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The gifts marriage bestows
As June begins, many parishioners are preparing to attend weddings of friends or family members. Others will be celebrating anniversaries and young couples may look forward to the day where they too profess to one another their vows. Yes, we anticipate with joy these life-changing events that mark milestones in the lives of so many families.
In our culture, weddings are popular events regardless of religion or beliefs — who could fail to wish a married couple well? Yet, even though our culture may intuit the beauty and goodness in marriage, there remains a pervasive lack of understanding of why marriage is such a remarkable and unique gift. This dichotomy is demonstrated by the many couples who cohabitate or engage in sexual relations before marriage, the continued high rate of divorce, the contraceptive mentality and the efforts to redefine marriage in accord with individual desires. This lack of understanding and acceptance of the true meaning of marriage has led to a great deal of misery and confusion in our age. I would like to give a brief and clear teaching about marriage in order that we have the proper understanding with which to engage popular ideas about marriage and to shape our own lives and attitudes.
First, we must recall a very simple and essential point: marriage is not a human construct that society and individuals can redefine at will. It is not made by man. God created marriage with a profound and beautiful meaning and effect. We see in the book of Genesis that God forms not only man and woman, but in that same act, He also creates marriage. Adam and Eve are given to each other in a relationship of permanent love with the mandate to be fruitful and multiply. Matrimony is a natural reality for humanity, a good thing created by God for the mutual love and support of man and woman and the procreation and rearing of children. In marriage man and woman form a beautiful living image of the Triune God as they live in a bond of self-giving love and welcome new life into the world. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The marital union of man and woman, which is founded and endowed with its own proper laws by the Creator, is by its very nature ordered to the communion and good of the couple and to the generation and education of children. According to the original divine plan this conjugal union is indissoluble, as Jesus Christ affirmed: ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Mark 10:9)” (The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 338). The true joy of marriage and conjugal love that people so desire is found only through the recognition and living out of this truth.
We discern from this teaching that marriage consists in the procreation and rearing of children within the permanent loving union of a man and a woman. These elements make a whole and are not separable. If they are willfully ignored or removed from the marriage, the relationship will not be as beautiful and fulfilling as it is intended to be. On the other hand, a couple who finds themselves biologically unable to conceive children can have a very fruitful life-giving marriage through adoption, foster parenthood and the exercise of self-giving love for the sake of others. I have known generous couples in this situation who have lived full joyful lives and can be said to be the parents of many children.
Marriage is not only a profound natural good created by God, but in the redemptive order of the Incarnation, it has been given the new supernatural dignity of a sacrament. With the fall of humanity and the wounding of our nature by original sin, marriage as the primary human relationship also suffers from the effects of sin. It remains the same good reality created by God, but “is very often threatened by discord and infidelity” (Ibid, 339). When He came to redeem humanity, Christ included marriage, the basic cell of society, in His plan. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, He “not only restored the original order of matrimony but raised it to the dignity of a sacrament, giving spouses a special grace to live out their marriage as a symbol of Christ’s love for his bride the Church” (Ibid, 341). In the sacrament husbands and wives are given grace to fulfill the original plan of marriage, to love selflessly and faithfully and generously welcome children into the world.
Even more, however, they are made instruments for the salvation of one another and their children. All sacraments are oriented toward bringing souls to Heaven. In marriage God bestows grace upon each spouse so that they can love the other as He loves His Church. Husbands and wives are called and graced to lay down their lives like Jesus for their spouse and children in order to bring them to heaven. This is true romance and love. What greater gift could we ever wish to give a loved one than God and eternal happiness?
Whether you are already married, contemplating marriage or are close to other married couples, I encourage you to pray for a deepened appreciation of the natural and sacramental reality of marriage. As a Church, we are truly blessed by the promises the Lord offers men and women in marriage. During these summer months where weddings abound, I ask you to consider prayerfully the tremendous wealth of marriage and the benefits it bestows on couples, families and our culture.