February 4, 2005


Marriage in God's plan

This week, as we offer you our annual spring Marriage Supplement beginning on page 9, it’s impossible to pretend that marriage is a thriving institution in this country. The number of couples who live together without marriage, the divorce rate and the number of children born outside of marriage, continue to skyrocket. The concept of “marriage” between two people of the same sex is gaining ever wider acceptance.

Unfortunately, other than bemoaning these facts, there’s not too much we can do about them. What we can do, though, is present a positive picture of marriage in God’s plan because we are convinced that it offers men and women the best chance at happiness in their lives.

The Church teaches us that God himself is the author of marriage. In Genesis, we read that, in marriage, “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gn 2:24). Jesus confirmed that when he said that husband and wife “are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mt 19:6).

This means, in plain English, that these two people are a single organism. As C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined.” That is why, as Jesus said, “Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mt 19:7).

We Catholics believe that Jesus raised the human institution of marriage to the dignity of one of the seven sacraments. By his presence at the wedding at Cana, Jesus confirmed the goodness of marriage and proclaimed that from then on marriage would be an efficacious sign of his presence. Through this sacrament, spouses are strengthened and consecrated for the duties and the dignity of marriage.

When they marry, husbands and wives establish a matrimonial covenant, a partnership between themselves, that by its very nature is ordered toward the good of the spouses as well as toward the procreation and education of their children. Try as it might, secular society can find nothing else that better serves those purposes.

That is why the Church insists that a marriage covenant—between a baptized man and woman free to contract marriage, who freely express their consent—cannot be dissolved once the marriage has been consummated through sexual intercourse. The consent of the marriage partners to give and receive each other is a bond sealed by God himself, and it cannot be broken.

Needless to say, our modern society doesn’t accept God’s plan for marriage. “Being in love” seems to be the only reason for getting married or remaining married, and that leaves no room for marriage as a covenant or a permanent bond. The strange thing is, as G. K. Chesterton once pointed out, couples who are deeply in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises.

However we might will it, though, and as glorious as “being in love” is, it cannot be the basis for lasting marriage. When passions fade, there must be more to marriage. Again, quoting C. S. Lewis, “Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships?”

But, still quoting Lewis, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. The second sense of love is more than a feeling, as “being in love” is. “It’s a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by [in Christian marriages] the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God.”

It should go without saying that marriage in God’s plan requires fidelity of both spouses. Not only is this essential to preserve the covenant, but, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The deepest reason is found in the fidelity of God to his covenant, in that of Christ to his Church. Through the sacrament of matrimony the spouses are enabled to represent this fidelity and witness to it” (#1647).

Despite what modern society might teach, this is the meaning of marriage in God’s plan.

— Daniel Conway

(Daniel Conway is on the editorial board of The Criterion)


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