The opening chapter of Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of Love,” celebrates the happy link between the creative act of God at the beginning of time and the creative act of a husband and wife in their marital embrace. In fact, the Pope sees the early chapters of Genesis as a profound celebration of the human couple. First of all, when God decided to create human beings “in his own image,” he created mankind as a couple: “male and female he created them.” God the Creator fashioned mankind as a complementary couple — male and female — themselves capable of creation. “The fruitfulness of the human couple” the Pope instructs, “is a living and effective image, a visible sign of God’s own creative act.” His Holiness continues, “The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon, capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior. For this reason, fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life.” “God is a communion of love,” the Holy Father writes, “and the family is his living reflection.” Then, quoting Pope St. John Paul II, the Pontiff adds, “Our God in his deepest mystery is not solitude, but a family, for he has within himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love. That love, in the divine family, is the Holy Spirit.”
The loving and fruitful embrace of husband and wife celebrated so profoundly and so pleasantly by our Holy Father indeed recalls the creative act of God when he fashioned mankind in his own likeness. But, going back a few verses, the creative embrace of husband and wife may also recall the creative act of God as Spirit who hovered productively over the waters in the Bible’s initial chapter as well as the creative act of the same Holy Spirit who hovered fruitfully over the early Christian community at Jerusalem on the Church’s first Pentecost.
The opening line of Genesis reads, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters,” God then spoke and the world came into existence. Many understand the “mighty wind” to be the breath of God, the spirit of God, soaring over the primeval waters in a creative fashion, bringing an orderly universe out of the primordial chaos. Over the six days of creation God fashioned light and darkness, the waters, the dry land, vegetation, the sun and moon, fish and birds, animals and finally, his crowning achievement, the male/female couple. And God did all this simply by speaking a word, “and God said…,” simply by uttering a breath. The breath of God, the spirit of God, was enough to accomplish the universe. The hovering Spirit, the embracing Spirit, the Holy Spirit, was then and is now God’s creative instrument.
The Holy Spirit would continue to be the creative instrument of God as the Jewish nation was led out of captivity from Egypt, guided by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night, perennial symbols of God’s creative spirit. And of course the Spirit would be powerfully present as God fashioned his new people, his new community of love, the Church, at Pentecost.
The Biblical imagery of that first Christian Pentecost is compelling. The mighty wind of Genesis, the shaft of fire from the Sinai desert, the creative power of the uttered word are all present at this new creation of the Christian Church: “And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them flashes as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”
The insightful and imaginative words of our Holy Father Pope Francis on the creative opportunity and Godlike prerogative afforded to a husband and wife in marriage are certainly a breath of fresh air, no doubt a breath of fresh air from the Holy Spirit, when compared to the grim statistics and distressing episodes so often connected with marriage and family in modern America. When the crowning achievement of God’s creative act, the male/female couple, receive once again society’s understanding, support, and encouragement, a new Pentecost, a new creation, will certainly have begun.