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Unity & Procreation


By Alice von Hildebrand | September 2013
Alice von Hildebrand, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She is the author, most recently, of Man and Woman: A Divine Invention (Sapientia Press); The Soul of a Lion (Ignatius Press; preface by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger), about her late husband, the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand; and By Love Refined (Sophia Institute Press). She has written extensively for many Catholic periodicals and works closely with the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project, whose aim is to translate her late husband's work into English.

Genesis informs us that Esau, upon finding out that Jacob had received Isaac’s blessing reserved for the first born, flew into a rage. Fearing that Esau might have murderous plans toward his brother, Rebekah urged her favored son to leave their home and seek refuge with her brother Laban. Following his mother’s advice, Jacob went to Haran, where his uncle lived.

Upon arriving there, he met some shepherds who told him that they knew Laban and, moreover, that Laban’s daughter Rachel was just coming to the well to water her father’s sheep. When she arrived, Jacob rolled away the stone for her and not only kissed her but wept aloud: so deep was his joy to have met his cousin. Rachel in turn informed her father of Jacob’s presence. Laban hastened to meet Jacob, and greeted him very warmly, “You are indeed my bone and my blood.”

Jacob started working for Laban. At one point, Laban asked him what he requested as his wages. Without a moment’s hesitation, Jacob told him that he loved Rachel and wished to marry her. His love for her was love at first sight. Rare as it might be, there is such a thing — that is, a person is given what I have called a “Thabor vision” of another person (By Love Refined), a clear perception of the beauty that God invested in that particular person at the very moment of his or her creation. This vision is so inebriating that the only adequate response is “I love you.” The heart of the lover is wounded, and this noble wound can only be healed by being united with the loved one, for love essentially desires union.

Laban made a deal: Jacob would work for seven years, and after the completion of his service he would be granted his wish. Seven years of “engagement” will strike most of us as a very long time, but Genesis tells us that “they seemed to him like a few days because of the love he had for her.” These are golden words: They unveil for us the very nature of love. They also give us a means by which to test whether love is authentic, whether a person is willing to joyfully accept the trials, the sufferings, the crosses in order to obtain the “pearl of great price.” The lover understands that “if he were to give all the substance of his house for love, he would despise it as nothing” (Canticle of Canticles 8:7). The sacred writer not only sheds light on the mystery of human love — the golden chain that links all great literature — but gives us a key to holiness. All saints — whatever the period in which they lived, whatever their age, whatever their sex — share the same willingness to suffer any agony, to carry any cross, however heavy, to go through any dark night, however prolonged, if it is the price God requires of them to be united with Him for all eternity. The saints all claim in unison that, crushing as the weight of the cross that God put on their shoulders might have been, once they received their reward, their trials struck them as “nothing” compared to the joy of being united to the living God. Indeed, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

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