Self Gift in Marriage
By Jim Park.
“What? For me?” “What a wonderful surprise!” “How thoughtful!” “Thank you!” Whether at our birthday or at Christmas or totally unexpected, gifts always mean something special. We appreciate the time and effort spent to find just the right gift, based in how well we know the other or they us, and the desire to meet the wants and needs of the recipient. Wrapped in colorful paper with a bow on top and placed in bags surrounded by tissue paper, gifts are always mysterious. When we were little, we sized up the shape and shook the gift, trying to guess what was inside. Gifts are meant to be given, completely and freely, and as such, to be received in the same way. And while the mystery disappears with the unwrapping, the joy and gladness of the gift becomes real.
Wrapped externally in clothes and shoes, with tattoos or not, of a particular hair and skin color, we come into relationships, ready to give ourselves to the other. A mystery to the other, physical shaking won’t reveal what’s inside. We reveal ourselves and are revealed in shared conversation and experiences, formed as we are by nature and grace, by family and environment. As we do so, the mystery of our self-gift is slowly and continually unwrapped.
In his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI reflected on the beauty of married love, wherein
“husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.” (no. 8)
This love, he states, is
“above all fully human, … an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.
It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.” (no. 9)
Married love then, in the complimentary giving and receiving of husband and wife, fulfills the “one flesh” union of which Jesus speaks (Matt. 19:3-5). This union built on self-gift is one not only of body but of persons, drawing its power from the Three Person union of the Holy Trinity, which is Self-Gift itself. With this knowledge and the enduring grace of the marriage sacrament, husbands and wives can unwrap the mystery of themselves, saying in essence: “What? For me?” “What a wonderful surprise!” “How thoughtful!” “Thank you!”
In my life, the beauty of the gift became most evident when I met my to-be wife for the first times. Wrapped in the loveliness of her face and figure, she exuded a mischievous spirit, filled with laughter and silliness. The chemistry natural between us blossomed and grew as we shared in conversation what was important to us, a connection built on the similarities in our ages, family size of origin, and views of the world and of the life to come lit by the one Faith that we shared. 12 and a half years of marriage later, God has given us the joys, sorrows, and challenges that have unwrapped the exterior trappings of our initial relationship to reveal the interior giving and receiving in which we “enrich the other with the gift of himself” in a deepening communion of love. It is of a gift that keeps giving which retains the wonder-full mystery of each other, together.
Jim Park grew up in Springfield, Virginia, one of eight children born to John and Rita Park. He attended Catholic grade school and high school, before heading off to Virginia Tech for college. He graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Geology, and two years later, was awarded a Masters of Science in Structural Geology and Rock Mechanics by Imperial College, in London, England. Jim currently works for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where he manages environmental reviews. He has been married to the love of his life, Geneva, for 12 years and have two beautiful daughters with them on earth, and one child with God in heaven.