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home : our faith : faith alive August 15, 2018


8/4/2018
FAITH ALIVE: The Sacrament of Matrimony
Commitment For A Lifetime -- Couples from around the Diocese who have been married 1, 25, 50 or more years renew their wedding vows during the Bishop's Anniversary Mass held last fall in St. Aloysius Church, Jackson. This week's Faith Alive package focuses on the Sacrament of Matrimony and offers insight on how couples can build a lasting marriage. Joe Moore photo

Commitment For A Lifetime -- Couples from around the Diocese who have been married 1, 25, 50 or more years renew their wedding vows during the Bishop's Anniversary Mass held last fall in St. Aloysius Church, Jackson. This week's Faith Alive package focuses on the Sacrament of Matrimony and offers insight on how couples can build a lasting marriage. Joe Moore photo


By Catholic News Service

IN A NUTSHELL

Christian marriage takes the human dimensions of attraction, emotion, friendship and sacrificial service spoken by the couple in their daily life together and makes them a language that communicates the nuptial love of Christ for the Church.

Marriage points us to the best kind of friendship: a friendship that is based on shared sacrifice and helping each other become more holy and virtuous.

The marriage relationship can be a source of great joy and comfort, but it also entails difficulty and sacrifice, just as does Christian life more generally.

Marriage: The love of Christ made visible

By John S. Grabowski | Catholic News Service

"What's love got to do with it?" Tina Turner sang in her famous song by the same name. If her question is about the Catholic understanding of marriage, then the answer is both "not much" and "virtually everything."

The first answer is especially true if you understand love as Turner's song described it -- an emotional response based on physical attraction. Marriage, as the church understands it, does not require these kinds of feelings of love.

Instead, marital consent is based on a free decision of the will on the part of a man and a woman to give themselves irrevocably to another.

A couple promises sexual fidelity and openness to the gift of children before God and (typically) human witnesses. This brings into being the covenant of marriage. Sacramental and even nonsacramental marriages are characterized by unity (which Scripture describes as being "one flesh" -- Gn 2:24) and indissolubility.

In biblical times and in some cultures today, families might help to arrange a marriage between individuals who do not know one another well -- let alone experience being "in love" with each other.

For such a marriage to be valid, the couple must give their free consent -- to give themselves to each other in the way specified by the goods of faithfulness and children. Feelings of love are not a legal or theological requirement.

Certainly, over time, as such couples come to know each other and live together, they come to recognize love at the heart of their relationship.

Think of Tevye and Golde in "Fiddler on the Roof," confronted with their daughters falling in love, one after the other, asking each other, "Do you love me?" after 25 years of marriage. But, their love is deeper than mere attraction or emotion -- it is a love embodied in lives of mutual service and care.

Like Tevye and Golde's daughters, in our current Western culture it is more common for people to marry for love. Pope Francis acknowledges this in his apostolic exhortation on the joy of love, "Amoris Laetitia" (Nos. 131-32).

But this love is more than feelings of emotional closeness or attraction that wax and wane over time. This is one reason why Pope Francis goes on to recommend in the document that couples must work to protect their marriage from dangers such as busyness, resentments, jealousy or infidelity.

This deeper love is fostered by communication, kindness, forgiveness, physical touch, working through conflict or crises in nondestructive ways, and sharing their lives of faith. These various kinds of intimacy form the backdrop and context for passion and sexual expression in marriage (Nos. 142-52).

All of this is equally true of the marriage covenant whether it is found in a natural or a sacramental marriage. The church understands that a merely natural marriage cannot exist between two baptized persons. They can only have a sacramental marriage (see the Code of Canon Law, Canon 1055.2).

In the understanding of the Western (Latin) church, it is the couple themselves who act as ministers and confer the sacrament on one another (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1623). The presence of a bishop, priest or deacon (required for Catholics) is necessary to have an official witness on behalf of the church.

When a couple exchanges valid consent that is properly witnessed and sexually consummates their marriage, it is absolutely indissoluble. No human power -- whether of the church or the state -- can dissolve or nullify it.

The sacrament creates a bond between the couple, which serves as an ongoing source of grace. It is not as if they simply receive a one time "injection" of grace on their wedding day.

The bond gives them power throughout the whole of their lives to love, serve, forgive, care for each other and to welcome and form their children. This stream of grace is continually strengthened and refreshed in the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist -- the "source and summit" of their Christian life and love, as the catechism states (No. 1324).

In "Amoris Laetitia," Pope Francis teaches that the sacrament of marriage is not merely a "thing" or an impersonal power. It is an encounter with the person of Jesus who strengthens, heals and walks with the couple in their life together (No. 73).

Pope Francis thus builds on the teaching of St. John Paul II on marriage and in his theology of the body catecheses.

Christian marriage takes all of the human dimensions of attraction, emotion, friendship and sacrificial service spoken by the couple in their daily life together and makes them a language that communicates the nuptial love of Christ for the church (Eph 5:32).

This "language of the body," first spoken in the couple's vows, becomes a prophecy of the whole of their life together. In this sense, marriage is "the sacrament of love" and a Christian couple is its icon in the world.

So, "what's love got to do with it"? Everything!

Grabowksi is associate professor of moral theology/ethics at The Catholic University of America.

Does marriage ruin relationships?

By Amber and David Lapp | Catholic News Service

The spring trees made a green arch over the path as we pedaled along, about five months into our dating relationship. We were so in love, so affectionate, that as we biked through the mountains we reached across the space between our bikes to hold hands.

We rode on like that for some time, contentedly connected by hand and soul, talking and riding at a leisurely pace, letting others pass us by.

When suddenly, we lost balance and crashed, our bikes and ourselves toppling over each other. We laughed, recognizing then just how crazy we were about each other.

David proposed about five months later and we were married half a year after that. We entered into marriage enthusiastically, but there was a bit of a question in the back of our minds: Would this affection continue?

We had vowed to love each other till death do us part, and we knew we were serious about that commitment. But would we always feel so attracted and affectionate?

There exists a narrative that says "marriage ruins relationships," that affection typically wanes, seldom grows. It's the idea that a relationship begun in the blaze of fireworks will likely fizzle out and fade.

In interviews we conducted for the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, we found that many young adults described love as something that one doesn't have much control over. "Falling out of love" is a common fear.

When we were engaged we went to a weekend retreat as part of our marriage preparation. During one session, a married couple in their 50s assured us that attraction and affection did not have to fade in marriage. "We're having the best sex of our lives," we remember them telling us, sincerely.

We were a little baffled and a little skeptical, but also curious.

Almost nine years into our own marriage, we now understand what they were talking about.

"Marriage (is) a challenge to be taken up and fought for, reborn, renewed and reinvented until death," says Pope Francis in the apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" (No. 124).

He urges us to abandon "celestial notions of earthly love" and instead strive for a creative and enduring love that recognizes that "the best is yet to come, that fine wine matures with age" (No. 135).

Marriage really can keep getting better. How? Marriage disciplines and perfects our sexual desire, enabling us to experience the freedom that follows when our desires are concentrated on the infinite depth that is one's spouse.

We see this on the physical level: Sex releases the hormone oxytocin, which then helps to strengthen a couple's bond -- and according to one study, even men's perceived attraction of their committed partner! In other words, the more we give of ourselves to each other, the more we desire each other.

The nine years of our marriage have presented modest to ordinary challenges: from life-threatening complications for Amber during the birth of our first son, to the minor exasperation of children that refuse to go to bed on time.

We find ourselves having more arguments now than we did when we were dating, and even during the early years of marriage without children.

But inspired by the vows that we said to each other on our wedding day, we choose to come back to each other at the end of the day, begging forgiveness of each other and happy that we are building our little kingdom together.

Thus, marriage points us to the best kind of friendship: a friendship that is based on shared sacrifice and helping each other become more holy and virtuous.

To choose marriage in this way is to reject the "throwaway culture" that uses and abuses, and to embrace what philosopher Gabriel Marcel described as "creative fidelity": In choosing to be faithful, we choose to constantly rediscover each other.

Marriage does not have to ruin relationships. If we allow it, marriage can increase and enrich love.

Amber and David Lapp, co-investigators of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, are research fellows at the Institute for Family Studies. Their writing has appeared in outlets such as National Review, First Things, The Atlantic Online and The Wall Street Journal.

Marriage in the Church

By Maria C. Morrow | Catholic News Service

Marriage existed long before Christianity, so we might ask ourselves: Did Christianity do anything to transform marriage, to make it distinct from what had come before?

And in our cultural context today, we might ask ourselves a similar question: Is Catholic marriage in any way distinct from the other marriages we see in our world?

St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians answers these two questions with a resounding YES. Paul begins his fifth chapter by discussing how Christians are called to live in love: "So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma" (Eph 5:1-2).

Christ's life, death and resurrection transformed everything about how to live. Thus it is no surprise that marriage, despite predating Christianity, also took on a new meaning, which Paul is eager to explain.

Marriage is a distinct way of "living in love." It is a way of "making the most of the opportunity," as Paul says in verse 16.

This perception of marriage is a far cry from the institution of convenience, usefulness or pleasure. Rather, it is a call to service of Christ in a particular context with its own specific demands of running a Christian household and raising children to serve the Lord.

As husband and wife share the common purpose of loving and serving God, they are united in a unique way, finding in each other a call to embody Christ's sacrificial love as they pursue holiness in their marriage and thus their lives together.

Paul speaks of the great mystery of the unity of Christ and the church. Christ loved the church to the point of death on the cross, and in his death, all his followers became part of his body, such that the Church is the body of Christ.

Quoting Genesis, Paul states, "a man shall leave father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (Eph 5:31). This is an important instruction about the reality of marriage, which has greater significance given the relationship of Christ and the church.

The marriage relationship can be a source of great joy and comfort, but it also entails difficulty and sacrifice, just as does Christian life more generally.

When undertaken together in the Christian spirit of living in love, even these sacrifices and sufferings can be transformed and become a source and sign of unity.

In the Catholic sacrament of marriage, we find something different than the concept of marriage that preceded it. Paul's description indicates something new and distinct, characterized by a common goal of Christian love and service and inspired by Christ's own love and sacrifice for the church.

There is consolation in the knowledge of shared love for Christ, as well as challenge found in the struggle to love as Christ loved; both the Eucharist and confession provide strength for this journey, making unity possible.

Morrow is the mother of six and adjunct professor of Catholic studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

A new Catholic storytelling podcast, "Made for Love," launched Jan. 8.

Produced and narrated by Sara Perla, program specialist for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the podcast explores themes of marriage and family life by telling the stories of Catholics who are "living out the call to love."

Perla created the podcast because she "saw a unique opportunity to make the stories of Catholics come alive" and plans to highlight the stories of lay Catholics as well as hear from bishops, priests and religious.

The first episode, "The Baptism Role Reversal," tells the tale of a priest who, in an unusual turn of events, baptizes his parents.

In the second episode, "When Love Meets Silence," listeners hear the story of Terri and Vince, a married couple challenged by Vince's rare and debilitating illness.

The third episode, "When Love Is Not Love," discusses the complexities of annulment in the Catholic Church through the true story of Stacy and Nabil.

Perla said that episodes in February will cover "the power of the family table," i.e., families eating together, and domestic abuse.

Find the podcast online at www.marriageuniqueforareason.org/podcast/ and on iTunes under USCCB Clips.






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