Why We Care About Marriage (Part 2)

17 Aug

glory be

In the previous post, I discussed how God used my own marriage to witness his love to the people around us. I outlined that my wife and I are by no means special in this call, but rather it is a call that we all have. It is with this reality of God wanting to “minister through your sacrament” that I wish to discuss the current marriage debate in our culture.  What is it about marriage that is so important to us Catholics?  It is not merely a matter of holding on to what we have always believed in, and that somehow we are locked into an archaic, arbitrary, and stagnant definition of marriage.  We believe so strongly in what marriage is because we believe so strongly in “why” marriage is.  Marriage points to something beyond the man and woman.  The committed love of the husband and wife is a sign of something greater than the man and woman.  Lost in the debate over the definition of marriage is this reality for Catholics, and perhaps this is the providential moment in history to clarify this beautiful reality.

When we say sacrament, one thing we mean is “opportunity to encounter Christ”.  Every sacrament is a sign of something greater.  In other words, a visible reality makes present an invisible reality.  With the Eucharist, the visible bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and thus, the invisible God is made manifest, and we encounter Christ.  While the physical eyes see only bread and wine, the eyes of faith allow a follower of Christ to see and experience His mysterious presence.

With marriage, the man and the woman are also a sign.  They are the sacrament.  With physical eyes, one simply sees a couple pledged to one another for a mutual fulfillment of happiness, but eyes of faith allows one to see something beyond a happy couple.   So, what does the happy couple tangibly represent to a person who views life through the lens of faith?  What is the greater reality they represent?  Ultimately, they point us to the reality of God and His permanent, life giving love for His people.

Most Catholics are familiar with the “Glory Be” prayer.  It proclaims that we give glory to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit,, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be”.  This prayer opens us to three distinct time periods, before time, during time, and after time.  If God created marriage to be the sign of His loving presence and reality, then it makes sense that marriage would point to these distinct aspects of God’s existence: before, during, and after time. These three time periods of God’s reality are the 3 aspects of the sign of marriage that I would like to explore.  Only with this understanding do the moral teachings of the Church make sense.  When we forget the roots of what and why God has created marriage to be, then the Church teachings on marriage and family seem arbitrary and exclusive.

First, marriage is a sign of God’s existence as a “Communion of Persons” before time began.   Before anything in the material or spiritual realm was created, God existed as an eternal exchange of love.  The eternal person of the Father so love the person of the Son, and in return, the Son so loved the Father that their love is a third person who we call the Holy Spirit.  We understand the Holy Spirit to be the love between the Father and the Son, and this eternal exchange was flowing before time began and before He created the new life of the human race and all of creation. (cf Jn 1:1-5) Marriage in the same way exists as the foundation of the family, and exists as a “communion of persons” before the relationship brings new life into the world.  The husband and wife through the gift of themselves expressed through intercourse participate in bringing new life into the world.  This is one of the ways that the communion of husband and wife is a sign of the Communion of the Trinity as eternal love.  Marriage is the sign that awakens us to the greater reality of God’s eternal exchange of love from before time began.

This aspect of the Sacrament of Matrimony sheds light on why the Church recommends to couples to not live together before the bond of matrimony exists and likewise to not engage in sexual intercourse before the bond exists.  Which comes first in the sacramental meaning of marriage, the family or the bond?  The bond forms the family, and when a couple lives together without the bond present, they are not being truthful with their actions and thus, are not being an accurate sign of the Trinity.  God created marriage to signify this reality, and when a couple is a counter sign, the Church is there to help them realize that they were created for more than simply a more convenient living situation.  The relationship of man and woman and its great potential is a sign of the dignity of man and woman, and the Church has the obligation to always protect human dignity even when it is unpopular.

The unfortunate thing is that the Church is falsely stereotyped as simply having its teachings on cohabitation and premarital sex for the purpose of ruining people’s fun, and thinking so little of sex.  The reality is that the Church thinks so highly of the couple and their sexual relationship that it wishes to help couples maximize their sexual relationship by living it out as it was intended in marriage.

When a couple either engages in sexual activity or has children outside of the bond of matrimony, they are communicating a false message about who God is.  Remember that God existed as a communion before he entered into the activity of producing life outside of Himself, and so the couple communicates falsely that God did not exist in this reality, but His creation of life is arbitrary and not rooted in an intentional plan of faithful love.

With that said, does every cohabitating couple know they are conveying a false message about who God is?  Absolutely not, most couples when they enter into a sexual relationship or move in together are trying to express the love they have for one another, and they simply do not know that they are falling short of what their relationship could be.  It is up to us who do know better to help them realize they were created for more and to not settle for a counterfeit version of love.  Mercy is the approach.  Let us who do know be heralds of God’s abundant mercy starting first with our own commitment to live  as a radical sign of God’s goodness through our own marriage.

I know that I never heard any of the beauty of God’s plan for marriage as I was growing up.  I heard a lot of people tell me that I should not have sex before marriage, but they never told me why other than it was a sin or that it broke a commandment.   Even God’s commandment is understood properly in the context of His plan from the beginning.  If we only say, “Don’t do it because it is a commandment.” We make God seem like an arbitrary dictator who is out to ruin our fun and that He is withholding something from us.  We fall victim to confirming the image of God that Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the garden.  The serpent convinced Adam and Eve that God was withholding happiness from them and that He could not be trusted.  If Adam and Eve fell prey to this false narrative and they were operating with a much higher intellect and will than we are after the Fall, then do we really think our own children will fare much better when society tells them the same false narrative about God withholding happiness from them?  It is incumbent on us to share the good news of God’s plan from the beginning and His desire to maximize our happiness that he has established the “rules” of marriage.

Like any good parent, God does not have His “rules” just to see how He can spoil His children’s happiness.  God wants to protect us and keep us from perpetuating the false narrative with the way we live our lives.  Truthfully, each of us is n advertisement for something by the way we live.  Some of us advertise for the baseball team or football team we cheer for by wearing their logos, some of us advertise for our favorite musical artist or television show by posting on Facebook.  These are relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things, but the daily choices we make concerning the way we live our lives makes a statement about who we are.  Let us be mindful of this reality, and choose to advertise for the true meaning of marriage by being a radical and passionate sign in marriage.

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