After the profound beauty of the last chapters, I would like to turn our gaze back to the intersection of the two vocations of marriage and virginity. This in fact will hopefully help to fill out the previous reflections in a particular way, by illustrating how this great call and destiny for all of us—begun already in this life and fulfilled completely in the next—is revealed uniquely in each one of us, in all the incomparable contours of our life, while remaining a single mystery, love and intimacy, born from the white-hot light of the Trinity, and returning there anew. Let me begin by quoting some words from John Paul II. He says:
In the life of an authentically Christian community, the attitudes and the values proper to the one and the other state—that is, to the one and the other essential and conscious choice as the vocation for one’s whole earthly life and in the perspective of the “heavenly Church”—complete each other and in some sense interpenetrate. Perfect conjugal love must be marked by the faithfulness and the gift to the one and only Bridegroom [Christ] (and also by the faithfulness and gift of the Bridegroom to the one and only Bride) on which religious profession and priestly celibacy are based. In sum, the nature of the one as well as the other love is “spousal,” that is, expressed through the complete gift of self. The one as well as the other tends to express that spousal meaning of the body, which has been inscribed “from the beginning” in the personal structure of man and woman. (TOB 78:4)
This short passage from the Theology of the Body needs some unpacking, as its abstract, theological language can tend to be rather opaque. The concepts that the pope uses are rather specialized, and their concrete, experiential meaning is not clarified, so the practical implications of his statements are not clear. I will attempt to walk through this mystery to express it with more clarity, to try and unveil the beauty of the mystery of which he speaks. And I will do so more by direct contemplation of the reality than by reliance on his text (though I will do this too). But let me start by noting two fundamental points that he does make in the text. 1) He says that both virginity and marriage intersect in living and manifesting the same mystery, namely, the mystery of the Bridegroom and Bride, of Christ and the Church. Thus, they are both innately spousal vocations—meaning the complete gift of self—even if they manifest this differently. 2) And both of these vocations live this mystery, not divorced from the full richness of our humanity, but precisely in it and on the basis of it, particularly on the basis of the spousal meaning of the body as designed by God “from the beginning,” in other words, from the start of creation in our bodiliness as man and woman.
Specifically, John Paul affirms what I said in the previous chapter about the need for marriage to be rooted in, and to lead to, the direct relation of each spouse with the one true Bridegroom, Christ, and to their spousal receptivity to him. Thus the “horizontal” spousal relationship, of human husband and wife, is oriented towards the “vertical,” and finds its meaning in expressing, manifesting, and fostering this reality of union with Christ in the experience of both spouses. To say this is also to say that marriage, of its very essence, is meant to have an inner virginal character. It is to be a re-affirmation and deepening of the meaning of original solitude—as the incomparable relationship of each singular person with God—in the context of the living of the original unity of both persons. In other words, the unity of the spouses is meant to propel them both deeper into the solitude of intimacy with God, without taking them away from communion with each other, but rather safeguarding and deepening this communion in turn.
And this occurs quite spontaneously precisely when the communion of persons is authentic, when it is born of an authentic encounter of mutual affirmation. For to affirm the beloved person does not mean to possess them, to use them, or to cling to them as my own, but rather to cherish them gratuitously in their uniqueness—simply because they are worthy of this response—and to seek their authentic good in the sight of God. Only within this pure affirmation of person for person can a healthy intimacy, a true “becoming one,” also occur. This intimacy is held by, and flows from, the primal recognition of the dignity of each person by the other as someone chosen by eternal Love, someone destined to eternal spousal union with the heavenly Bridegroom, someone in whom the living image of the Bride-Church lives. The horizontal union of man and woman that flowers in this place of mutual affirmation, therefore, is but a gratuitous fruit, a pure outflow and expression, of this love of God for each person, in which the two persons participate. In a word, the union of human persons in truth and love manifests God’s abundant generosity, in that he is pleased not only to create them for himself, but also to entrust them to one another, that they may thus, in their love, tenderness, and communion, image and incarnate his love in the sacred space of their interpersonal relationship.
If marriage proves to be a path towards the restoration of original solitude through the experience of original unity (and the nakedness that makes unity possible), then we can say that, in a certain way, the trajectory of virginity goes in the other direction. It is a movement into a particular solitude with and for God—a direct and unmediated surrender to him as one’s only Bridegroom—which precisely in this way also makes possible a deeper experience of unity with others, of true and intimate personal communion on the human level. John Paul says as much, when he says that virginity is “an invitation to solitude for God” which makes possible “a new and even fuller form of intersubjective communion with others” (TOB 77:1-2; cf. also 68:4). And this solitude does not mean aloneness or isolation, or a rejection of the innate desires and capacities of our nature, but rather their healing, super-affirmation, and transfiguration by grace. This is clear in the repeated insistence of the pope that this call to continence for the kingdom “respects at the same time both the ‘dual nature of humanity’ (that is, its masculinity and femininity) and also that dimension of the communion of existence that is proper to the person” (TOB 77:1). In a word, both paths, both vocations, mature along the lines provided by “the image and likeness of God,” meaning that they are ways of living the spousal meaning of the body as gift oriented towards communion (cf. 80:6).
Both vocations manifest all three “original experiences” of solitude, nakedness, and unity in an inseparable interrelationship, and allow them to grow to full maturity and complete expression. And these three experiences are lived in and through the body, and not divorced from it, such that one experiences one’s inalienable dignity as a child of God incarnate in one’s unique flesh (solitude), one experiences one’s orientation towards intimacy precisely in the concreteness of one’s gendered being (nakedness), and one experiences the living joy of communion and relation precisely in and through the body and its unitive meaning (unity). Both vocations, marriage and virginity, must therefore be incarnate expressions of love, in the whole of life and in each moment of life, and are to be filled with the tangible experience of loving and being loved in the body. This is the very stuff of which the living image of God is made.
How often in the choice for virginity or celibacy, however, is the very opposite supposed to be the case! It is assumed that celibates must renounce any awareness or deep living of their rich nature as man or woman—in both body and spirit—as oriented towards persons of the opposite gender, and towards reality as a whole. A kind of castration often takes place in which, supposedly in order to “protect” chastity, the very richness of human subjectivity is crushed or set aside. Yet this kind of repression does not bring about fruits of a greater and more expansive love, but rather brings in its wake frustration, irrational fears, and even infidelities to one’s chosen vocation. For once this step has been taken, a person is for all practical purposes excluded from the living experience of intimacy that in any way would parallel the intimacy given to those called to marriage; and celibacy is thus experienced as a vocation that is “lesser” than marriage, not “superior.” It is a vocation of distance and self-protection and fear, of sacrifice and renunciation, of disinterested service without care for self and without the rich living of the gratuity of intimacy for which every human heart longs. And this kind of experience of emptiness cannot but create a sense of failure and futility at the heart of one’s life, and a kind of confusion, a confusion born of the feeling that the “promises” of celibacy for a deeper love proved, in one’s own case, to be false. And, for most people, the accusation for this “failure” falls on themselves. If the vocation of celibacy is not filled with deep personal relationship, intimate communion, and abiding peace and joy, then supposedly no one is to blame but the celibate himself or herself. And thus, in addition to the hollowness and loneliness of the life of empty celibacy, is added the crippling experience of abiding shame, guilt, and self-accusation.
I do not want to be misunderstood here. I am not saying that every celibate person needs to have an intimate friend of the opposite gender. I am saying rather that a holistic and healthy living of celibacy calls for an inclusion of all the capacities and desires of our integral humanity, and in particular our capacity for horizontal human communion with persons of both genders. But this will look differently for each singular person, according to the unique path of God for them—ranging as far on the spectrum as a Carthusian hermit in his cell, to a religious sister living in intimate communion with the women with whom she shares her life and, also, with her friends and family, to a priest who feels himself to truly be a brother, friend, and father to those entrusted to him, and who, in turn, experiences their tender love for him for his own sake (beyond the ministerial paradigm), to a single woman who lives deep friendships with others in a chaste and yet profound way, to a man and woman who live a virginal form of marriage (which will be spoken of more below) rooted in mutual belonging to God.
Now, it is true that those who have received the gift of a call to celibacy also receive the capacity to experience fulfillment in intimacy in a way different than that proper to marriage; and it is also the case that an act of renunciation does lie along the path of celibacy: the renunciation of the ordinary way of marriage. But it is not true that such persons are thereby called to renounce intimacy, even profound intimacy, with other human persons—even and especially persons of the opposite gender. For if the essence of the celibate vocation is truly the spousal gift of self to God, then the result of this is not a “hemming in” of our nature and our desire and capacity for intimacy, but precisely its most profound transfiguration, expansion, and fulfillment. This radical primacy of God, in which one’s whole humanity—one’s whole psychosomatic subjectivity—is given to him as a spousal gift precisely through the choice of virginity, is meant to lead to discovery of even deeper capacities in this very subjectivity than those based merely on nature, while fulfilling nature. It is meant to lead to a rediscovery of the spousal meaning of the body, not merely in its natural and temporal meaning (though, as I hopefully made clear in previous chapters, this must also be affirmed and allowed to live in order to be taken up into the transfiguring space of grace), but in the manner proper to the virginal state of the new creation.
Thus, even as virginity includes a renunciation (of natural sexual consummation), this renunciation is authentic only insofar as it bears within itself, and makes possible, a super-affirmation (cf. TOB 81:3). And this super-affirmation is precisely a confirmation of all that has been given by God “from the beginning” in our rich nature as male and female, and in our call to intimacy in the body. It thus consists not in a distancing from masculinity and femininity, nor even in a distancing from the awareness of the spousal and unitive capacity inherent in our bodies, but rather in bringing this very capacity back, in some way, to its original virginal meaning. Something of the state of innocence proper to the Garden of Eden, in other words, is recaptured: something of the original integrity of the body in total belonging to God, and of the purity and transparency of the relation between the sexes that occurs in this place. John Paul, indeed, confirms that marriage itself seeks precisely this rediscovery of the virginal value of the body of man and woman, so that, even in their sexual gift to one another, they taste something of God’s virginal intentions for them (taste something of the original purity in which spousal unity and total virginal belonging to God were not mutually exclusive). (See TOB 10:2.) If this is true of marriage, then the same is true of virginity; but it goes about it in a more direct and radical way, by renouncing the natural expression of sexual union, tied in as it is with this passing world as an image and sacrament of the love of Bridegroom and Bride, and immersing itself directly in the Source, Reality, and Consummation of all love and intimacy.
And here, gathered together in the integrity of the spousal gift of self to God, the meaning of the body is expressed and fulfilled, not only ontologically but experientially (even if it also abides in a certain “tension” between time and eternity, as, of course, does marriage). The spousal or unitive meaning of the body is fulfilled precisely because it becomes a gift oriented towards intimacy—a gift to God in an unconditional and total bridal love. And this bridal/spousal love also bears in itself, and realizes, the capacity for paternal or maternal fruitfulness, and the living of parenthood in all of its richness, not in the natural way of procreation and the raising of children, but in the beauty of spiritual parenthood (cf. TOB 78:5).
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Yes, in the light of this, we can expand these reflections even further. For in virginity not only are the original experiences of solitude, nakedness, and unity deepened precisely in being transfigured. The corresponding relationships that are primal to our human experience in this life are also not rejected or set aside, but rather fulfilled in another way, different but no less real. I refer primarily to the three relationships that mark the trajectory of every human life: 1) childhood, 2) spousehood, and 3) parenthood. Here the term “spousal meaning” of the body acquires its true depth, precisely in becoming more richly nuanced, referring to so much more than the specifically spousal/sexual/procreative capacity. This will hopefully become clear in what follows. Let me say first that these three primal relationships mark out the path of the unitive meaning of the body in its God-designed beauty, in its specific depth and richness. They mark out the path from identity, through the vulnerable gift of self, into intimacy, and also the expansive fruitfulness of this intimacy.
1) They express the innate “filial” nature of our bodiliness as pure dependence upon the goodness and love of the heavenly Father, mediated in and through our earthly parents and others who manifest his paternal/maternal love. 2) They express the “spousal” nature of our bodiliness as gift oriented towards intimacy, as a gift that is meant to be total, reciprocal, and indissoluble, bringing about the intersubjectivity of persons in a single life in which two distinct subjects become one without ceasing to be distinct. 3) Finally, they express the “parental” nature of our bodiliness as transparency to the creative, cherishing, protecting, nourishing, and caring love of God who is the origin and fulfillment of fatherhood and motherhood. Now, if these three dimensions of our bodily capacity for relationship are understood at an adequate depth, how could we possibly think that only natural marriage and procreation realizes them, and not, in a different but no less profound way, does virginity? Rather, marriage realizes on the level of nature and in the trajectory of history what virginity super-realizes in the light of eternity and on the basis of the eternal consummation that awaits us at the end of time, when marriage and procreation will pass away.
I hopefully gave a glimpse of this earlier when I used the example of the virginal marriage of Mary and Joseph. They lived all the rich fabric of natural relationship, and yet did so with a particular depth and transparency to the inner Trinitarian nature of all communion. And they did so precisely because their love was virginal, that is, totally given to God in the commitment to “continence for the kingdom of heaven” (cf. Mt 19:12), a continence that did not draw them away from each other, but rather opened up a path of even deeper drawing-close, of even more profound intimacy and communion, not on the basis of the normal trajectory of marriage, sexual intercourse, and procreation, but on the basis of their joint belonging to God in unconditional surrender, and their cherishing custodianship of the virginal mystery of the other before God.
For here the second and third capacities for relationship, namely the spousal and parental—rooted wholly in the first, in the filial belonging to God—are surrendered to God alone so as to be realized directly by him in participation in his own divine life. Thus Mary becomes bride before God in a special way, such that she images and realizes in herself the mystery of the entire bridal Church, in which we all participate. And, as bride, she also becomes mother, she becomes the mother of Christ and the mother of all believers, who are born of the union of compassion and love forged between her and Christ in the total reciprocal self-gift of the Passion and Resurrection. I have spoken of this in depth in the second chapter of this book (and a re-reading of that chapter may give further clarity to what I am saying now, as this chapter in turn will allow that one to be read and understood more deeply).
But Joseph is in no way excluded from this transfiguration of the beauty of relationship in God. There has throughout history been a tendency to do so—out of a fear of casting Mary and Joseph’s virginity into question. John Paul, among others, has spoken against this fear, and has spoken very strongly for the importance of taking Joseph’s truly intimate communion with Mary and Jesus into account. For he is truly a spouse of Mary, even if virginally, just as he is truly a father to Christ, even if not biologically. As John Paul affirmed in an audience of August 21, 1996:
It may be presumed that at the time of their betrothal there was an understanding between Joseph and Mary about the plan to live as a virgin. Moreover, the Holy Spirit…was quite able to instill in Joseph the ideal of virginity as well. … Joseph and Mary received the grace of living both the charism of virginity and the gift of marriage. … The difficulty of accepting the sublime mystery of their spousal communion has led some, since the second century, to think of Joseph as advanced in age and to consider him Mary’s guardian more than her husband. It is instead a case of supposing that he was not an elderly man at the time, but that his interior perfection, the fruit of grace, led him to live his spousal relationship with Mary with virginal affection.
Yes, it is precisely the context of virginity that creates the space for the marriage of Mary and Joseph to exist. Virginity becomes a new atmosphere of love in which God can draw hearts together. Virginity becomes a new atmosphere of love in which, precisely through the total belonging of each person to God, he can also give and entrust them to one another with particular depth and transparency to his own life as Trinity. In the living-space of virginity, he invites them to participate in his life, both directly in their virginal relation to him, as well as in the rich fabric of their interpersonal relationship with each other. This is how the Holy Family becomes a kind of convergence point, the convergence point in which the vocations of marriage and virginity intersect. For here all the capacities of our nature, fashioned in God’s image, are transfigured and fulfilled, not on the basis of our natural biological capacity for sexual union and procreation (as sacred and beautiful as this is!), but on the basis of the total self-gift of each person to God, and also the total self-gift of persons to one another in God and through God.
As I said earlier, the horizontal spousal dimension of love, in virginity, is subsumed wholly into the vertical, such that natural spousal consummation is renounced for the sake of a total spousal “yes” to God. This lies at the core of the marriage of Mary and Joseph—that each is a virgin given to God—and yet does not in that way take away the spousal bond between them. Rather, it transforms its nature from being a natural imaging, in the ordinary “language” of sexual union, of the gift of Bridegroom and Bride, to being a mutual entrustment of the virginal mystery of each to the other, such that each person becomes the “custodian” of the other’s mystery in God and for God. This is what I meant by saying that the words “My sister, my bride,” in virginity, become, “My sister, his bride.” And this is actually a deeper transparency—I am inclined to say a deeper joy—than saying, “my bride,” for here the very disinterestedness of being the custodian of the other person’s mystery in God and for God does not exclude the experience of interpersonal human intimacy, but re-establishes it on another level. It re-establishes our capacity for intimacy, not on the natural spousal relation, but on the virginal consummation of this relation in the light of eternity, anticipated already now, in which the “virginal state” of our body will be restored and fulfilled as the perpetual fulfillment of the spousal meaning of the body in its entirety. In other words, the spousal word spoken between man and woman—the word of total reciprocal self-gift, “I am yours, and you are mine”—is spoken now in a virginal way, and precisely as virginal fulfills the spousal word in anticipation of the virginal consummation of eternity. (For in eternity, in the eternal virginal state of the body, this spousal word will be spoken between all human persons in the likeness of the eternal “Yes” of the Trinity.) At the heart of their natural marriage, this is precisely the mystery that Mary and Joseph lived.*
But that is not all. For each one of us, according to our state in life and our unique personal story, is called to live and manifest this same beautiful reality. If married, our natural married life and parenthood is invited to share in the transparency and purity of the virginal love and intimacy of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, as well as in the expansiveness of their love as it spreads out to bear fruit for the sake of the entire world. If in virginity, our total gift to God is meant to flower both in a profound experience of nuptial intimacy with him, as well as in a deep intersubjective communion with other human persons. And in the very context and atmosphere of virginity, we are to hear God’s word of gift and entrustment, by which he invites us to share in the intimacy and totality of the “custodianship” of Mary and Joseph of one another’s mystery, and in the fruitfulness of their union in God. In this regard, the words of John Paul that I quoted earlier are beautifully transparent:
I think that every man, whatever his station in life or his life’s vocation, must at some point hear those words which Joseph of Nazareth once heard: “Do not be afraid to take Mary to yourself” (Mt 1:20). “Do not be afraid to take” means do everything to recognize that gift which she is for you. Fear only one thing: that you try to appropriate that gift. That is what you should fear. As long as she remains a gift from God himself to you, you can safely rejoice in all that she is as that gift. What is more, you ought even to do everything you can to recognize that gift, to show her how unique a treasure she is. Every man is unique. Uniqueness is not a limitation, but a window into the depths. Perhaps God wills that it be you who is the one who tells her of her inestimable worth and special beauty. If that is the case, do not be afraid of your predilection. Loving predilection is, or at least can be, participation in that eternal predilection which God had in man whom he had created. If you have grounds to fear that your predilection might become a destructive force, don’t fear it in a prejudicial way. The fruits themselves will show whether your predilection is for the good.
Neither the pope nor I am saying that all persons called to virginity should have relationships that directly resemble that of Joseph and Mary, but rather that every man and every woman is called to live the fullness of human relationship, in all of its depth and breadth, even and also in the life of celibacy.* Those who have given their lives totally to Christ are called, and given a capacity, to live in a profound way the deepest and most transparent form of intimacy in friendship, which takes up all the richness of the various forms of relationship and, in Christ, fulfills them. After all, every human relationship, whatever its nature, finds its full flowering in friendship; even marriage is but a particular form of friendship. As Christ indicated: “I no longer call you servants, but friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15). Yes, for God, friendship is intimacy, and yet it is also the sacrificial gift of self; it is both agape and eros. “For no one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).
Here the true richness of human relationship is unveiled, and its astounding depth: how deeply rooted it is in the very inner secret of the life of God, and also how deeply it is rooted in the singular beauty of each human heart. It manifests the expansiveness of Christ’s self-surrender in his Eucharist and his Passion, in which he lays down his life for all humanity, humanity estranged by sin and death, in order to draw us back together into the intimacy and communion of the divine life. It also manifests his tender presence to each singular person in the contours of intimate encounter, and his close communion with those who, drawn by the magnetism of his love and the goodness of his Heart, shared his daily life with him in the humblest and most simple of ways. Yes, all love, to the degree that it is mature—and according to the unique call of God in a given moment and given circumstances, from the intimacy of husband and wife, to the pastoral ministry and paternal presence of a priest, to the communion of religious brothers and sisters in community, to the very laying down of life of a martyr—shares in the same dynamic walked by Christ in his Incarnation, Life, Passion, and Resurrection.
If this is true, then the path of celibacy is not a renunciation of the deep human capacity for interpersonal communion, of the deep aspiration for a profound and total love, but a specific way of realizing it in the light of the eternal state of virginal love that awaits us in the new creation, and which has already been inaugurated now through Christ. Here, again, marriage and continence flow together in a single mystery, and what matters is precisely that we surrender to that mystery—the mystery of the love of the Trinity incarnate in Christ Crucified and Risen—and live it with every beat of our heart, with every instant of our life, loving him who loved us, and, in being loved and loving before our God, to also live authentic love before each one of our brothers and sisters.
Thus, if we have been called to embrace continence for the kingdom of heaven, we should not be afraid to love, to love deeply and tenderly, according to the full richness of our humanity, in a chaste and virginal way: with our eyes always on the unique and incomparable beauty and dignity of each person, which is the wellspring of all authentic love. There are multiform ways in which such chaste relationships flower: in the context of a community ministering together and also spending time in the joy of their shared life; in the deepening and purification of the natural bonds of family; in persons whose lives intersect in any number of ways, in shared studies or interests, in the shared burden of pain and suffering, in the providential intersection of hearts in the plan of God; and in so many other ways, according to the beautiful uniqueness and profound richness of God’s love for each person and his delight in bringing his children together in his love.
This flowers in a particularly beautiful way in relationships of profound entrustment, in which the spousal gift of self to God, total and unconditional, also opens one’s being to receive and care for others in the name of God and for his sake, and to experience a new and profound form of intimacy with them. It includes the “crystallization” of the gift of self, which is given in a universal way for the good of the entire Church, into singular and incomparable relationships between two persons, in which what is general becomes particular, what is universal becomes specific. (And this is not only a “giving” of oneself to love others, but also the willingness to let oneself be loved too!) This is the path of love and communion between singular human hearts, which flowers in our lives in addition to the universal love for all of our brothers and sisters which Christ begets within us. Both are necessary: the love in which we live, with Christ, the mystery of his “laying down his life for the Church” (cf. Eph 5), for all of the children of God, but alsothe mystery in which this universal love is distilled into a singular, unrepeatable relationship between two human hearts, and, precisely in this way, becomes most fully concrete.
*If the spousal gift of self to God constitutes the essence of virginity, how could Mary and Joseph be both virginal and also spouses to one another? This question helps to illumine a beautiful dimension of virginity as it transfigures human love: it does not take away anything from the depth of human love and closeness, but rather renders it particularly transparent to the person and to the nature of intimacy as lived virginally in God. It does so, we could say, by subsuming the “spousal” word between man and woman totally into the “fraternal” or sibling (rooted in childhood in God), such that man says to woman “my sister” and not “my bride,” since he is too permeated by the awareness of her belonging to God to call her this. He cannot take this mystery to himself, but can only affirm and safeguard it in God. In a word, all he can do, and all he desires to do, is to cherish her as God’s bride, and to be the custodian and protector of this mystery. But in the same moment as he disinterestedly affirms the woman’s mystery in God, he is also invited to participate in God’s cherishing love for her, precisely in her bridal femininity, such that his spousal capacity itself is super-affirmed and transfigured precisely in this virginal entrustment and custodianship. He experiences, therefore, the fulfillment of all of his capacities for relationship—to be son, brother, friend, spouse, and father—coming to full flower and mysterious consummation precisely through radiant transformation in the living atmosphere of virginity.
*To say that all celibate persons need not directly mirror the life of Mary and Joseph, but nonetheless live the same mystery of virginal fulfillment, is to say that the inner essence of love and intimacy that was realized in their relationship is also realized in each person’s life, though according to its own incomparable contours and unique story written by God. There is, however, a particular vocation that does reflect and share in the mystery of Mary and Joseph, and which manifests precisely the convergence of the vocations of marriage and virginity in the sphere of a joint belonging of both persons to God: it is what is traditionally termed a “Josephite marriage.” This vocation, though quite rare and calling for a deep maturity on the part of both persons, is also a gift for the whole Church, as it makes visible precisely the inner core of both vocations and also their intersection in the single call to personal love and intimacy in the likeness of the Trinity. It shows and expresses, in other words, the inner core of what marriage is meant to be—namely, the rediscovery, in both man and woman, of the virginal state of the body—as well as the inner core of virginity—the experience of most profound intimacy with God, and, in and through God, with other persons, incomparable and irreplaceable.