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Nazareth could with good reason be called 'the house of beautiful love'. To 'beautiful love', the Church dedicates a special place in the Marian Missal with a celebration dedicated to 'Mary, Mother of beautiful love'. Beautiful love is when human love is all enveloped and interpenetrated by God's love and becomes its mirror and transparency. It is when eros and agape are reconciled, when virginality and nuptiality are properly positively understood, when intimacy is accompanied by modesty. It is when fruitfulness does not contradict chastity and chastity favours fruitfulness, when dialogue is silent because it is inhabited by the mystery of God, and silence is not empty and sterile, but a space for profound communication.

Contemplating Mary's purest love, the Church sees in it the brightest sign of God's glory and Wisdom. She eminently applies to her the words that the Old Testament dedicates to Judith: "there is no creature on earth like her for the beauty of her countenance and the wisdom of her words" (Jdt 11:21). The humble and silent radiance of Mary's face and heart, after having illuminated Joseph's face and warmed his heart, then turned to the human generation of the Son of God, so that he might be recognised as "the most beautiful among the sons of men", and was finally destined for the Church, so that she might take the form of the "immaculate Bride" (Eph 5:27), because, as the liturgy says: "from Mary's most pure thalamus you brought forth the Bridegroom of the Church, Jesus Christ, your Son".

The reverberation of Mary's beauty is something that all Christians, and specifically spouses, should continually nourish themselves with and be infinitely grateful for. It is a native beauty because she is immaculate, a beauty perfected at great cost because she is sorrowful, and a beauty that is now glorious, which spouses can draw upon by taking Mary into their home as "the dearest one" (Jn 19:27). This is how the Church expresses it: “beautiful in your conception, free from all stain of sin, and all wrapped up in the radiance of your grace. Beautiful in your virginal birth, in which you gave the world your Son, the splendour of your glory, our brother and saviour. Beautiful in the passion of Christ, impregnated by his blood, as a meek lamb united to the sacrifice of the meekest lamb, bestowed with a new maternal mission. Beautiful in the resurrection of the Lord, with whom she reigns glorious, sharing in his triumph.”

In the light of Mary, Mother of beautiful love, let us try to reflect on the delicate and wonderful subject of marital chastity, whose pre-marital preparation, in spite of the customs of our times, is actually taken for granted. Yes, because beauty is the sensible manifestation of love, but true love is no less than the gift of self, and there is no sensible enchantment or loving feeling, however intense, that can think of presupposing or improvising it: True love must be received as a gift in joy and matured in sorrow to the point of forgiveness, which is that marvellous capacity that comes from God to regenerate even seventy times seven every wounded or exhausted relationship.

In the face of the incomparable beauty of Mary Immaculate and the sublime purity of her spousal love, Christian spouses - as Adrienne von Speyr, a physician and mystic of our time, first a bride and then a consecrated woman, explains - "to live a perfectly Christian marriage, they will not simply ignore the mortifications present in sexuality, but will have to learn to understand them more and more with reference to the cross and in the light of its purifying fire. Otherwise, as we see, couples break up, marriages fail, and children suffer.”

A married and virginal love

In spite of the drab, maternal but not feminine image of Mary, and paternal but not virile of Joseph, that has too often been suggested, Mary and Joseph experienced a splendid encounter of love and an intense desire to belong to each other in the full service of God. The common sensibility, educated by original sin and all its consequences, instinctively thinks that virginity and spousality are alternatives, and finds it hard to believe that a virginal love can also be passionate. In reality, God's love does not extinguish human love, but, on the contrary, kindles it, purifies it and intensifies it.

Adrienne explains that the openness of one to the other, as a consequence of their mutual promise, does not take away from the first place that love for God occupies and continues to occupy in their hearts.

The singularly virginal love of Joseph and Mary does not compromise, but perfects their spousal love, since it does not in any way seek to anticipate the will of God, which is always mysterious even when we know it in its general outline. In the school of their marriage, we understand that God's love is capable of freeing engaged and married couples from hasty judgements or deep-rooted prejudices, from naive or exaggerated expectations, from illusory or erroneous expectations. Mary married Joseph, totally oriented to God's will, that - Adrienne again explains in words of rare depth - one would think that “she did not expect children from Joseph. Even so, in fact, as with a vow of virginity, she should have established something beforehand. Mary lives beyond this decision; for her, the decision of marriage is by no means a decision against virginity and the decision of the earthly state is not a decision against the state of perfection. She does not reflect on their compatibility. She only knows a purpose to which she adheres without stopping, going back or deviating: to do God's will in everything and perfectly". Wonderful: to Mary, unlike us sinners, the incompatibility of virginity and nuptiality does not even occur to her.

The case of Joseph is different. In him, every couple can mirror themselves and resolve to take Mary as the Mother of beautiful love. He, though a righteous man, was still among sinners, and it was impossible for him not to wonder how to keep being a virgin and being married together. But this should in no way make us think that the solution was for him to shrink or freeze: "In the betrothal, he experienced the real love of a woman and this love of his future bride enriched him as only the love of a woman can fill a man". ù

The heart of Mary and Joseph

In her earthly existence, Mary achieved a wonderful synthesis of femininity and modesty, and Joseph, at her side, became a splendid example of virility and purity. Needless to say, these binomials are certainly not common currency today, and how in any case, today as yesterday, they are a miracle of grace, of that mysterious work of preservation or deliverance from evil that God works in his sons and daughters. Yes, because there are young women who already with their bearing know how to revitalise their men, and there are young men who already with their affectionate patience know how to restore integrity to their women.

In any case, it is a matter of understanding that virginity does not debase the man and takes nothing away from feminine tenderness: it does not exasperate the heart, nor does it freeze it, on the contrary - Bossuet said - "it gives it greater fullness and freedom". In fact, as long as it is not lived egoistically or neurotically, virginal integrity predisposes to conjugal love and increases it: bringing the loving feeling into the divine sphere does not in fact mean destroying it, but perfecting it. Between Mary and Joseph all this happened in a simple and sublime manner: "the man's love - Adrienne again instructs us - - is modelled on that of the woman, who is the silent educator of virile impulse. Mary virginalised Joseph, as she had to virginalise so many young men with her smile, and that priestly lineage owes it to her if it succeeds in preserving in this world, with ease, the mystery of virile virginity. But she did not take away his vigour, his drive, his ardour; she did not diminish his capacity to give and to receive manifestations of tenderness. Joseph's gaze was changed by meeting that gaze; his senses were sublimated, having been invested in the radiance of that unique body in the world”.

Sadly, there are too many brides who, along with a thousand other reasons, stray from their spouses for religious reasons as well, arousing in the spouses silent displeasure or dull resentment (as if God were taking away the woman he had given them), and understandably exposing them to many temptations. Now, however, for Mary, who was perfectly consecrated to God, this was not the case: her total orientation to God did not diminish her affection for Joseph, nor did the virginal mode of her marriage make her ‘separated at home’. On the contrary, her marriage to Joseph became fundamental to the nuptial configuration of the future Church. Adrienne goes so far as to say that while "Mary will accompany Jesus to the cross, thus touching the highest point of her dedication, and there she will be the perfect bride, she was prepared for this very high commission during her stay as bride, at Joseph's side”.

And do not think that Joseph's renunciation was experienced with suspicious resentment or resigned sadness, as a disappointment. The great Polish novelist Jan Dobraczynski, in his inspiring book, ‘The Father's Shadow’, explains it this way: “Such purity radiated from that girl that every thought of evil died before it even formed. How much simplicity there was in this girl! The feeling of having been able to reciprocate such great love with renunciation kindled an enthusiasm stronger than the calls of the flesh. Mary and Joseph did not need to speak: their thoughts met unceasingly”. How much better things would be between spouses if they understood that sexual communion may perhaps then foster, but first and foremost it requires deeper spiritual communication!

Dialogue and nuptial silence

In the light of the unique marriage between Mary and Joseph, the agreement of virginity and nuptiality can have a very concrete meaning for all spouses, and that is the search for harmony between dialogue and silence: love needs and is nourished by both. Silence is the womb of the word, the word is the fruit of silence. Silence without speech is sterile, speech without silence is chatter. Authentic silence is waiting for truth, authentic speech speaks truth. The alternation and belonging of word and silence is a profound expression of the exchange of love of man and woman. The man for his part is predominantly speech, but he usually processes problems in silence, and it is difficult for him to give word to his feelings and communicate them to the woman. The woman for her part is predominantly silence as the womb of the word, but ordinarily deals with difficulties first of all by verbalising them, confiding them, and we know how difficult it is for her, normally, to contain her verbosity. As we understand, the right conjugal syntax is at stake, the one that creates and preserves understanding and complicity: every woman likes to receive true and intense words from a man, just as every man seeks in a woman a hospitable body and a smiling face. That is why a glance at the silence of Nazareth can be good for newlyweds.

In their silence, Mary and Joseph are edifying above all for the fact that they did not naively pretend to understand and be understood at once, in everything and at all costs. It is the typical women's wanting to explain themselves, always with the intimate conviction that they are right or, on the contrary, that they are wrong; or it is the men's wanting to be right, perhaps without explaining themselves or even knowing that they are wrong. It is men's struggle to grasp women's emotional communication, and women's struggle to grasp men's rational synthesis. Instead - and this is a good cue for everyone - the bond between Mary and Joseph is shrouded and accompanied by mystery. When Mary 'found herself with child by the Holy Spirit', an event greater than herself happens to her. There are no words to communicate this to Joseph.

This is why Mary presents herself to him as she is, at the cost of being misunderstood or misinterpreted: trust in God prevails, and also in Joseph. Jean Guitton sees something heroic in this silence: “the heroic aspect of this nuptial silence before Joseph was to expose herself to the suspicion of the one she loved. But acting well and not being understood are things that almost always go hand in hand, that help one to live by God”. From Mary and Joseph, newlyweds can learn that understanding is the first step to knowing. 'Understanding', in fact, means 'embracing', and newlyweds know how an embrace says much but does not explain everything, says more than it explains, tries to say even what it cannot explain. But just like that it communicates more than words.

Adrienne goes even deeper. Mary's silence refers not only to the extent of Joseph's understanding, but also and above all to the immensity of God's gift! When God's work in the soul of one or the other is at stake between spouses, intimacy is clothed in modesty. There are things that cannot be said, for they are unspeakable: "Mary is silent, for she shares a secret directly with God. She understands that this mystery is of such a nature for the whole future Church that she cannot therefore dispose of it. At this moment there is nothing suitable for it to be communicated to Joseph.” This is why he goes on to explain: "Christian spouses protect the secret that each one has before God. Hand in hand they enter the Church, but they do not speak afterwards about what each has confessed. This silence does not limit or disturb their intimacy". More still, “the secret of the spouses, which each has before God, not only cannot disturb their mutual love, but can make it more fruitful, deepen it and ennoble it. Far from compromising the integrity of their dedication, it represents in time the best guarantee of the ever new vitality of human love".

Roberto Carelli SDB

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