“If you can love somebody without sex, you can really love somebody.” – Russell Wilson
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.
My wife often jokes to our friends, “We do 2 things on Sundays in the fall: Go to Mass and watch the Broncos game.”
As a lifelong fan of the Orange and Blue, the fall Sunday ritual has been a mainstay for as long as I can remember. For most of my life, I lived and died from August through January on Terrell Davis touchdowns, Jake Plummer bootlegs, Al Wilson sacks, Tim Tebow (yes, Tim Tebow) scrambles, and the Mile High Salute. Whether Denver won or lost usually determined the mood I was in for the rest of that day, and sometimes that week. It was heartbreak when they lost (a lot of heartbreak particularly in 2009 & 2010), and heaven when they won.
Throughout that time, I still went to Mass and watched the Broncos game on Sundays, but for the most part I might as well have only been doing one. I understood fully why I was watching Broncos games, but I didn’t fully understand the importance of Mass. I was faithful to both, but I wasn’t sure why I was faithful to the latter.
About two years ago, that started to change. I still loved the Broncos as much as ever, but I began to seek out and understand more fully why it was important to love Mass as well. This is what I’ve learned:
1. NFL players are no different that you and I.
Well, at least on the level of our souls and worth as human beings we’re no different. As I began to learn more about the faith, particularly my Catholic faith and the idea that God created everyone in his image, I started to place it in the context of my love for watching football. I realized quickly that glorifying a sport or a team like I had been doing automatically included the glorification of some (if not many) of the players playing the game. They were made out to be gods by the media, fans, and companies, and I bought into it.
Buying into that glorification always involved thinking highly of that player when he did well, but denigrating him and calling his worth into question when he stunk it up. It was a rude awakening when I realized how gross of an offense it was against not only his dignity, but my own dignity as well. I was basing a fellow human’s worth off their performance in a game, and I was hurting my own soul in the process.
2. There’s a difference between pleasure and joy.
It’s nearly impossible to describe with human words the burst of emotion that happens when Peyton Manning connects with Demaryius Thomas on a 50 yard bomb for the score, or when a receiver running across the middle gets lit up by a roving middle linebacker. It’s also hard to describe the disbelief, say, when the center snaps the ball over your quarterback’s head on the first play of the Super Bowl (but we don’t need to bring that up…)
That euphoria is a good thing. Make no mistake, God created pleasure. Pleasure is, by it’s very nature, a good thing. BUT, pleasure, like anything, used in the wrong context or elevated to an unsustainable level is no longer good. Pleasure is good as a means, but not as an end.
Joy, on the other hand, is an end that should be sought instead of pleasure, and, quite honestly, the distinction is very difficult to wrestle with. It came natural to me to put all my stock in a game that exacted such a visceral and enjoyable reaction each week, but the high, inevitably, was followed by a crash. Every time. Without fail. It felt, likewise, very unnatural (and often uncomfortable) to go into a quiet place and quiet myself for an hour.
The problem, I began to notice, was that hedging my happiness on the next game not only was unsustainable, but it was, more importantly, unproductive in terms of my overall well being. I was self-focused and seeking my own fulfillment, instead of looking outward and offering my life to Christ through helping others and being attentive and intentional at Mass. Trying to see what people and things could do for me were shallow waters. I learned that it was through the action of self-giving, on the other hand, that a person ultimately attains joy within their own life.
3. It’s okay to love football…
…but not more than your relationship with the Lord. Sports have a place in living a virtuous life, without a doubt. Pope Francis himself is a huge fan. The training of one’s body to compete at a high level, the dedication to doing so for the good of the team, and the parallels sports offer to essential lessons in life all come straight from Scripture. After all, it was St. Paul who said in 1 Corinthians, “Run so as to win.”
But sports, the NFL in particular, have stopped occupying merely a place in life and have become its center for so many people in our country and around the world. And, in many cases, who can blame them? Often, sports is the only stable thing in a kid’s life. Other times people have little in life to look forward to other than rooting for their favorite teams. Still, for these cases especially, it’s important for every athlete, coach, and fan to recognize that sports must remain just a way of learning to live life well, rather than becoming the end-all be-all of life itself.
After instructing the people of Corinth to “Run so as to win,” Paul said this:
Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing.
No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:25-27; emphasis added)
As much as I loved them, I realized that the Broncos, the NFL, sports in general, only offer perishable crowns. They still have value for my life, but they aren’t the value. A “relationship” with or a devotion to sport could never, ever measure up to the relationship and devotion I began to experience at Mass and in my growing relationship with God, the Creator of the imperishable crown.
The devotion you hold most dear is sometimes obvious, but more often, as it was in my case, it’s hidden and harder to see. So I challenge you, as another football season begins, to take a hard look this fall and ask yourself one question:
Which crown am I seeking?
If you’re a fan of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, you know well the unwavering manliness of Ron Swanson. You would also know well his Kryptonite: his ex-wives, “Tammy 1” and “Tammy 2.”
In an episode from season 2, Ron notes his intense displeasure for both, but ends his rant with this line:
Would I get married again? Oh absolutely. If you don’t believe in love, what’s the point of living?
However unintentional, the last part of Ron’s statement is full of more truth than anyone anticipated. In my opinion, Ron made a profound statement about the existence of God, just by uttering those few words.
Now, before delving too deeply into this idea, it’s important to get a few things straight about the qualities of the God I’m arguing for — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God who’s One with Jesus & the Holy Spirit. Misinformation is a real devil, so I want every reader to start off from the same place.
First, the God I’m talking about created all that exists. He isn’t a “God of the gaps” who fills in the places science hasn’t been able to go; God was everywhere science is currently before science ever dreamed of starting their search. Not only that, He invented the laws and methods science uses to get there. This God is the Unmoved Mover, the First Cause. The Infinite Force who set our finite universe in motion.
Second, the God I’m talking about placed His image and likeness in each one of us, from the moment we were conceived. We came from God, and “our hearts are restless” until we’re back together with God at the end of our lives, as St. Augustine so famously said.
Third, the God I’m talking about isn’t a “deadbeat dad.” God never leaves us (seriously, never). Many people, myself included at times, take not feeling the presence of God to mean His absence, but are mistaken. I’ll explain why later.
Fourth (and finally), the God I’m talking about loves each person individually and sufficiently. God loves us so much that (I know you’ve heard this a million times (or maybe you haven’t heard it enough)) He gave us Jesus to die for us. And not just die. Jesus died for us in one of the most painful and humiliating ways possible, so that we could enjoy eternal life in Heaven.
While this is far from an exhaustive list of qualities, this is the God for whose existence I’m saying Ron Swanson made an inadvertent argument.
Ron’s statement raises two questions: “Does love matter?” and “Is there a meaning or a point to life?”
The beautiful thing about both of these questions is that both have only two possible answers – “Yes” and “No.” It’s impossible for love to matter and not matter at the same time. Nor can there both be and not be a meaning or a point to life. It does, or it doesn’t. There is, or there isn’t.
So what would it take for both of those questions to be answered with a resounding, “Yes!”?
In short, God would need to exist if love is supposed to mean something, or if life is supposed to have meaning.
If the God described above exists, our creation as humans was intentional, and therefore we were created for a purpose. On the other hand, if our creation was just an accident, a random occurrence stemming from millenia of accidental evolution in a Godless universe, there is, therefore, no purpose for our existence.
If creation were just an accident, that makes it easy–both questions would be answered in the negative. The other option, however, answers the second question outright and the first question with a little more analysis. If we were created for a purpose, there is a meaning to life, no bones about it. If God exists, and we take any stock whatsoever in what Jesus said about love, then we can conclude that love matters, too.
John 13:34-35 has Jesus saying this:
I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
If Jesus is God, like He says He is, then we’re supposed to love each other like He loved us. He loved us by dying (dying!!) for us so that we didn’t have to. Love like that, if what Jesus said is true, matters. It matters a whole lot.
The kicker here is that we can’t see and touch and experiment and prove that God is real. It doesn’t work like that. Sure, there is a profound historical tradition which explains God, and we can use logical proofs til the cows come home to show that God exists, but at the end of the day we still, in some way, need to do one thing.
We need to believe that God created us.
We need to have faith that God loves us and will always be with us. Belief and faith in this sense isn’t like believing in Santa Claus; while faith might allow us to believe that presents will be under the tree on Christmas morning, our reason lets us know real quick that Santa didn’t put them there.
With God, we can use our reason to explain that the ordered universe was probably created by a divine Mind, then use faith to trust that the promises He made through sending Jesus to earth are true.
With God’s existence, love ceases to become a mere accident devoid of any transcendent meaning.
Love matters, and there is a meaning to life.