The Fruit of Love, by Venerable Fulton Sheen, 26 February 1933

1952 photograph of Venerable Fulton John Sheen produced as promotional material for the television show 'Life is Worth Living'Love seeks not only permanence, which accounts for the unbreakable bond of marriage, but also fruitfulness, which is the bearing of children. Married life should have a harvest, for all love should bear fruit. In order to understand the reasons for the fruitfulness of marriage one must understand the meaning of love. Love may be defined as mutual self-giving and self -outpouring which ends in self-recovery. First of all, love means mutual self-giving and self-outpouring because love implies two per- sons who give themselves one to another. This is merely another way of saying that all love is sacrifice. Hence, the greatest joy in love is to throw one- self on the altar of the one loved; its sweetest feast is its own hunger and the wine of its own tears; its richest banquet is to gird its loins and to serve; its greatest jealousy is to be outdone by its cherished rival of the least advantage in self-giving, for without some spice of martyrdom love’s tastes are tasteless, and without the arrow that wounds, its quivers are barren and vain.

Because love is a mutual self-emptying, husband and wife vie with one another in the sacrifice of self. The woman sacrifices the irreparable which God has given her, that which makes her a virgin, that too which possibly is the hidden reason for her power to love but only once. The man, in his turn, sacrifices the liberty and freedom of his youth, the power to devote himself entirely to that love which he finds at the beginning of the journey of life. These two cups, one filled with beauty and innocence, the other with devotion and courage, flow one into another, as two rivers which run their course to the great ocean of the absorbing Love which is God.

But love is not only mutual self -giving, for if it were but this there would be only surrender. Love fs not only mutual self-outpouring, for if it were but this, it would be barren as a desert and would fructify nothing. That which is surrendered but can never be recovered is the source of the tearful agony of loss. If love were only dual selfishness, with perpetual change and barter, like commerce between two shipwrecked sailors on a desert isle, it would yield no profit to either, but only be the enkindling of a flame in which each would be consumed.

Hence, love in addition to being a giving or an outpouring, must also be a recovery. The escape from mere mutuality, which is death, is in a reciprocity which vies to give all, but is ever defeated by receiving. In other words, love must increase and multiply; it must recover itself in a harvest; it must, like the love of earth and tree, be fruitful unto new love. Something must result from love, for all love seeks to externalize itself as a gift and thus reproduce itself. That is why all love tends towards an incarnation. The husband and wife must have some reward and recovery for this sacrifice. But how can their mutual self-outpouring end in self -recovery except by their two hearts conspiring against their individual impotence by filling up each at the store of the other their lacking measures, and thus building up not the mere sum of themselves, but that new life which is a child and which gives to the winter of their marriage the springtime of fruit.

Of what great love is this a reflection? Where is the model of the love that is mutual self-outpouring which ends in self-recovery? In this, as in all things, the Church finds the prototype of such a definition of love in that which is perfect love, namely, God. The young couples who come to our altars for the nuptial Mass are told this, for in the solemn moment of that ceremony their marriage is blessed in the name of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Ghost – by which blessing their young hearts are lifted up beyond the straggling rays of love in their own hearts to heaven itself, and the great Fire of the Triune Love of God. There is the prototype of all earthly love. In that never ebbing tide of love, there is first of all mutual self-giving in which the Father eternally begets a Son Who is His splendor, the glory of His substance, and the image of His infinite majesty. And the Son gives the whole self to the Father by praise and love in a Word Which is Divine. But the love of Father for Son, and Son for Father, is not mere barren self -giving, for if it were only this it would end in exhaustion. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and that mutual love for one another is so intense, so spiritual, so unworldly, so above earthly words, canticles, and embraces, that it can express itself only by that which signifies the fulness of love, and the recovery of self -giving, namely, a sigh! That is why that personal love of Father for Son is called the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love in which the mutual out-pouring of Father and Son recovers itself in the Holy Ghost, thus perfecting the cycle of the God-head in an act of bliss unending.

There is the source of the definition of love as mutual self-outpouring which ends in self-recovery! There is the inspiration of married love which seeks not only to exchange love for love, but also to reap interest in that exchange, and to gather the harvest of a new life wherever the seed of a new life is sown. There in the very heart of the Loving Trinity Itself is heard the call to every husband and wife to maLe of themselves an earthly trinity, by recovering their mutual love in the bond of children, which complete their cycle in a bliss of the earth earthly. Herein, too, is to be found the reason why the Church must always be opposed to any artificial attempts to restrict, limit or prevent the fruit of love, even though they are heralded in the name of modern science and modern religion. The Church knows full well that such science is not real science, but only that poor travesty which knows enough to fumble forbidden levers with its baby fingers. Such religion is not real religion but only an imitation whose power for mischief is quite out of all proportion with its love of God.

As war is not for the sport and loot of the private soldiers, and a plaything for their own selfish ambitions, so the gift of love is not for the pleasures of the organism. Husband and wife are sent out like the disciples of old, two by two, not to sit down to eat and drink, but to be fruitful apostles of love and to. strive by their mutual loves to reinforce the ranks of life and love. Love has been given to them as a loan of Divine Life, and it must be paid back into the bank of Life with life, and not with death. The Divine fire of passion which fused man and maid was not given to scorch the flesh but to solder life, for “lust without life shall die^^ but “life without lust shall live” To rob love of its fruit is to end love and ruin marriage. Just as the earth which receives into its womb the grain which is destined to clothe it with golden harvest must not be recreant to its gift of fostering life and kill the seed in its traitor-heart, so neither shall the love of husband and wife play traitor to all nature and all love by burying the talent of their fruitfulness in the napkin of their own voluntary barren selfishness.

Shall we not say in justice, then, that the man and woman who take the gift of love into their hearts, and then turn it against producing life, for the selfishness of their own pleasure, are betraying life and love’s great trust, stealing heaven’s fire, and enkindling the flame which consumes them and leaves naught but their dust behind? Why, even though such a couple did not believe in God, even though they believed only in love, their own hearts of hearts should tell them that love was meant to be recovered in life, and that to be unfaithful to that gift of love, and refuse to increase life, is to live in a world in which artists are always picking up brushes but never finishing a picture; always lifting chisels but never producing a statue; always touching bow to string, but never emitting a harmony; always having the springtime but never the harvest. But this means putting an end to a springtime for want of a harvest, filling the world with cages with- out birds, hives without bees, homes without children; it means filling the world with barren fig trees which draw upon themselves the terrible curse of God. To such men and women who spend their lives and leave nothing behind, who die little by little without passing on the torch of life, there must sometimes come the whisperings of a conscience which says:

“Your cruelest pain is when you think of all
The hoarded treasures of your body spent,
And no new life to show. O then you feel
How people lift their hands against themselves,
And taste the bitterest punishment
Of those whom pleasure isolates. Sometimes
When darkness, silence and the sleeping world
Give vision scope, you lie awake and see
The pale, sad faces of the little ones
Who should have been your children, as they press
Their cheeks against your windows, looking in
With piteous wonder, homeless, famished babes,
Denied your wombs and bosoms.”
– John Davidson

How different is the conscience of those who obey the laws of love, which are the laws of God, and who therefore in their mutual self-giving recover their better selves in the youth and beauty of their off-spring. How much the happiness of their lives belie those who say that in bringing children into the world a woman imitates the beasts of the field. No! rather does she imitate the very God who made her I Fecundity is of the spirit, more than of the flesh. Generation belonged to God eternities before it was given to the flesh: “Shall not I that make others bring forth children Myself bring forth, saith the Lord: Shall I that give generation to others Myself be barren?”

From all eternity God the Father generated a Son, the image of His glory, and from that day without beginning or end the Heavenly Father, in the ecstasy of the first and real paternity, has said to His Son: “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.” This power of generating, God has communicated to mothers in order that they might prolong in time the power of God in eternity. The Di- vine Life by which God the Father draws from His eternal bosom in the agelessness of eternity a Son in His own image and likeness, God Himself communicates to mothers that they may bring forth, in the flux and flow of time. His other children or adopted sons who would be privileged to cry up to Him the sweetest of all prayers: “Our Father Who art in heaven…”

It is, therefore, a noble vocation to be a mother and, lest mothers should lose sight of that great calling, they are bidden to look back upon that incomparable woman, Mary, who brought forth in Bethlehem the Eternal Word, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. In her and by her all women have received the mission to elevate, purify and console man, and add her increment to the eternal harvest of souls. As she brought forth the cornerstone of the great spiritual ediflce which is the Church, so every mother under her inspiration is to bring forth those living, eligible stones hewed from the great quarry of humanity to be shaped and cut by discipline and self-restraint to fit that great Cornerstone, which is Christ. As Mary brought forth from the virgin womb of her flesh the great Captain of salvation so every Christian mother is to bring forth not only from the womb of her flesh, but from the womb of the baptismal fount, valiant soldiers of that great King and Captain, Christ. Under the sweet guardianship of that most beautiful of all mothers, every earthly mother is called like her to rock another cradle of the Holy Child, to bring forth a child destined to be a ruler of Israel, a child of Mary, a brother of Christ, a son of the Heavenly Father, and an heir of heaven – and what is heaven but a nursery, for only children shall enter there.

Every mother under the vocation of God and the inspiration of the Blessed Mother therefore has a vision of heaven, and there sees that whenever God gives to her a child He forges for it on the eternal anvil of heaven, a golden crown of everlasting peace and joy. Her purpose and mission in life is to rear the child as a potential nobleman of the Kingdom of God, and then to give it back again to the Heavenly Father whence it came in order that it might recover the crown that- God made for it, for, after all, what is love but a mutual self-giving which ends in self -recovery, and what recovery is there in all time and space that is comparable to the recovery which is the discovery of God!