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):
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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