they qualities! It is in rediscovering each other, in new discoveries of every inch of their soul and body that a couple grows closer in love for God, each other and their children. Through this discovery in total oblation of each other to God and themselves, slowly, but surely the culture of death will be weeded out forever and be thrown into the unquenchable fire (cf. Matthew 3: 12).
Think about it. One by one - one couple at a time, we can change the world. All it takes is love. Maybe the end results won't be seen in our lifetime, but know that the good tree will bear great fruits if we are loyal to our vows before God. He alone makes marriage possible. He alone makes life possible. And that possibility can only be accomplished through the cooperation of man and woman within the holy bonds of marriage. God creates life, but He needs husband and wife to procreate life. Therein lies the rub. That may sound like a takeoff on Shakespeare, but in all sincerity, we mean that literally as you will see.
The tree and its branches
It is in gently rubbing the branches and the buds that fruitfulness and fullness of the couple's unity take place, and unity with God becomes not only possible but inevitable. That is why we use the image of the tree for the husband as well as the couple itself. The tree is strong and deeply rooted, for the roots of the family are based on the father's lineage from biblical time onward. This imagery was first impressed on Michael's heart by a good and holy priest, one who, along with his dad and Father Al Svobody, OMI, helped shape his life for the better. This priest was Father Francis Zachman, OMI who passed away in 1984. He always said, "You need a lot of wind and rain to make a tree grow strong and straight." What he meant was that the rough elements of nature can topple a tree built on sand, but one whose roots sink deep into fertile soil, can grow stronger with each passing year. The maturation process begins with weathering the small storms first and later, as it grows from a sapling into a sturdy trunk, is better able to withstand the tornadic force of winds and rain that nature brings. In the same way, a young man needs to be rooted in faith in order to fend off the winds of temptation and other obstacles that come into play in the formative years. By staving off the ill winds of satan early, he sinks his roots into solid foundation enabling him to grow in great stature spiritually, physically and psychologically so that when life batters away at his bark, he can stand strong against the winds of the world, the flesh and the devil.
As the tree grows so sprout many branches. These branches begin budding small twigs. In the same analogy that a young man goes through puberty and follicles of hair appear, so also leaves appear on the tree. This is not possible, however, without God Who provides the sun and rain to sustain the life of the tree. It is in God's providence that He has made the tree to grow many branches, to blossom in foliage as shade and protection for the flowers that bloom below its sturdy boughs. The protection of the branches filters the sunlight and serves as a strainer, so to speak, to soften heavy rains so the delicate flowers can grow, nourished by sprinkling rather than dousing. Instinctively man is taught from the earliest age to be the strong refuge for the woman. God's intention here is for procreation for the husband becomes a father and serves as the head of the family as He deigned it, while the wife becomes a mother and she is the heart of the family. But this does not mean the husband 's in charge and makes all the decisions; it does not mean the wife governs only from her heart. It is a combination of both that brings forth the parental leadership and guidance as well as nourishment for each other.
The husband can take as his role model the exemplary behavior and characteristics of good Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus and dauntless protector of his spousal Blessed Virgin Mary. Wives can look to the example of the Blessed Mother. They are not called the "Holy Family" for nothing. They indeed are to be emulated in every way. Constant recognition and recollection of this is very important in the couple's growth process with each other and their parental touch with their children. If they teach the virtues of the Holy Family, then the children will strive to be like Jesus in obedience to His earthly parents. True, Jesus did not have the secular distractions children are faced with today, but that didn't mean Jesus did not have peer pressures. Little is known of His teen years, only that He was totally obedient to His parents, growing in age and grace before God and man (cf. Luke 2: 51). Wouldn't it be interesting to know how Christ coped with puberty, how He handled his teen years, the teen angst, the awareness of the opposite sex. We know He was chaste at all times, but we also know He was human as well as divine. Therefore, knowing that He was tempted as much as any teen today by the evil one, all teens should look to Jesus for guidance and protection.
Before we stray from the subject at hand, we want to also bring into focus that today couples and parents are anxious over the children spreading their wings and leaving the home sooner than they need to. This can be attributed to the misguided societal demands that children grow up faster, learn more earlier. More and more the educational structure is robbing them of their nurturing, cradle years and not allowing kids to be kids, to enjoy childhood and grow in "grace and wisdom" at the pace the parents feel is necessary, not society. We can only hope and pray that the homeschooling programs in place, and more to bloom, will bring this point home and treat each child as a precious, individual gift from God that needs special nourishing, just as the couple need nourishing and daily reinforcement of their love. For love is like a flame that can flicker and even go out if it is not guarded well.
While some think we may have digressed from the subject, in all actuality the role of the couple as spouses and as parents is to constantly plant the seeds of love. This love can be in the simple look, smile, or touch of one for the other each day. It can be in a sincere compliment and it can be in sincere criticism of each other solely for the improvement of the couple's love, not to change the other or try to manipulate the other. Remember a true friend will always tell their friend the truth, not what they want to hear but what they need to hear for their own betterment. Husband and wives must be friends first, then lovers. This is paramount in the relationship for after all they are soulmates. This means the welfare of the spouses soul must come before everything else. This is especially important in the courtship and engagement process when chastity comes into play as we shall treat in next week's installment.
In all of nature God is so good, so generous. When the branches become topheavy with leaves, God permits a shedding of them in the fall so they can begin anew in the spring with a new dressing of leaves, greener and brighter each year. There is a natural cycle of rebirth that is parallel to the life of Christ in that He grew quietly and steadily, becoming the solid Tree of Life all mankind needed. His three years of fame has become the cornerstone of the New Testament and His death the key to salvation. Just as He died and lay in the tomb for three days before rising gloriously and miraculously from the the dead, so also nature in all its forms grows slowly, then blossoms for a while before dying. But rather than death being so final, it is more of a dormition period - the Purgatory of nature, if you will, before nature once again comes to life in the spring.
Throughout the winter months the trees lie barren and the flowers are covered by the sheltering snow. But all comes to life in the spring as God brings to fruition the cycle of life each year. So also a young man and young woman are covered by the shelter of their parents as they reach maturity before sprouting forth in the fullness of their manhood and womanhood. Indeed, a young man's fancy does turn to love in the spring and this is in coherence with nature for the tree and the flowers bloom together. But they cannot blossom as one. Only husband and wife can do that.
The budding of the rose
We've examined thus far only the basic shell of the tree. Before we delve below the bark of the tree and its splendors in the symbolism of the husband, let's turn our attention to the flower - the wife. The rose is the perfect image of her. Flora by their very nature must be gently nourished and sheltered in order for them to give off a most beautiful fragrance. They require not only moisture, but sunlight as well. For no flower ever opens to its full extent in the dark. The rose is the most beautiful, most symbolic sign of love. There is a reason for this. Just as the tree needs deep roots to grow tall, so also a rose needs to anchor its more fragile roots to that which is stronger. This is the basis for marriage, for two to become one as Our Lord affirms in Matthew 19: 4 "...now no longer two, but one flesh."
It is interesting that a term used when a man beds a virgin is to deflower her. The reality within marriage is just the opposite. For rather than being "deflowered" she is "power-flowered," if you will, for she continues to radiate beauty within, which becomes an exterior enhancement that further spurs the branch to protect and cherish her.
But before she can blossom, she, like the tree, needs to grow from a seed that takes its cue from God's cycle of life. That tiny kernel grows into a shapely bulb which needs to be nourished beneath the soil until it is ready to burst forth in the early stages of blooming. So also the woman begins as a young girl and is, for the most part, largely hidden in the mist of girlish ways. Seemingly overnight, that flower matures and the young girl is now a woman in all her potential and pulchritude. She suddenly becomes attractive to an entire forest, but only one tree in that forest can give her shelter and shade. The one God chose by His placement of the flower and the tree. We can't force it. We can't uproot the tree and take it to the flower, we can't pick the flower and take it to the tree. One or the other would die. We don't have that right. In the same way, God in His providence has chosen just the right flower for the proper tree, and the ideal tree for the chosen flower, so also He has from all eternity chosen the right woman for the proper man, and the ideal husband for the chosen wife.
Finding the right flower, the ideal tree
In life, as in nature, God adorns us in different ways to attract a life-time mate. It doesn't just happen, we must do our part to find the hidden treasure God has for each of us in the bond of marriage. No tree, no flower is alike. There are many, many trees and countless flowers in the field. Each has a purpose and each must be alert to the promptings from Almighty God which lead one to the other. There are singular trees and flowers that have been given a special grace and nurturing that allows them to stand on their own and to reach out to others in shelter and beauty of the evangelical counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. For these special ones, God has chosen His consecrated souls for a specific and noble purpose. Others have been chosen to a vocation that leads to the single life, but they are no less nurtured. Of all of these, they can still breathe in the beauty of the trees and the flowers but they are not called to share in the fullness of the two blossoming as one in the Sacrament of Matrimony. Why some are called to one life, and others to another is known only to God Who cannot make a mistake. The answer to where you are called lies in your heart and your relationship with Him.
In the journey toward marriage, there are many fragrances that catch the senses of both the man and the woman. Just as the scent of the flower attracts the bees who pollinate its stamen, and the branches draw the birds of the air to take the tree's scent as secure shelter to build their nests, so also God highlights the physical, spiritual and psychological attributes of the man and the woman. What attracts a man to a woman and vice versa is as varied as the flowers and the trees. Some trees are drawn to a long stemmed tulip, others to a shy violet, others still to a bright daisy, and yet others to the quiet beauty of a lilly-of-the-valley. Some flowers respond more to a towering maple, others to a swaying palm, still others to the sleek silver-white birch, and others still to the evergreen. The matches are endless. But God in His infinite goodness has chosen the right mates with perfect wisdom. We just have to respond to the promptings and signs He gives.
Without mixing metaphors, it's important to remember that the tree is both masculine and feminine and the perfect analogy to being obedient to God's Love. Whereas Adam and Eve had their pick of trees, except for one, we have one tree, a special tree that we are allowed, through the beautiful Sacrament of Matrimony, to cherish and share in the luscious fruits from this beautiful tree God has given. Only in obedience to Him can we be at one with God for He has chosen one tree per couple that blends as one and we are not to eat of another tree, only the special one He has chosen from all time and only within the boundaries He has set through the Law and the Prophets and the Sacramental Grace of His Holy Church. But these boundaries, if we are obedient to Him, are limitless for we will never desire another tree, never want to eat of any other fruit for we will be totally fulfilled in the tree He has chosen for us. Only by abiding by these God-given rules can we hope to savor its fruit. Blame Adam and Eve but everyone of us are born with Original Sin and therefore we must bear this shackle and do all in our power to unlock the heavy chains through the key of the Divine Will.
NEXT: Chapter Two: Patience, Purity and Perseverance