Recently I wrote about marriage, especially in light of the recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, which will allow states to redefine marriage by popular consent (and who knows what sort of consent will be popular or acceptable down the pike?).
That homily/post supported a Catholic writer’s open online letter to priests and bishops, which urged us to preach the authentic Catholic faith no matter what the response. If I were to preach about one topic ad nauseam, it would be marriage and family life, because it is a common denominator with uncommon value.
The Scriptures comment on the essential properties of this great sacrament. The Gospel illustrates the qualities of marital fidelity and permanence, though within the specific context of apostolic labor. Jesus encourages seventy-two disciples to conduct themselves with innocence and simplicity. God’s servants must learn how to cope with the natural restlessness and fickleness that comes with their commitment. It seems understandable that they should “stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered.”
Regarding that last point: I know I’m a finicky eater. I’m most grateful for the accommodations that our pastor and cook make for me, and I know that compromise is crucial. Regarding the matter of stability: I’ve only been at Holy Guardian Angels for 5 ½ years, but on a few occasions I've felt that I needed to move. It still comes…and goes…and comes back! At this point in my short life it’s hard to imagine being in the same assignment—or shall I say, relationship—for, say, 15 years (as our pastor has spent thus far). Now, the diocesan priest’s primary purpose is to serve the whole Diocese according to its needs, so there is no expected guarantee of residential permanence. Spouses pledge permanence not to a location, but to a person; and they fulfill that pledge one day at a time.
St. Paul’s words to the Galatians allude to the totality of the marriage covenant, on the basis of Jesus’ total investment of Self, to the extent of crucifixion and death. The topic of circumcision and other Jewish laws was of some concern to the Galatians, and Paul makes clear that these signs of commitment do not compare to the rebirth that comes from Christ. Paul suffered greatly so that this rebirth could extend to the Gentiles. In the same way, happily married couples will do and endure whatever is necessary within reason to preserve their union.
Soon-to-be-Saint John Paul II was a devotee of the sacrament of marriage; he spent much time and much ink in its promotion. In one document he spoke of what spouses devote to their sacred bond, namely their bodies, their instincts, their feelings and affections, their deepest aspirations and their freedom (Familiaris Consortio, 13, quoted in CCC 1643).
The first reading from Isaiah considers the fruitfulness of God’s covenant with Israel, which extends to every individual and couple. The prophet employs earthy language (there is nothing earthier than a mother and her suckling child) and promptly refers it to material prosperity. Scots economist Adam Smith commandeered Isaiah’s phrase, “The Wealth of Nations,” for the abridged title of his 1776 treatise on capitalism. Isaiah makes it clear that God provides both the principal and the interest, even though one must presume the freedom of the investor. In the same way, God blesses a marriage with children when the material conditions are present.
According to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, marriage is ordered toward the procreation and education of children, “and it is in them that marriage finds its crowning glory.” Children unwittingly assist their parents in the fulfillment of their marital calling, which is nothing less than their personal and communal path to holiness (Gaudium et Spes, quoted in CCC 1652). Whether or not their marriage is physically fertile, a couple must see their children as a gift and not a right to be obtained by any means. When couples invest themselves in marriage with permanence, fidelity, and joy, their marriage becomes fruitful, whatever form that fruitfulness may take. No vocation to marriage, consecrated life, or priesthood, flourishes if the person is consumed with himself.
We cannot help but recognize the many imperfect and often sinful situations among us: failed marriages, serial marriages, children born outside of marriage, children born outside of natural conception, children affected by failed marriages, marriages strained by pornography, infidelity, same-sex activity, individuals and couples who have compromised their fertility by contraception or who have at some point refuted it by abortion; not to mention the cavalcade of dysfunction in which every individual and family shares. These realities do not deter the Church from affirming the whole truth of married love. God respects our freedom regardless of how we use it, for reasons He knows best and we know impartially. At every conscious moment we must reaffirm our desire for heaven and recommit to the choices that are conducive to it.
We can never forget, however, that God also makes a total commitment of Self. His care for us is ever constant and extensive. As married persons, consecrated religious, and priests strive to remain faithful to our respective vocations, the Lord Jesus promises the power we need to recognize and resist Satan’s wiles, a power we must develop through prayer, the sacraments, charity, and virtue. Divine sustenance in this life is consistent with eternal life, wherein, with indelible ink, our “names are written in heaven.”