In the last blog (the homily one) we were on the topic of marriage, and let’s stay with it here. I was in a Catholic Wedding/Nuptial Mass yesterday for a couple, so let’s talk a bit more about marriage.
Marriage is important and there are pillars for success for living this vocation out. I will write down here of some pillars that I have heard about (and seen lived upon in good marriages). I will share what works against those pillars holding up a marriage. I will also share some general guidelines for what persons preparing to wed in the Church ought to know.
This is a Long and Deep Teaching Blog.
First, a person needs to have more than a clue of WHAT is the definition of Marriage in the Church. Marriage (Holy Matrimony) is a great God-designed and God-given institution and attraction. It is a Sacrament (meant to be sacred). It is a calling of a man and a woman to become one in love, with it sealed and promised in love (to one another) as also a vow to God. You ask God’s help (or grace) to live it out.
If a couple can mutually start there, then they it is very possible that they WILL have a clue of what they are doing. From that definition and understanding, they are to form a covenant of love, begun officially on a wedding day. The covenant is God-authored but freely found and received by the man and the woman. This forming of a marital union is important because, if following God’s way for it, it helps the “two become one flesh.” This mystery and gift of love is the anointing and inner blessing meant by God for His married partners. His Church on earth is to help promote this way of sacred marriage, and a union with two people seeking a common spirituality of live in their becoming joined.
So, living in God’s design for marriage is a pillar for success. It’s a starting point.
Ways of NOT living this out is done by choosing to committing actions of fornication and adultery. This means that the partners do not yet see the profound meaning of their exchange of intimacy with someone as being a deep act which inherently means a commitment of love and responsibility in their going all the way (or nearly so far).
Often when a couple of partners take this selfish path of sin, it results in their living together. Living together is most frequently practiced today, yet it still is a sin, while it brings many problems with the lifestyle that go against what God has shown us to do. People want the intimacy as pleasure without the responsibility or mutual commitment, and when that is the case, the trailer is in front of the vehicle, and shouldn’t be driven so.
I think people in this choice just don’t realize how they could be pulling a pillar away from a successful married life together. Why do they do it? Some say it a matter of financial struggle, or a thing of an impatience of wanting to test things out or get going. Others just plainly admit it is more about lust. Still others note it is a choice in some spirit of fear or neediness or selfishness, but like so many other couples deal with today.
Such matters (as above) need counsel and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
For some people, the difficulty of living the God-arranged marriage in church is over a prior bond or something of being with another person. There are matters to get worked out there. Pope Francis has been urging people to be square and honest in their situations, and see if they can settle things, and eventually get wed in The Church.
In speaking of another pillar in a successful marriage, a good marriage seeks the highest goods of their chidren, because they both see their offspring as the fruit of their intimate love. Love is procreative. In life affirming homes, it can be of great blessing to the children in said home.
Marriage IS important for the healthy and full raising of children in a home. We need that stability and reliability. Many of you here have lived in a home of a divorce situation along the way, and you particularly know how it can be painful and harmful to children’s well-being. I know that some of you are in or were in divorced situations, and have actually done and are doing a valiant and faith-filled job in caring for your children, even while the divorce has done its damage. It’s because you connect life and love properly. I know some of you have been left by a partner, and you have the very heavy lifting in this responsibility. Keep trying to live in Christ in these situations. You are not alone. And there is healing to come.
Another pillar of marriage is that couples the Church “get” the purpose of marriage. I see this as the “WHY” of marriage. (We covered the “what” earlier above.)
If you are a believer in the Lord and trust the Bible, then you’ll start in Genesis for God’s teaching, where and when marriage is set up and defined. It is here we get God’s plan.
It says is Genesis 1:28 – “God blessed (the man and the woman) and said to them “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” This states that the ideal relationship is the marriage of a man and woman life long with the goal of having children, that is, if they can.
In Matthew 19: 4-6, Jesus repeats that “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one.” Jesus then added “Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
Interestingly, in the next section in Matthew, Jesus focuses on children and says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19: 14. As one can see, we don’t want children hindered from coming to God, but rather want them greatly helped. Marriage and family life is set up to help.
The church has a Biblical responsibility to do better and to uphold the marriage standard by 1) training couples interested in being engaged and married (note: it is best to do this before formal engagement), 2) to offer marriage enrichment once married, 3) do some marriage mentoring when marriages are in struggling in a parish and need help , and lastly, 4) mentoring families that have experienced divorce. We have broken situations and people that probably have much to share and help one another out.
Another pillar in marriage is that a couple learn the interplay of Mercy in theirvrelationship.
People need to realize that when they marry it is to an imperfect person that will need a lot of mercy from themselves and from God. The marriage spouse is a channel for mercy. That spouse will also need to realize themselves as an equally imperfect person, and in need of an understanding partner. This will eventually lead to the challenge of whether you each will really talk and communicate and share things with one another, or to hold back.
It really helps if each marriage partner is in touch with God to inspire this honesty and intimacy and soul-to-soul pilgrim moving to Love. Shared prayer can foster this openness before one another, even as you are open to God. Couples need to learn to pray in a marriage. So often the couples do not do this. No wonder some distance comes up between them.
As a marriage leads to a family with children, the home needs to grow as a place of prayer. The married couple need to learn how to regularly pray with another. When they have children, they need to pray with them, too. Children need to pray with their parents. Parents need to connect that prayerful home with the family going to Mass on Sundays and special times. Mercy starts this movement, with the help of its sister virtue of humility. A family that prays together, likely stays together.
In the Mercy communication in marriage and the family, one must keep in mind our key Christian practices. We are to forgive and to be forgiving, just as the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to do.
What more does the Bible say on this? It’s says again to “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievance you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3.13-14 Forgiveness can be one of the hardest things that we do. And yet, without forgiveness, there can be no reconciliation when we do something wrong and hurt our spouse (or family member). Forgiveness starts with true repentance and admitting to the other person that we have made a mistake and ask for forgiveness. Granting forgiveness can be equally hard, but is the only way.
Forgiveness is a unique feature of Christianity. It does not show up in other faiths. We must always remember to forgive. In the context of marriage, Mercy leads to humility and into mutual submission. It’s been the message of Ephesians 5 on marriage. The union is all about love and respect, as a verse from Eph. 5 says: “Each of you also must love his wife as he loves himself and the wife must respect her husband.” (v33) Submission is a sign of God’s presence in your souls. Submission asks regularly to the partner: “What can I do for you? Submission does have its limits. In terms of intimacy, one only submits to one’s spouse. Respect must be in the act, too.
Another pillar is good communication towards one another.
We’ve got to listen. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1.19.
God gave us two ears and one mouth. But one would hardly know it. We are so anxious to talk that we are frequently get our next thoughts together even as we listen not so carefully to what is being said to us. We jump in with what we have to say and fail to listen. For women in particular, having someone to speak to is important. When the husband comes home to you or he calls, she wants to typically talks a lot about her day and ideas and experiences. Men don’t have the same verbal capacity or leanings in that direction. It is an interesting difference of the sexes. Yet, it is the process of listening, which can begin very simply by asking a question – how was your day? – that is an important part of the relationship. As long as the answer doesn’t go on for an hour!
When a couple fails to hear each other or talk to each other, they will tend to grow apart. Thus, it is critical every day to engage in conversation. It is one sign of love of one for another. Yet, listening to the spouse is a habit supported by one’s listening to God. How much does a married person do that? Some private prayer and review of life is necessary. Listen to God – Jesus said “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they know me.” John 10.27
Similarly, it is all too easy to rush into church and tell God what we need. God knows what we need even before we ask and God can provide it. But, have we really listened to God? It is important to note that when Jesus gave the disciples what we know as the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father, there are three petitions that start the prayer: First, “Hallowed be thy name”. Second, “Thy kingdom come” and Third, “Thy will be done.” Notice that these are prayers for God. It is only after we pray these prayers that Jesus bids us to ask for prayers for our self -our daily need of bread, forgiveness of our sins and guidance in on our way which covers the essentials of our present, past and future.
God can guide us. Someone once said: “When I pray coincidences happen. When I stop praying, coincidences stop happening.” If we listen to God and discern God’s will and we pray for the three petitions for God in the Lord’s prayer, then when we ask God for what concerns us, we can ask it in a much better way, one that is more consistent with God’s purpose in our life.
As any father, God does not grant everything that we ask for. Sometimes, God grants very little or even nothing at times. But it is amazing, if we only discern, what God does do for us if we are only observant.
God does know us. What we have to do is listen to God.
If this pillar is lived by the marriage team of husband and wife, then hopefully it is being learned by the children. As the Jews knew centuries ago: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Dt. 6.
This pillar hardly needs much explanation. However, it is hardly ever done. In years past, fathers and mothers would pray with their children and often at the dinner table would discuss some aspect of the Christian faith. They would teach some of the catechism or morals or of the Bible. In 2016, that seems a thing of the past. But it shouldn’t be.
IN SUM: WHY IS MARRIAGE IMPORTANT?
Marriage is important because throughout the Bible the marriage relationship between a husband and a wife is a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and the Church throughout the Bible. In Jeremiah 31:32, God says “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand and to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant though I was a husband to them.” Notice that God made a covenant with his people and then states that He was their husband linking the covenant between God and His people to the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. In Revelation 19, the wedding of the Lamb, which is Jesus, has come and his bride, the church, has made herself ready.
In Ephesians 5:28-32, marriage is discussed this way: “In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church -for we are members of the body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”
As I witnessed a couple looking seriously into these things as they wed into the Sacrament of Matrimony, I was hoping they could find success ahead. Can they still be wed in 2076 after 50 years? Of course they can. With God all things are possible. Mark 10:27.