Five “Truth Bombs” About Marriage from the Catechism

Over the past half century or so, the institution of marriage has fallen on hard times. It’s not for lack of trying, though. The wedding industry is big business, taking up public consciousness for what seems to be all summer every summer (and year round on Pinterest….ladies). But sadly, I think the true perception of a wedding’s purpose is dwindling in our society.

It seems more and more people these days are understanding marriage as merely a legal contract between two people with romantic feelings for one another, as opposed to the much richer purpose and meaning that has been understood, at the very least in Christian culture, for centuries.

There’s SO much to be said about the latter understanding of marriage, and for that we look no further than the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a rich resource compiled in part by one of the greatest writers on love and marital flourishing the Church has ever seen, St. John Paul II.

Below, you’ll find five “truth bombs” on marriage from the Catechism that are so awesome, by the end you’re sure to be doing this (kinda like you did the last time):

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1. “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.” (1601)

Some big concepts ought to jump out at us from the get-go here. First, a “covenant” isn’t just any old contract, but something much, MUCH more significant. It’s the same thing as what God made with Israel in the Old Testament and what Jesus came to fulfill by dying for your sins on the Cross — it’s permanent, it’s real, and it’s a big deal. Like, if-you-break-it-you-pledge-to-pay-with-your-life kind of big deal.

Second is the phrase “by its nature.” By pointing out that marriage itself has a nature shows us that it’s something whose qualities aren’t up for us to determine. Note, too, that part of marriage is the education of offspring, meaning parents ought to be the primary educators of their children (including faith) — something becoming exceedingly more foreign to our modern sensibilities.

2. “‘The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.’ The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. (1603a)

There’s that dang “nature” word again. As Christians, we believe that we’re created with a purpose and with a nature that is ordered toward a particular good given to us by God. In order for that purpose to come to fruition, we of course must cooperate with that call from God. This is true of people, of created things, and, most importantly here, of certain relationships as well. Just as the priesthood or the religious life is a unique vocation written on the hearts of men and women, so too it is with marriage.

Also, you’ll notice that “the married state” has distinct qualities: It’s a community, which means both husband and wife must cooperate and participate to make it work (that means sharing your feelings, husbands). It involves love and life, meaning a marriage isn’t a marriage unless it’s radically open to life, both spiritual (i.e. prayer) and physical (i.e. BABIES).

3. “Since God created them man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man . . . And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation.” (1604)

One of the first verses in the entire Bible seems to be one of the most overlooked — that being “be fruitful and multiply” from the Book of Genesis. If, as we just read, the marital union is meant to reflect the love God has for man, then it follows that it is also meant to bear fruit both in its utter openness to new life and the charge to “fill the earth and subdue it.”

But why is part of marriage to be open to new life? Because new life is good. To understand this concept we need only reread the Creation narrative — “God looked at all he had made, and he found it very good.” Being fruitful and multiplying doesn’t mean casting your prudence to the wind and single-handedly populating a small town, but is simply an openness and an understanding that new life is inherently good and is therefore to be desired.

4. “Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’ The woman, ‘flesh of his flesh,’ his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a ‘helpmate’; she thus represents God from whom comes our help.” (1605)

I couldn’t help but notice the lack of language about women being inferior to men…interesting that the Church doesn’t actually hate women, yes? What many seem to miss is that women being different from men isn’t the same as being of lesser value. Men and women are made for one another because they complement one another in both body and spirit — they are inherently different, and are made to be so by God.

The reason the vocation to marriage is such a special bond — indeed, honored as a sacrament by the Catholic Church — is precisely because it reflects God’s bond with His creation. Back to the “covenant” language from the first line above, God’s relationship to his creation is nuptial in nature, and our existence is meant to reflect that.

5. The experience [of evil all around and within us] makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. (1606, 1608)

We begin our marriages as broken people, and that’s just the reality. We’re born into a fallen world, and every person must battle against the forces of evil if he or she wishes to be strong in virtue. This is the most true when it comes to marriage. A good, holy, fruitful marriage doesn’t happen by accident.

A good marriage is the product of husband and wife first being radically aware of their own sinfulness — particularly their inclination to sin against each other — and second being willing to keep trying, to keep asking God and spouse for forgiveness, and, above all, to keep praying. At any given time in marriage, just as with anything else in life, the spousal bond is either growing stronger or weaker, and we alone make the choice of what to make it.

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We Need to Alter Ourselves to be Happy, But Only in the Right Way

The two top stories of the past couple weeks — that of Rachel Dolezal and of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner — have stirred up a lot of media attention and brought up some interesting questions. But even more, these two unfortunate and controversial stories bring up a more timeless and more fundamental issue — the struggle to find happiness amidst real human suffering.

We’ve heard in both cases that both Dolezal and Jenner were more or less pursuing their “true self,” so we ask, why does the “true self” matter? The reality is that there exists something within every human heart that cries out for fulfillment, and a large part of that fulfillment involves being an authentic human being — in essence, to live as we were made to live.

In a culture that affirms the “right” of every human to uniquely define how they were made to live, it’s no wonder not only that situations like Dolezal and Jenner’s can happen, but also that there can be such widespread vitriol in one case and such widespread acceptance — and demand for acceptance — on the other.

In any case, I honestly think Dolezal and Jenner were pursuing the same goal — happiness.

The problem is, in the spirit of a Johnny Lee song, they’re looking for it in all the wrong places.

Dolezal and Jenner, along with every other human being on the planet, have felt within themselves that somehow they aren’t fulfilled as they are. And every person is correct in feeling that — the intuition that things aren’t right within our being is spot on, and something must be done about it.

The answer, however, isn’t a physical alteration or psychological change that originates with us. Instead, the answer comes in the person of Jesus Christ.

Now, work with me here. I know many readers gave a BIG *eyeroll* at that last line, because it’s become a bit cliche for people to say, “y’all need Jesus!” as a blanket resolution for everything. But this isn’t that.

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Saying Jesus is the answer to our human imperfection really means that we don’t need to bother creating our own happiness, because it’s already been laid out for us. It’s the “Way” and the “Life” part of “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” from the Gospel of John.

The “Truth” part comes in breaking down what humanity constantly suffers from: bondage to sin and death. Mama was just a little off; Instead of death and taxes, it should have been sin, death, and taxes — we all sin, and we’re all gonna die (…and I guess we all pay taxes, but I digress).

Of course, Jesus didn’t just come to tell us that, but instead (and in fact) came to save us from the effects of both of them. Jesus came to save us from the very sin and death to which we, as humans in a fallen state, are otherwise destined to be enslaved. In baptism, what is visibly an immersion in water is invisibly a grafting onto the Body of Christ, an adoption of the person as son or daughter by God the Father, an indelible and permanent mark on the soul that opens the person up to salvation and eternal life with God. Baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in short, is what saves us from that feeling of emptiness and inadequacy we so desperately wish to fulfill — a reality only enhanced by the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation.

The persona and name of Jesus has become so radically colloquialized and used as a tool of popular culture that we rarely (if ever) consider who Jesus really was, and what His existence really means for the world and our lives.

The reality is, if Jesus’ Resurrection is real, then the path to happiness and fulfillment has indeed already been laid out for us. If Jesus is real, and what He did is true, then we have no need to create a happiness for ourselves.

And yet, I think this is just the case with Dolezal and Jenner. They experienced a profound brokenness, a gaping hole in their life, that they decided to fill with the actions that have us all talking about them. Both persons were convinced at one point that a greater path to happiness and fulfillment didn’t exist, but lacked the true understanding that their inclination was false.

While their feelings are and were definitely real, their perception that they needed to create their own happiness was, instead, a deception.

We are indeed imperfect people, and we all experience an emptiness and a brokenness that needs fixing. But instead of an artificial alteration of our own doing, the transformation we ought to pursue is the one St. Paul speaks of in Romans 6. The real fix is to be transformed in Christ by following Him into death — death to our own sin — in order to be reborn anew.

Because we have the ability to run to Jesus at every moment — to “altar” ourselves, if you will — we should always remind ourselves that altering our body, our soul, our person with our own ideas can never be enough.

Though I’ve used it before, a line from C.S. Lewis rings especially true here as well:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses)

When we surrender to Jesus, we are promised nothing short of infinite joy. And so, wherever you’re at in life, know this: You were made with a purpose, you are deeply loved by the God who created you, and you don’t need to alter yourself with your own ideas to be happy.

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This post originally appeared on ChurchPOP and is re-posted with permission.