The Significance and Mystery of Marriage

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John Paul II writes in His Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio that, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.”[1] In reflecting upon these words I have reached the conclusion that if we want to build a better world, then we must have a network of nations committed to the principles and values of God. And, if we want to build a nation committed to the values of God, then we must work on the creation of states focused on His ways of truth and love. In order to create these states, to build a nation, to change a world, we must first have a community willing to serve their Creator and most especially their Savior. To have such a community who will engage with like-minded communities, to form loving states, that build nations committed to God, in order to effectively change our world, we must first and foremost have better families that are centered on Christ. To have such families that properly formed will change a world, it is imperative that we have better marriages that are indwelt with Christ and of which Christ radiates from.[2] The council of Vatican II says as much, “The well-being of the person and the human and Christian society is intimately connected with the healthy state of the community of marriage and the family.”[3] The evangelization of the world that the Church is entrusted with and commanded (Matthew 28) to do, must have the promotion of the “domestic church” as its top priority. To accomplish these goals the couples have to both be focused on Christ. They will get closer and closer to each other as they get closer and closer to Christ. But more than each running their own race towards Christ and marriage being thought of as a trio (husband, wife, Christ), it is rather as St. Augustine says, “One Christ loving Himself.” [4]

Mystery

Marriage is a profound mystery (Ephesians 5:32) whereas a man and women become one through and in Christ Jesus and in doing so commune with the life giving love of God Himself. God is a family of persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) who perfectly love one another. It is through this love that the Holy Spirit proceeds.[5] A man and women enter this Divine Family through conjugal love and their marriage bond. “Authentic married love is caught up into divine love.”[6] Through the couples mutual “Yes” they become a reflection of the Trinity. And through their love for one another life is created.

God from the beginning of time, created man and women in His image, intending one for the other, and in so doing, set in motion His salvific plan. He created man and women out of His love for the purpose of love. We all seek to love and be loved. “Love is…the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.”[7] It is this love that God created man and women both to love Him and to be a reflection of His love for them in their “one flesh” union. Matrimony has been from the beginning the plan of God both in creating the world and also in re-creating it through His Son, the Christ.

The Visible Problem

You don’t have to look very far to realize that marriage, as an institutional properly understood is under attack in our culture and society. John Paul Pope II writing in Familiaris Consortio describes various trends and signs that marriage is deteriorating.

These include an increase in divorce rates even among the faithful, the rise of abortions and the disregard for life, an over emphasis on consumerism, and the rejection of moral norms in regards to sexuality are just a few of the signs that marriage is under attack.[8]  We can see these same themes in the writing and talks of Pope Francis.

In addition, influenced by contemporary norms many couples both Catholic and not are co-habituating. Many couples think it would help their future marriage as sort of a trial period not realizing that statistics show that these couples are more prone for divorce. William Bennett, former Secretary of Education for the United States and active author and writer on topics related to families comments, “the chances of subsequent divorce are almost double among those couples who cohabit before marrying.”[9] He notes that more children and women suffer from co-habitation then men due to a lack of income and a situation that doesn’t foster commitment under strain. Saint John Paul II comments on these “trial marriages” arguing that trial marriages go against the very dignity of human beings, “whose dignity demands that they should be always and solely the term of self-giving love without limitation of time or of any other circumstance.”[10]

While divorce is on the rise within civil society, annulments are also on rise throughout the dioceses of the Catholic Church. In talking to a judge on the tribunal, I inquired as to why there are so many annulments given. He said, “Many think we are giving out annulments like water and that we need to be stricter on granting an annulment. But, perhaps, it is not that at all. I seem to think the increase of annulments is due in a larger part to a lack of understanding of couples going into marriage. They live in a world that doesn’t know the meaning of love and within parishes that too often leave the couple to figure it out on their own.”[11]

No doubt discussions on divorce, co-habitation, and annulments will continue in the upcoming synod, and I support pastorally sensitive ways that hold both love and truth together especially to those that feel rejected or distant from the Church, but I also believe that any solution needs to address formation of the family from within the family, countering or reclaiming culture, and an reemphasis of good formation within our parishes and schools.  Let us teach and reteach the mystery and the beauty that is marriage.  Pope Francis speaking at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia seems to convey the joy and passion for the Sacrament calling the family the “factory of hope.”  Yes, Holy Father, yes indeed!

[1] Pope, 85.

[2] Pope John Paul II says, “At a moment in History in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family, ensuring their full vitality and human and Christian development, and thus contributing to the renewal of society and of the people of God.” (pg. 2).

[3] Gaudim et Spes, pg. 47, pg. 263.

[4] Et erit unus Christus seipsum amans. Boylan, M. Eugene. This Tremendous Lover.   Christian Classics:

Allen Texas, 1987. Pg. 326 “Et erit unus Christus seipsum amans.

[5] Nicene Creed, “…who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

[6] CCC, 1639.

[7] See pg. 9 top of Pope.

[8] Pope, 5-6.

[9] Bennett, William J. The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family. 2001.

[10] Familiaris Consortio, 79.

[11] Interview with Father Mark Hammond, Diocese of Columbus,  judge at Tribunal, and former Judicial Vicar.

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