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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10 “Truth Bombs” About Chastity from the Catechism

Rarely has there been a more misunderstood word than chastity. The term that’s practically universally thought to be synonymous with “abstinence” has, in reality, and incredibly richer and deeper definition.

Abstinence is merely refraining from doing an action — just a plain “no” — whereas chastity is essentially, “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2337).

But there’s SO much more to chastity than even that one great line, which is why below you’ll find (what I call) 10 “Truth-Bombs” from the Catechism on chastity. They’re so awesome, hopefully by the end of the post you’ll be doing this:

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NOTE: The term “man” in each of the Catechism references isn’t referring only to males, but rather to both sexes (man = human)

1. “The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.” (2338)

Boom. Right out of the gates, we’re reminded of the powers we have within us to live and to love. Ask any superhero (lookin’ at you Spiderman 3) and they’ll tell you powers are neutral — you can use them for good or use them for evil, it’s your choice. And you can’t be a good guy while doing evil at the same time. Superheroes at their best are wholly, 100% good, and so too are we called to be with how we live our life and love those around us.

2. “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” (2339)

I’ll let the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes do the rest of the talking: “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.” [emphasis added]

3. “Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life.” (2342)

Hear that? We have to keep working at being virtuous if we want to stay virtuous. There’s no homeostasis when it comes to self-mastery — you’re either getting better or getting worse. Michael Jordan became the greatest basketball player to ever play not by winning one championship and coasting, but by honing his craft diligently every single day.

4. “The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.” (2341)

Note the last word of the quote — “reason.” We humans aren’t animals. We have the unique capacity to use our brains to make decisions based on something other than instinct (though today’s society has us fooled most days), and it’s not an accident that we have it at our disposal. Use it to choose the best good, and to understand that there’s a time and a place for everything, especially when it comes to chastity.

5. “Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort.” (2345)

Hearkening back to No. 3 on the list, being good at chastity requires effort. We have to work at it — chastity will only arise out of our own intentioned action. While it takes physical and emotional effort, we read here that it also takes “spiritual effort,” that is, prayer. Prayer is the building of our relationship with the Lord, so that we might be prepared to always put our best foot forward in our relationship with a potential or current spouse. Marriage in its truest form is triangular — husband, wife, and God. It needs mentioning, however, that the grace of chastity from God is there and offered to us, regardless of the effort we put forth — it remains a free gift.

6. “Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin. ‘Man . . . day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.'” 

We can find a bit of consolation in No. 6: God’s not asking us to eat the whole elephant in one bite. But God is asking us to keep eating. If we hope to govern our passions and fully integrate our sexuality as part of the whole person God created, then we must build ourselves up through free choices, big and small. That’s why everyone is called to chastity, and everyone can do it, no matter their state in life — a step in the right direction is a step in the right direction, no matter where you start from.

7. Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is “an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society.” (2344)

In one respect, our adventure in chastity is ours and ours alone — no one but us can make the choices governing what we do with our bodies and how we treat our loved ones. But in another, equally important respect, none of us is an island. We all live as part of society, a community of persons, and our choices all have ramifications that affect those communities, for better or for worse.  So, we also have a duty as members of humanity to keep in mind as well the state of the culture in which we live.

8. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness. [Therefore,] the virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends. (2346-2347)

The idea of true friendship, I believe, has been somewhat lost on our Western culture and replaced in many ways by an odd form of quid pro quo “friendship” (i.e. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”). Friendship, which ought to be the root of all relationship, is the recognizing in another person the mark of God — that indelible, spark of the divine — that deserves cultivating regardless of whether or not you receive some good from it.

9. “People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life.” (2349)

Chastity is not just for the hormonal teenager. Nor is it a call for the engaged couple counting down the days to their wedding. Instead, chastity is a universal call for everyone from single teenagers to married couples young and old to people who have chosen to live celibate lives, because we all have a call to “maintain the powers of life and love” placed within us.

10. “All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has “put on Christ,” the model for all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life.”

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick.” The Christian life is hard, there’s no way around it. But we’re all in it together, and we must use that great benefit to lift one another up, both physically by encouraging one another constantly to seek the good in our lives and relationship to others, but also spiritually through prayer. The Kingdom will be better served because of it.

UPDATED 8:04 a.m. May 5th, 2015

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#AskACatholic – What Happened Before Adam & Eve?

NOTE: This column is hosted by and was originally written by Mountain Catholic’s author specifically for Spokane Faith & Values. It has graciously been given permission for reposting at MtnCatholic.com.

Q. What do Catholics believe happened/existed prior to Adam and Eve?

catholicA. Loosely speaking, what happened prior to Adam and Eve is recounted in the creation story of Genesis, namely, that the universe began to exist out of nothing at a finite point in the past, and that God has created and designed all things, including humanity.

The church infallibly defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870, and thus binds its members to believe, “that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God” (On God the Creator of All Things, Canon 5)

On this point, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:

“The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390).

What the church has yet to define infallibly, however, is when the universe was created. So,  technically, Catholics can be “Creationists” and believe the universe was created 6,000 years ago in six 24-hour days, or believe the universe was created 13 billion years ago at the Big Bang, just as long as they ascribe to the belief that God created the universe out of nothing and willed all creation into existence one way or the other.

The reason for this — the church not infallibly defining when the world was created — is due to the church’s practice of taking tremendous caution before defining something absolutely to be true. Case in point, it took until 1854 for the church to define as dogma (an irrevocable adherence of faith to a truth contained in divine Revelation [CCC 88]) that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin.

With regard to human creation, the Church believes and teaches that Adam and Eve are historical figures, meaning they actually existed as our first parents. Adam and Eve would have bore the first human souls, created “immediately by God,” as Pope Pius XII declared in his encyclical Humani Generis in 1950.

Necessarily, no living thing bore a human soul prior to Adam and Eve, even creatures resembling humans prior to Adam and Eve, we might go so far to suggest. And yet, there did exist a period of time between their creation and the creation of the universe from nothing. Though extensive research has been completed on the origins of the universe (Fun Fact: the Big Bang Theory was proposed by a Belgian priest) and what has happened until human creation, the exact definition of the specifics, so far as the Church is concerned, is still up for discussion.