Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Teaching Truth

Parents’ participation in God’s creative activity includes education
By Brian Pizzalato
Through imitation of, and participation in, Trinitarian life and Christ’s relationship with the church, married couples have the profound responsibility and obligation to the service of life. This takes place through procreation and education. In my last article, I wrote of procreation. But serving life does not end there. Education must follow.
Through the begetting of life, parents participate in God’s creative activity. Creation didn’t end “in the beginning.” That was just “the beginning.” God creates a new human soul at the moment of every conception of a new human body. John Paul II tells us, “…parents by that very fact take on the task of helping that person effectively to live a fully human life” (Familiaris Consortio, 36).
He goes on to say, “…they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it.”
Serving life moves beyond merely not contracepting or aborting, beyond simply having another baby. It includes the parents’ loving guidance, through education, of that new person to the living out of a fully human life. This means parents are responsible for education seen in its broadest sense. The church speaks of the parents’ responsibility for educating their children in documents concerned with education in general, with family, with catechesis, with sexuality. Living a fully human life means both natural and supernatural education.
Education is about knowing and living the truth, whether it is the truth that 2 + 2 = 4, or that God died on Calvary. Human persons were created for truth. “The desire for truth is part of human nature itself,” proclaims Pope Benedict XVI (Address to the CDF, Feb. 10, 2006). Thus, knowing the truth is part of living a fully human life.
This also means that the ultimate goal of all education is union with he who is truth himself. Pope Benedict XVI has made clear, “Jesus Christ is the Personified Truth who attracts the world to himself. The light that shines out from Jesus is the splendor of the truth [veritatis splendor]. Every other truth is a fragment of the Truth that he is, and refers to him.”
The parents’ responsibility is to lead their children to the fullness of truth because it is the truth that will set them free (cf. John 8:32). There is this intimate unity, not dichotomy, between truth and freedom. Pope Benedict XVI says, “Jesus is the Pole Star of human freedom: Without him it looses its sense of direction, for without the knowledge of truth, freedom degenerates, becomes isolated and is reduced to sterile arbitration.” Freedom disconnected from truth is not freedom at all; it is slavery. It is something that dehumanizes, rather than leads to a fully lived human life.
There is also a profound connection between truth, joy and love. Pope Benedict XVI tells us: “Indeed, truth alone can take possession of the mind and make it rejoice to the full. It is this joy that increases the dimensions of the human heart, lifting it anew from the narrowness of selfishness and rendering it capable of authentic love.”
So education fits with what parents naturally want for their children. Parents want what is best for their children. They want them to experience and know true freedom, true joy and authentic love. However, it is the case that “scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it.”
The good news for parents, however, is that they do not have to do it alone. They are the first and foremost educators of their children, but not necessarily the only educators. Serving life is a responsibility of the domestic church, the family, and the universal church. How can this be? The church is also a parent, mater et magistra, mother and teacher.
The church, along with parents, is responsible for educating in its broadest sense, not simply when it comes to religious education. The church also speaks of the church’s responsibility for education in documents concerned with education in general, with family, with catechesis, with sexuality. This means the church is responsible for educating in math, science, social studies and obviously catechesis. Yes, this also means that the church is responsible for educating in the realm of human sexuality and safe environment, which are two forms of education that are not synonymous.
In a document from the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education entitled, “Educational Guidance in Human Love: Outlines for Sex Education,” (which certainly does not mean what it does in the secular sphere) we hear that, “openness and collaboration of parents with other educators who are co-responsible for formation, will positively influence the maturation of young people” (51). This would certainly go for other forms of education as well.
The Second Vatican Council’s document on education says, “The Church is bound as a mother to give to these children of hers an education by which their whole life can be imbued with the spirit of Christ and at the same time do all she can to promote for all peoples the complete perfection of the human person, the good of earthly society and the building of a world that is more human” (Gravissimum Educationis, 3).
Education is about communicating truth to the human person out of love so that we might live in the freedom as children of our heavenly Father.

Matrimony an imitation of God’s love for the church

“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
When the Second Person of the Trinity took on our frail human nature, he demonstrated divine humility. He stooped down into the muck and mire of human existence in order to raise us up and empower us to live a life in imitation of him. He did not come with thunder, lightening and a storm cloud. He came as a human embryo, fetus, infant, young child, adolescent and poor young man of Nazareth. This humility, this self-emptying of Christ, is something we are all called to participate in and imitate. This also goes for the married couple.
In the previous column we looked at how Jesus led us back to the beginning in order to understand that the man and the woman who have given the sacrament of matrimony to one another are called to imitate the life-giving, self-donating love of the Trinity.
St. Paul will help us understand that the married couple is also called to imitate the self-giving, life-giving love of the eternal Son of the Father for his bride, the Church.
St. Paul says: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:21-33).
All right, just take a minute and shake out your 21st century willies after hearing this first-century verse about wives being subordinate to their husbands. Now, calm down and let’s look at what exactly St. Paul is saying, not what we think he is saying.
First, we must notice verse 21, “Be subordinate to one another...,” before getting worked up about verse 22. Notice that it is also “out of reverence for Christ” that there is to be this mutual submission, not male dominance. Pope John Paul II tells us, “This relationship is a revelation and a realization in time of the mystery of salvation, of the election of love, hidden from eternity in God” (Wednesday audience, Aug. 18, 1982).
Second, we must consider all of the words of the above passage in order to fully grasp its meaning. There are two groups being referred to: husband and wife, and Christ and the church. The majority of verses are dealing with the husband, not the wife.
Notice that the husband is called to be like Christ and the wife is called to be like the church. Now if the husband is actually living out this calling to be Christ-like, then the verse about wives submitting themselves to their husbands is beautiful.
This passage specifies, for the husband, what he is called to in relation to his beloved. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her…” The husband is called to lay down his life for his bride, giving completely of himself, being selfless, not selfish. What bride would not want to submit to such a husband?
Further, the word submission means to be under the mission. In particular the church/bride is meant follow the mission of Christ/bridegroom.
However, it is also true to say that Christ/bridegroom is meant to follow the mission of the church/bride. How can this be? The two are one body. They are two ways of saying the same thing. Christ and his church form one body through the washing of the members of the church with water, i.e. baptism, and through the consummation of that one flesh union, i.e. the Eucharist.
St. Paul has taught us that the husband and wife are to give completely of themselves to one another, holding nothing back.
The challenge St. Paul lays down is primarily to husbands: Imitate Christ! Love your wives as Christ loves the church! Die for her! Die for her is thousand different ways on a thousand different days!
He is also saying to wives: do not settle for anything less than a Christ-like husband.
St. Paul is proclaiming the holiness to which spouses are called in the vocation of matrimony. Let married couples heed his call.

Serving Life

God has bestowed upon us the dignity to participate in the creation of life
By Brian Pizzalato
Married couples are called by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to image the life-giving, self-giving love of the Trinity. Married couples are also called to image the relationship between Christ and the church. Christ gave completely of himself, even to death on the cross, for his bride, the church. I have written more about this glorious mystery in two previous columns. This paves the way for what naturally and supernaturally follows: the married couple’s task to serve life. There are two ways this takes place: through the transmission of life, procreation, and through education. In this column we will focus on the former, and in the next column on the latter.
“The fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator – that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person” (John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio #28). The spousal union is ordered to the begetting of new human life. Spouses are called to imitate the Trinity and Christ’s relationship with the church every moment of every day, but in particular during the marital embrace. In marriage, the two, husband and wife, become one flesh, so much so that nine months later you will have to give him or her a name, thus becoming three in one.
God has bestowed upon man and woman such a dignity that we can participate in the very creation of a new human person, becoming co-creators with God. At the moment of conception, husband and wife have provided God with the opportunity to infuse a new soul into the body they have given to this new human person through their love.
All of this has its consequences, which cannot be changed. Many people have a problem with the church’s teaching on contraception as intrinsically evil. In our day, where contraception seems to be perfectly acceptable, and perhaps the responsible thing to do, having a problem with it is somewhat understandable. But, why is it that our society thinks that it knows better than Christ and his church? Why is it that some Catholics think they know better than Christ and his church? Maybe we have it wrong and Christ and his church have it right. Maybe the media, the government, the public school system, MTV and our conscience have it wrong.
To understand this teaching, it must be placed in context, not as one teaching isolated from everything else. The Trinitarian plan from all eternity is that we might share in his life, which is love itself. God the Father wanted this so badly that after Adam and Eve rejected him, he sent his only Son to give completely of himself through the Paschal Mystery: the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. The Second Person of the Trinity emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. He went through a humiliating trial, torture and finally death by crucifixion. His self-emptying went beyond death when his side was pierced by a lance, issuing forth blood and water. Upon his ascension back to the Father, the Trinity poured forth his life upon the church by sending the Holy Spirit.
The eternal life of the Trinity and the life of God the Son while here on earth was one of complete and total self-giving, life-giving love. This is not what, but who, spouses are called to image.
What about contraception? We can understand from what God has revealed that contracepted sex is neither self-giving nor life-giving. It is selfish and barren. In many instances it is death-giving, since many contraceptives do not prevent conception but kill the child after conception. It in no way images Trinitarian life and Christ’s self sacrifice for his bride. It completely falsifies both.
Authentic married love is meant to be caught up in the mystery of divine life and love. A total gift of self is required: body, mind, heart and soul. Anything else would be a lie. Many say that sex is good, or even great, but Christ and the church proclaim that it is holy. And to treat something holy as though it is merely good or great is to desecrate that which is holy.
The supreme gift of marriage is a human person, a child. No one has a right to have a child. The child is a pure gift from our Father in heaven. And the child is certainly not a choice. Abortion is death-dealing plain and simple. A human person dies. It is also selfish. As Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “It is a shame that a child must die so that we might live as we wish.”
May the most Blessed Trinity move our hearts and minds to accept his words, and heal all those who have used contraception and have had abortions. May all those babies who did not survive the holocaust of abortion (47,282,293 in the United States since 1973 at the time of this writing and one every 25 seconds after that) offer up their prayers before the throne of our heavenly Father. May the myriad of angels and saints pray for all married couples that they may be open to new life, a glorious gift from the Trinity.

‘I do…until further notice’ - Cause for many divorces is the spiritual illness of selfishness

One of the most heart-rending statistics of our day is a 50 percent divorce rate. Regrettably, it is not much different among Catholics. More heart-rending, it should be understood, is the remarriage of a baptized Catholic, after a civil divorce.
Marriage, in the minds and hearts of many, is often entered into as an agreement “until further notice.” Prenuptial agreements are proof of this. The causes of divorce can be many and varied. But the primary diagnose for many divorces would be the spiritual illness known as selfishness. If this is the case, then the illness is much more insidious in those who are supposed to know better, namely Catholics. Jesus one day said that Moses allowed divorce “because of the hardness of your hearts” (Matthew 19:8). There can be no better definition of selfishness.
It might be the case that many Catholics do not know better – their “marriage preparation” did not prepare them. Others just plain reject the church’s teaching because it seems antiquated to them. But in rejecting church teaching, one is rejecting Christ’s teaching. They are two ways of saying the same thing. I would imagine more people would at least pause before saying, “I reject Christ’s teaching.”
The church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage is none other than that of Christ himself. So what exactly is Christ’s teaching on marriage, which by consequence excludes divorce and remarriage?
Jesus, in response to the question of the Pharisees about divorce, refers to “the beginning.” “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate…Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:4-6, 8).
As John Paul II said, in relation to this passage, “…that significant expression ‘from the beginning,’ repeated twice, clearly induced his interlocutors to reflect on the way in which man was formed in the mystery of creation, precisely as ‘male and female’” (Wednesday audience, Sept. 5, 1979). What is God’s original plan for marriage and family? We must go back to the beginning, to creation, to the book of Genesis to find out.
“God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:27-28a). No other aspect of the material world is created in God’s image and likeness. Adam and Eve were created to share in the very life and love of God.
We know from the New Testament that this God is a Trinity of persons. Therefore, God created man, male and female, in the image of the Trinity. The three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are an eternal communion of divine persons. God created Adam and Eve as a communion of human persons who share in the communion of the three divine persons. So God calls this married couple to imitate the life of the Trinity.
But, what is the inner life of the Trinity like? This is what the second and third persons of the Trinity came to make known. They came to reveal the inner life of God: who God is, and what he has been doing for all eternity. Jesus comes to show us that Trinitarian life is a life of life-giving, self-giving love. 1 John 4:8 and 4:16 tell us “Deus caritas est”: that is, “God is love.” The Trinity is not just loving; the Trinity is love itself. God’s very being and existence is love.
But, how do we know what love is, in order to understand who God is, he who the married couple is called to imitate and participate in? John gives us the answer: “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him” (1 John 4:9). What God does tells us about who God is. The Father gives the Son to give us life.
From all eternity, before the foundation of the world, the Father is pouring forth his white-hot love and life upon the Son. The Son, the perfect image of the Father, is eternally imaging the Father, pouring forth his love and life back upon the Father. This reciprocal love is none other than the third person of the Trinity. The Son never has to be concerned about himself, because the Father and the Holy Spirit are. The Father never has to be concerned about himself, because the Son and the Holy Spirit are. The Holy Spirit never has to be concerned about himself, because the Father and Son are. The definition of true love, rooted in who God is, is selflessness.
This leads us back to where we started. Selflessness is the key – self-denial, not selfishness. To say that there should be able to be divorce and remarriage, to separate what God has joined, is like saying that the three persons of the Trinity should be able to be ripped apart and joined to some other god, which is clearly absurd. Married couples are not called to falsify the image of Trinity, but to participate in, and imitate, the life-giving, self-giving love of the Trinity. (Annulment, by contrast, is the recognition that a sacramental marriage never existed.)
This does not mean marriage is easy, but, through the grace of the sacrament of matrimony, it is possible.
In the next column we will look at more evidence from the New Testament to help us understand what the married couple is called to, namely, to imitate the relationship between Christ and his Church.

The Sacrament of Matrimony - Catechism of the Catholic Church




1601 "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament." 84


1602 Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of "the wedding-feast of the Lamb." 85 Scripture speaks throughout of marriage and its "mystery," its institution and the meaning God has given it, its origin and its end, its various realizations throughout the history of salvation, the difficulties arising from sin and its renewal "in the Lord" in the New Covenant of Christ and the Church. 86

Marriage in the order of creation

1603 "The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage." 87 The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, 88 some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. "The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life." 89

1604 God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. 90 Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator's eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: "And God blessed them, and God said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'" 91

1605 Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: "It is not good that the man should be alone." 92 The woman, "flesh of his flesh," his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a "helpmate"; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. 93 "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." 94 The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been "in the beginning": "So they are no longer two, but one flesh." 95

Marriage under the regime of sin

1606 Every man experiences evil around him and within himself. This experience makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character.

1607 According to faith the disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman. Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations; 96 their mutual attraction, the Creator's own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust; 97 and the beautiful vocation of man and woman to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth was burdened by the pain of childbirth and the toil of work. 98

1608 Nevertheless, the order of creation persists, though seriously disturbed. To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. 99 Without his help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them "in the beginning."

Marriage under the pedagogy of the Law

1609 In his mercy God has not forsaken sinful man. The punishments consequent upon sin, "pain in childbearing" and toil "in the sweat of your brow," 100 also embody remedies that limit the damaging effects of sin. After the fall, marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one's own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving.

1610 Moral conscience concerning the unity and indissolubility of marriage developed under the pedagogy of the old law. In the Old Testament the polygamy of patriarchs and kings is not yet explicitly rejected. Nevertheless, the law given to Moses aims at protecting the wife from arbitrary domination by the husband, even though according to the Lord's words it still carries traces of man's "hardness of heart" which was the reason Moses permitted men to divorce their wives. 101

1611 Seeing God's covenant with Israel in the image of exclusive and faithful married love, the prophets prepared the Chosen People's conscience for a deepened understanding of the unity and indissolubility of marriage. 102 The books of Ruth and Tobit bear moving witness to an elevated sense of marriage and to the fidelity and tenderness of spouses. Tradition has always seen in the Song of Solomon a unique expression of human love, insofar as it is a reflection of God's love - a love "strong as death" that "many waters cannot quench." 103

Marriage in the Lord

1612 The nuptial covenant between God and his people Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant in which the Son of God, by becoming incarnate and giving his life, has united to himself in a certain way all mankind saved by him, thus preparing for "the wedding-feast of the Lamb." 104

1613 On the threshold of his public life Jesus performs his first sign - at his mother's request - during a wedding feast. 105 The Church attaches great importance to Jesus' presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ's presence.

1614 In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning permission given by Moses to divorce one's wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts. 106 The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it "what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder." 107

1615 This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy - heavier than the Law of Moses. 108 By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to "receive" the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. 109 This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ's cross, the source of all Christian life.

1616 This is what the Apostle Paul makes clear when he says: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her," adding at once: "'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church." 110

1617 The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath. 111 which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist. Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church. Since it signifies and communicates grace, marriage between baptized persons is a true sacrament of the New Covenant.. 112

Virginity for the sake of the Kingdom

1618 Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social. 113 From the very beginning of the Church there have been men and women who have renounced the great good of marriage to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, to be intent on the things of the Lord, to seek to please him, and to go out to meet the Bridegroom who is coming. 114 Christ himself has invited certain persons to follow him in this way of life, of which he remains the model:

"For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it." 115

1619 Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away. 116

1620 Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the Kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with his will. 117 Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom 118 and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce each other:

Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good. 119


1621 In the Latin Rite the celebration of marriage between two Catholic faithful normally takes place during Holy Mass, because of the connection of all the sacraments with the Paschal mystery of Christ. 120 In the Eucharist the memorial of the New Covenant is realized, the New Covenant in which Christ has united himself for ever to the Church, his beloved bride for whom he gave himself up. 121 It is therefore fitting that the spouses should seal their consent to give themselves to each other through the offering of their own lives by uniting it to the offering of Christ for his Church made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice, and by receiving the Eucharist so that, communicating in the same Body and the same Blood of Christ, they may form but "one body" in Christ. 122

1622 "Inasmuch as it is a sacramental action of sanctification, the liturgical celebration of marriage . . . must be, per se, valid, worthy, and fruitful." 123 It is therefore appropriate for the bride and groom to prepare themselves for the celebration of their marriage by receiving the sacrament of penance.

1623 According to Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ's grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church. In the tradition of the Eastern Churches, the priests (bishops or presbyters) are witnesses to the mutual consent given by the spouses, 124 but for the validity of the sacrament their blessing is also necessary. 125

1624 The various liturgies abound in prayers of blessing and epiclesis asking God's grace and blessing on the new couple, especially the bride. In the epiclesis of this sacrament the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of love of Christ and the Church. 126 The Holy Spirit is the seal of their covenant, the ever available source of their love and the strength to renew their fidelity.


1625 The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptized man and woman, free to contract marriage, who freely express their consent; "to be free" means:

- not being under constraint;

- not impeded by any natural or ecclesiastical law.

1626 The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that "makes the marriage." 127 If consent is lacking there is no marriage.

1627 The consent consists in a "human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other": "I take you to be my wife" - "I take you to be my husband." 128 This consent that binds the spouses to each other finds its fulfillment in the two "becoming one flesh." 129

1628 The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear. 130 No human power can substitute for this consent. 131 If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid.

1629 For this reason (or for other reasons that render the marriage null and void) the Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed. 132 In this case the contracting parties are free to marry, provided the natural obligations of a previous union are discharged. 133

1630 The priest (or deacon) who assists at the celebration of a marriage receives the consent of the spouses in the name of the Church and gives the blessing of the Church. The presence of the Church's minister (and also of the witnesses) visibly expresses the fact that marriage is an ecclesial reality.

1631 This is the reason why the Church normally requires that the faithful contract marriage according to the ecclesiastical form. Several reasons converge to explain this requirement: 134

- Sacramental marriage is a liturgical act. It is therefore appropriate that it should be celebrated in the public liturgy of the Church;

- Marriage introduces one into an ecclesial order, and creates rights and duties in the Church between the spouses and towards their children;

- Since marriage is a state of life in the Church, certainty about it is necessary (hence the obligation to have witnesses);

- The public character of the consent protects the "I do" once given and helps the spouses remain faithful to it.

1632 So that the "I do" of the spouses may be a free and responsible act and so that the marriage covenant may have solid and lasting human and Christian foundations, preparation for marriage is of prime importance.

The example and teaching given by parents and families remain the special form of this preparation.

The role of pastors and of the Christian community as the "family of God" is indispensable for the transmission of the human and Christian values of marriage and family, 135 and much more so in our era when many young people experience broken homes which no longer sufficiently assure this initiation:

It is imperative to give suitable and timely instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their own families, about the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise, so that, having learned the value of chastity, they will be able at a suitable age to engage in honorable courtship and enter upon a marriage of their own. 136

Mixed marriages and disparity of cult

1633 In many countries the situation of a mixed marriage (marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) often arises. It requires particular attention on the part of couples and their pastors. A case of marriage with disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a non-baptized person) requires even greater circumspection.

1634 Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home. Disparity of cult can further aggravate these difficulties. Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise.

1635 According to the law in force in the Latin Church, a mixed marriage needs for liceity the express permission of ecclesiastical authority. 137 In case of disparity of cult an express dispensation from this impediment is required for the validity of the marriage. 138 This permission or dispensation presupposes that both parties know and do not exclude the essential ends and properties of marriage; and furthermore that the Catholic party confirms the obligations, which have been made known to the non-Catholic party, of preserving his or her own faith and ensuring the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic Church. 139

1636 Through ecumenical dialogue Christian communities in many regions have been able to put into effect a common pastoral practice for mixed marriages . Its task is to help such couples live out their particular situation in the light of faith, overcome the tensions between the couple's obligations to each other and towards their ecclesial communities, and encourage the flowering of what is common to them in faith and respect for what separates them.

1637 In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular task: "For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband." 140 It is a great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this "consecration" should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian faith. 141 Sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare the non-believing spouse to accept the grace of conversion.


1638 "From a valid marriage arises a bond between the spouses which by its very nature is perpetual and exclusive; furthermore, in a Christian marriage the spouses are strengthened and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and the dignity of their state by a special sacrament ." 142

The marriage bond

1639 The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself. 143 From their covenant arises "an institution, confirmed by the divine law, . . . even in the eyes of society." 144 The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God's covenant with man: "Authentic married love is caught up into divine love." 145

1640 Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God's fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom. 146

The grace of the sacrament of Matrimony

1641 "By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God." 147 This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple's love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they "help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children." 148

1642 Christ is the source of this grace . "Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony." 149 Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens, to "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ," 150 and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb:

How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father? . . . How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit. 151


1643 "Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter - appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility . In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values." 152

The unity and indissolubility of marriage

1644 The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses' community of persons, which embraces their entire life: "so they are no longer two, but one flesh." 153 They "are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving." 154 This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together.

1645 "The unity of marriage, distinctly recognized by our Lord, is made clear in the equal personal dignity which must be accorded to man and wife in mutual and unreserved affection." 155 Polygamy is contrary to conjugal love which is undivided and exclusive. 156

* The fidelity of conjugal love

1646 By its very nature conjugal love requires the inviolable fidelity of the spouses. This is the consequence of the gift of themselves which they make to each other. Love seeks to be definitive; it cannot be an arrangement "until further notice." The "intimate union of marriage, as a mutual giving of two persons, and the good of the children, demand total fidelity from the spouses and require an unbreakable union between them." 157

1647 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. Through the sacrament, the indissolubility of marriage receives a new and deeper meaning.

1648 It can seem difficult, even impossible, to bind oneself for life to another human being. This makes it all the more important to proclaim the Good News that God loves us with a definitive and irrevocable love, that married couples share in this love, that it supports and sustains them, and that by their own faithfulness they can be witnesses to God's faithful love. Spouses who with God's grace give this witness, often in very difficult conditions, deserve the gratitude and support of the ecclesial community. 158

1649 Yet there are some situations in which living together becomes practically impossible for a variety of reasons. In such cases the Church permits the physical separation of the couple and their living apart. The spouses do not cease to be husband and wife before God and so are not free to contract a new union. In this difficult situation, the best solution would be, if possible, reconciliation. The Christian community is called to help these persons live out their situation in a Christian manner and in fidelity to their marriage bond which remains indissoluble. 159

1650 Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ - "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery" 160 the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.

1651 Toward Christians who live in this situation, and who often keep the faith and desire to bring up their children in a Christian manner, priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose life they can and must participate as baptized persons:

They should be encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts for justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God's grace. 161

* The openness to fertility

1652 "By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory." 162

Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves. God himself said: "It is not good that man should be alone," and "from the beginning [he] made them male and female"; wishing to associate them in a special way in his own creative work, God blessed man and woman with the words: "Be fruitful and multiply." Hence, true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it, without diminishment of the other ends of marriage, are directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day. 163

1653 The fruitfulness of conjugal love extends to the fruits of the moral, spiritual, and supernatural life that parents hand on to their children by education. Parents are the principal and first educators of their children. 164 In this sense the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life. 165

1654 Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.


1655 Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary. The Church is nothing other than "the family of God." From the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those who had become believers "together with all [their] household." 166 When they were converted, they desired that "their whole household" should also be saved. 167 These families who became believers were islands of Christian life in an unbelieving world.

1656 In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica . 168 It is in the bosom of the family that parents are "by word and example . . . the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation." 169

1657 It is here that the father of the family, the mother, children, and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way "by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity." 170 Thus the home is the first school of Christian life and "a school for human enrichment." 171 Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous - even repeated - forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one's life.

1658 We must also remember the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live - often not of their choosing - are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors. Many remain without a human family often due to conditions of poverty. Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes, serving God and neighbor in exemplary fashion. The doors of homes, the "domestic churches," and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them. "No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who 'labor and are heavy laden.'" 172


1659 St. Paul said: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. . . . This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church" ( Eph 5:25, 32).

1660 The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament (cf. CIC, can. 1055 § 1; cf. GS 48 § 1).

1661 The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1799).

1662 Marriage is based on the consent of the contracting parties, that is, on their will to give themselves, each to the other, mutually and definitively, in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love.

1663 Since marriage establishes the couple in a public state of life in the Church, it is fitting that its celebration be public, in the framework of a liturgical celebration, before the priest (or a witness authorized by the Church), the witnesses, and the assembly of the faithful.

1664 Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage. Polygamy is incompatible with the unity of marriage; divorce separates what God has joined together; the refusal of fertility turns married life away from its "supreme gift," the child ( GS 50 § 1).

1665 The remarriage of persons divorced from a living, lawful spouse contravenes the plan and law of God as taught by Christ. They are not separated from the Church, but they cannot receive Eucharistic communion. They will lead Christian lives especially by educating their children in the faith.

1666 The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is rightly called "the domestic church," a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.

84 CIC, can. 1055 § 1; cf. GS 48 § 1.
85 Rev 19:7, 9; cf. Gen 1:26-27.
86 1 Cor 7:39; cf. Eph 5:31-32.
87 GS 48 § 1.
88 Cf. GS 47 § 2.
89 GS 47 § 1.
90 Cf. Gen 1:27; 1 Jn 4:8, 16.
91 Gen 1:28; cf. 1:31.
92 Gen 2:18.
93 Cf. Gen 2:18-25.
94 Gen 2:24.
95 Mt 19:6.
96 Cf. Gen 3:12.
97 Cf. Gen 2:22; 3:16b.
98 Cf. Gen 1:28; 3:16-19.
99 Cf. Gen 3:21.
100 Gen 3:16, 19.
101 Cf. Mt 19:8; Deut 24:1.
102 Cf. Hos 1-3; Isa 54; 62; Jer 2-3; 31; Ezek 16; 23; Mal 2:13-17.
103 Song 8:6-7.
104 Rev 19:7,9; cf. GS 22.
105 Cf. Jn 2:1-11.
106 Cf. Mt 19:8.
107 Mt 19:6.
108 Cf. Mk 8:34; Mt 11:29-30.
109 Cf. Mt 19:11.
110 Eph 5:25-26,31-32; Cf. Gen 2:24.
111 Cf. Eph 5:26-27.
112 Cf. DS 1800; CIC, Can. 1055 § 2.
113 Cf. Lk 14:26; Mk 10:28-31.
114 Cf. Rev 14:4; 1 Cor 7:32; Mt 2:56.
115 Mt 19:12.
116 Cf. Mk 12:25; 1 Cor 7:31.
117 Cf. Mt 19:3-12.
118 Cf. LG 42; PC 12; OT 10.
119 St. John Chrysostom, De virg. 10,1:PG 48,540; Cf. John Paul II, FC 16.
120 Cf. SC 61.
121 Cf. LG 6.
122 Cf. 1 Cor 10:17.
123 FC 67.
124 Cf. CCEO, can. 817.
125 Cf. CCEO, can. 828. 126 Cf. Eph 5:32.
127 CIC, can. 1057 § 1.
128 GS 48 § 1; OCM 45; cf. CIC, can. 1057 § 2.
129 Gen 2:24; cf. Mt 10:8; Eph 5:31.
130 Cf. CIC, can. 1103.
131 Cf. CIC, can. 1057 § 1.
132 Cf. CIC, cann. 1095-1107.
133 Cf. CIC, can. 1071.
134 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1813-1816; CIC, can. 1108.
135 Cf. CIC, can. 1063.
136 GS 49 § 3.
137 Cf. CIC, can. 1124.
138 Cf. CIC, can. 1086.
139 Cf. CIC, can. 1125.
140 1 Cor 7:14.
141 Cf. 1 Cor 7:16.
142 Cf. CIC, can. 1134.
143 Cf. Mk 10:9.
144 GS 48 § 1.
145 GS 48 § 2.
146 Cf. CIC, can. 1141.
147 LG 11 § 2.
148 LG 11 § 2; cf. LG 41.
149 GS 48 § 2.
150 Eph 5:21; cf. Gal 6:2.
151 Tertullian, Ad uxorem. 2,8,6-7:PL 1,1412-1413; cf. FC 13.
152 FC 13.
153 Mt 19:6; cf. Gen 2:24.
154 FC 19.
155 GS 49 § 2.
156 Cf. FC 19.
157 GS 48 § 1.
158 Cf. FC 20.
159 Cf. FC 83; CIC, cann. 1151-1155.
160 Mk 10:11-12.
161 FC 84.
162 GS 48 § 1; 50.
163 GS 50 § 1; cf. Gen 2:18; Mt 19:4; Gen 1:28.
164 Cf. GE 3.
165 Cf. FC 28.
166 Cf. Acts 18:8.
167 Cf. Acts 16:31; Acts 11:14.
168 LG 11; cf. FC 21.
169 LG 11.
170 LG 10.
171 GS 52 § 1.
172 FC 85; cf. Mt 11:28.

Why Marriage Matters

have long chronicled the decline of moral values in America, but I must admit that even I was shocked to read recently that the Centers for Disease Control has estimated that nearly 40 percent of American births in 2007 occurred out of wedlock. Perhaps it's unsurprising when teenagers or members of lower socioeconomic classes fall prey to this phenomenon; but the reality of our high rate of out-of-wedlock births suggests that the problem has spread much wider than previously imagined. It signals the wholesale disintegration of our American family.
Some would question why it matters. What does society care whether children are born to wedded mothers at all? If the parents are together but not married -- or single but wealthy enough to support the child -- then isn't it harmless?
Not at all. There is more to raising children than just food, clothing, and shelter. Parents provide nonmaterial goods that cannot be quantified in dollars and cents, but are just as essential in helping the child become a productive member of society: providing a strong moral foundation and teaching faith, perseverance, and discipline, for example. It's not that one parent is incapable of doing this alone; but in most American households, where someone has to work to bring in an income, the moral education of children requires teamwork if it is to be done correctly.
Of course, two people do not have to be married to be committed to raising their child. But the reality is that the bond of commitment between the parents is strengthened when sanctioned before their wider family and bolstered by the social and economic benefits conferred by marital status. Married couples can more easily combine income to purchase homes, and they enjoy distinct advantages under the tax system for raising their families. Children of married couples are more likely to graduate from college and enjoy a higher degree of success than those raised by single parents.
Moreover, marriage leads to the creation and preservation of intergenerational wealth. Parental legitimacy has historically conferred social and economic benefits on children that even moral perfection could scarcely equal. Shakespeare knew this: In King Lear, Edgar, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, questioned society's judgment of him, maligning the system of marriage and legitimate birth as a cruel joke. "Wherefore should I stand in the plague of custom and allow the curiosity of nations to deprive me [of my inheritance]?" he raged. But the reality is that legitimacy confers a name, and a name becomes a legacy. Legacies, in turn, create nations and empires.
Just ask the children of professional athletes and entertainers born within wedlock and those born outside it. While the law may compel the absent father to pay child support, it cannot force him to become a father. Children born within marriage end up far better off than those born out of fleeting romances.
Social disintegration is one of the symptoms of modernity. For some, the trappings of modern life -- the degrees, the jobs, mortgages, and marital responsibilities -- have failed to confer a real sense of foundation, and they feel adrift in a culture that values only social status. In that light, rejecting social institutions like marriage becomes a badge of "authenticity" -- a way to remain free to choose any option that they might find appealing.
But it is at precisely this point that society begins to fall apart and the true costs of naked individualism -- the "if it feels good, do it" mentality -- become clear. People like Nadya Suleman, the infamous "Octomom," exemplify the effects of this mentality taken to the extreme: She may have made the personal choice to have her 14 children out of wedlock, but it is society that will end up paying the price to supply them with medical care and housing.
The pursuit of radical individuality is based on a vain aspiration to live independently of transcendent moral laws. That people feel this way is not entirely their fault; we live in a society that has failed us in so many ways. But this should not make us dismissive of our own moral responsibilities. True freedom for the individual can only be achieved by living in harmony with a higher order that governs the universe and everything in it -- and that order requires children be afforded the opportunity to grow up in a married household.
By: Armstrong Williams

Preparing for Marriage

You are in a large church basement on the upper east side of Manhattan. Like all church basements, it freelances as a basketball court, a dining hall, a wailing room for various twelve-step programs. This morning, it's marriage preparation. Seventy-five couples who plan to marry in the Catholic Church are here for a day of Pre-Cana. Some arrive with an attitude. Their parents want a big Catholic wedding. It can't happen until they get their Pre-Cana certificate. So, here they are: under duress, as it were.
Devout Catholics in the audience have their own thoughts: What are we about to hear? What will my non-Catholic partner make of it? The anxiety is perfectly justified; more than a few non-Catholics who attend a Pre-Cana program find it so embarrassing that they refuse to have their children brought up Catholic as a result. Finally, there are the lapsed Catholics. The room is full of them -- people who have not thought about religion for two consecutive minutes since grade school. This is the last shot the Church has at them. If someday they are surprised by an impulse to return to the faith, they may first recall that day in the church basement.
The Call to Self-Giving
Nobody was more concerned about these couples than the late Pope John Paul II. As a young priest in Krakow, he set up a family institute and spent hundreds of hours listening to and counseling young couples. One of the fruits of that experience was his 1960 masterpiece about conjugal love, Love and Responsibility, and he repeatedly addressed the theme of love and marriage during his pontificate. For a Pre-Cana speaker, these writings are like a gift from a heaven. For one thing, they avoid pre-Vatican II legalisms that bounce off young people like tennis balls off armor plating. Instead, the pope took the "personalist" approach. Without compromising norms like fidelity and indissolubility, he articulated a Catholic vision of marriage that can resonate even with a post-Christian yuppie sitting captive in the back row.
Unfortunately, John Paul's theology of marriage has yet to be absorbed by many who supervise Catholic marriage preparation. As a result, Pre-Cana programs tend to come in two flavors: traditionalist and antitraditionalist. Traditionalists read the riot act about marriage norms (all perfectly true), but in a tone that violates the injunction that we propose, rather than impose, the truths of the faith. Antitraditionalists ricochet in the other direction, cracking jokes, using psychological jargon, and fudging as many Church teachings as possible. In other words, they pander to what they assume to be the mental habits of the young. Couples often find this sort of presentation the more alarming of the two.
In documents like Familiaris Consortio and Letter to Families, John Paul II offered a third way, a Pre-Cana syllabus that actually works. It avoids both rigorism and psychobabble. It communicates the unchanging norms of marriage, but only in answer to a question that bothers all young people: What will make me truly happy? In attempting an answer, the pope started with a line from the Second Vatican Council, which he probably drafted as Cardinal Wojtyla: "Man cannot fully find himself except through the sincere gift of self." That is the way to real happiness.
Every person is called to a vocation of love. Giving oneself totally to another person responds to a very deep human need. Certain people have the vocation to give themselves directly to God and so live a life of celibacy. For others, their path to self-giving is through marriage.
The Catechism puts it like this: "The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator-God who created man out of love also calls him to love -- the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being."
When you marry, you make a full, unconditional (and therefore irrevocable) gift of yourself to your spouse. Marriage is not just a partnership, a mutual accommodation of two independent egos. It is something much deeper: a communion between two beings who, in the words of Genesis, "become one flesh." Short of death, you can no more become an ex-spouse than you can become the ex-parent of your children.
The indissolubility of marriage is a "hard saying" for the modern mind, which deems Catholic teachings about fidelity insufficiently therapeutic. But an unconditional gift is, by definition, not retractable: It is not a lending, but a giving. What is more, in pronouncing marriage to be indissoluble, Christ recognized a problem at the core of our being. His teaching about divorce is a spur to fallen humanity, since real love and happiness are not achieved by people who give up easily. As one writer puts it, "Those who seek divorce because of the difficulties that marriage involves are simply balking at the difficulties that happiness involves."
A Few Examples
When teaching Pre-Cana, it helps to put an image in the mind of the audience, something concrete to convey the profound unity of marriage. My favorite is from an avant-garde verse play about marriage published in 1960 by an underground playwright -- yes, Karol Wojtyla. The Jeweler's Shop is about three marriages, one of them on the rocks. One afternoon, the wife Anna is walking down the street and notices a jeweler's shop. She stops, looks at her wedding band and thinks, "I don't need this. I can sell it. My husband won't even notice." She enters the shop and hands it to the Jeweler. The Jeweler puts the ring on his scales, but they register nothing. He looks at her and says,
Your husband must be alive --
in which case neither of your rings, taken separately,
Will weigh anything -- only both together will register.
My jeweler's scales
Have this peculiarity
That they weigh not the metal
But man's entire being and fate.
Ashamed, Anna takes the ring back and leaves the shop to reflect on what she is doing. You can unpack many truths from this little drama. For one, most of us truly are weightless until we answer the vocation to make a full gift of self in marriage. My father once told me that I wouldn't grow up until I married, and he was right.
Marriage only makes sense as a vocation. And a vocation is something you work at. Marriage can make a couple very happy, but it cannot make them effortlessly happy. We live in a culture where everyone is driven toward achievement; we can place tremendous demands on ourselves at the office and in our recreations. The question for an engaged couple is: Are you entering your marriage with this same attitude, that you are going to make it work? Emotions alone are not going to do it. Your feelings are going to fluctuate, and at some point, your will -- your ability to make free choices -- steps in and decides the fate of the marriage. Studies have actually shown that a couple's understanding of the words "I do" shapes a marriage for better or worse, more so than shared interests, good communication, or even feelings of genuine love.
Years ago I had a colleague who came from a part of Greece where parents still arranged marriages. Both sets of her grandparents had married this way. I once asked her what those marriages were like. She replied that both had actually been quite happy. When I asked her how that could be, given the lack of choice, she said, "Back then there was no possibility of divorce, so a couple knew they had to make their marriage work." Once a couple takes that attitude, the emotions fall into place quite nicely.
The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset divided the human race into two categories: those who place demands on themselves, and those who don't. This certainly applies to marriage. And one area where every spouse needs to work is communication. Look at any happy marriage and you'll notice not only that the couple is good at communicating, but that they make an effort in this area. Conversely, look at any marriage that is falling apart, and you'll find communication problems; in fact, it's often the case that an unhappily married couple, even before they got married, never communicated very well.
A Few Observations
First, we have to recognize some differences between men and women. Men and women are created beings of equal worth and dignity, but it is the complementary nature of the sexes -- physical and emotional -- that makes marriage so interesting. A good marriage is like the Kreutzer Sonata: sometimes the piano leads, sometimes the violin.
One difference between men and women is that men tend to be more rationalistic -- notice I am not saying rational -- more "objective," more results-oriented. They tend to think that logic can solve every problem. Women, and this is their great strength, are more people-oriented. They have a keener interest in persons and their feelings; they like to communicate. This difference between the sexes is easy to demonstrate: The average adult male uses 13,000 words a day, whereas the average woman uses 24,000.
Gary Smalley, in one of his books about marriage, has a catchy way of illustrating this difference between men and women. A couple on a long car trip pulls into McDonald's. She is perfectly content to sit there, sip coffee, and talk to her husband. She has things on her mind and looks forward to a moment of rapport. He, on the other hand, is thinking about the number of cars he passed that morning that are now passing him. He wants to reach their destination by 7 p.m., whereas she is not overly concerned about ETA. He is thinking schedule, she is thinking people. It's a male/female thing which, if you think about it, occurred between Christ and his mother at the original wedding feast in Cana.
Because of this rationalistic tendency, more often than not men are most comfortable in a logical, structured environment like the office. Family life, especially if there are small children, is anything but rational. So, a husband tends to tune out and put a premium on order and peace. If his wife calls on him to solve a problem, he wants to do it quickly. Husbands, in general, are very fast with logical advice and very slow with sympathy. But sympathy is needed first. She doesn't want your wisdom, wonderful and infallible as it might be, but your understanding.
Men also have their emotional side, but it plays itself out differently in a marriage. There is a bestseller, Men are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. I don't agree with everything in that book, but the author uses an image that is true and arresting: On Mars, where men come from, there are a lot of caves. When a man gets upset about something, he doesn't want to talk about it. He retreats to his cave. The wife senses that something is wrong; in fact, she can easily think that he's mad at her about something. Again, the complementary character of marriage comes out. Here the man can profit from his wife's attraction to words. At least if he talks a little he can let her know that she is not the source of his problem.
Secrets of a Happy Marriage
What are the secrets of a happy marriage? First, ponder St. Thomas Aquinas's definition of love, which has never been improved upon: "To love is to will the good of another." Notice that Aquinas does not mention feelings. If you decide that the good of the person to whom you're married is the most important thing in your life -- more important that your job, your friends, even your children -- then the feelings will take care of themselves, and the children will be cared for in the depth of your love for each other.
Second: Marriage is a continual courtship. I once attended a depressing lecture on marriage by a woman who said that marriage is like an airplane flying from New York to Philadelphia: It uses 80% of its fuel on takeoff. After the honeymoon, she warned, a couple should be prepared to settle into boring, quotidian reality. But marriage does not have to be like that. On your wedding day your courtship should be just beginning, not ending. Husband, give your wife the sense that you are preoccupied with her; let her know that pleasing her is very important to you. Wife, you must do the same. You have to build memories; watching TV together doesn't count. How about some distraction-free time spent together?
Third: Successful spouses listen. When their partners have something to say, they put down the paper, turn off the television, and listen with their eyes, so to speak. There is a constant exchange about small, daily details -- for example, the family finances. There are marriages in which the failure to agree about seemingly small matters can spiral into serious breakdowns. Keeping open the lines of communication will prevent both partners from dwelling on imaginary problems.
Fourth: Good spouses make quality time for one another. I do not believe in quality time with children. I once heard a Wall Street banker make the classic remark, "I only see my children on Saturdays from two until four-thirty, but it's quality time." The problem with this is that the truly extraordinary moments with children, the ones that stay lodged in your memory, are always unscheduled. There is, however, such a thing as quality time between spouses. Especially when the children come, you can get a little overwhelmed. You need to get off alone, if only to the coffee shop around the corner, and talk. Not just about little things, but about larger issues: What goals are we setting for the children? Is my job really worth the time I have to spend away from you?
Fifth: Learn to yield cheerfully in matters of personal preference. It did not occur to me until several years into my marriage that a father can give a bath to a small child and do it cheerfully. Marriage should never be a fifty/fifty proposition. Each spouse must try to make those small daily sacrifices which are a key to family happiness.
Sixth: Be cheerful, period. Even a serious disagreement should not make you lose your cheerfulness. There is far too much talk in our society about feelings. Feelings are important, but they are not the final court of appeal. You can decide to be cheerful. William James, whose insights about these matters will survive longer than Freud's, wrote: "The sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our spontaneous cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully, to look around cheerfully, and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there. If such conduct does not soon make you cheerful, nothing else on that occasion can." Wonderful advice for a couple.
Closing Words
Whenever I speak at Pre-Cana assemblies, I bring up the issue of living together before marriage. Once, during a break in the session, a young woman came up to me and asked in a low, nervous voice: "What about the high divorce rate among couples who live together before marriage?" Well, what about it? Couples who live together prior to marriage have a much higher divorce rate. The longer they live together, the higher the divorce rate. It seems counterintuitive, doesn't it? A friend once said to me that she wouldn't dream of marrying a man unless they had first lived together for three years. Makes perfect sense: Take a test drive before you buy the new model.
But it doesn't work that way. Marriage and living together are different states of being: There is no such thing as a trial marriage. One problem is that when you move in with somebody, you seldom ask yourself any questions, or at least not the questions you should ask about a person with whom you plan to spend the rest of your life: Do I really share this person's values? Do I want my children to have this person's values? It's doubtful that a Pre-Cana speaker will persuade a cohabiting couple to cut it out until the honeymoon; but he should suggest, contrary to what these couples probably suppose, that they actually have more issues to discuss than couples who are not living together.
Marriage counselors are often astounded, when dealing with young couples having difficulties, at the number of issues that were not discussed before the wedding day. The two that cause the most trouble are money and in-laws. A couple should also talk about children, religion, the financial budget, and so forth. These problems are not going to solve themselves automatically after the honeymoon.
Finally, marriages work better if there is a recognition by the couple of their dependence on God. Christ performed his first miracle at a wedding, and in a sense, every marriage needs a miracle. St. Thomas Aquinas said that marriage can be so difficult that it requires special graces from God -- but you must be open to them. This means following God's laws about marriage, including the one that our modern culture finds so perplexing. I save the low divorce statistics among couples who use Natural Family Planning for the sex talk, but it's always worth recalling. Maybe 3% of Catholic couples use NFP. If this were to rise to even 10%, it would change the Church, not to mention the divorce rate.
Couples about to marry are embarking on a great adventure. You ought to be aware that, as John Paul II wrote, "the future of humanity passes through the family." In getting married, you are entering a much larger picture. The health of a society depends on the health of its families, and by working to build a fruitful and happy marriage you are doing more good than you can know.
George Sim Johnston is the author of Did Darwin Get It Right? (Our Sunday Visitor, 1998). This article originally appeared in the May 1998 issue of Crisis Magazine.

Confirmation unites us to Christ

In the Old Testament, the Father sent forth a special anointing of the Holy Spirit on particular people to help them fulfill a special mission. This can be seen in relation to priests, prophets and kings.
Throughout the Old Testament, the Father promised to send forth the Spirit upon the long-awaited redeemer, thus making him the Messiah (anointed one). God the Father fulfilled this promise by sending the Son and anointing him with the promised Spirit.
Jesus, the Messiah, promised to send forth the Spirit upon the people of God. He does so through baptism and then through a special anointing with the Holy Spirit in confirmation. He does this so that we might fulfill a special mission by sharing intimately in his priestly, prophetic and kingly ministry.
What else happens when someone in confirmed? What do the outward signs of anointing with oil, laying on of hands and the bishop or priest saying “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” signify? What are some of the other interior effects of confirmation?
“It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost” (“Catechism of the Catholic Church,” 1302). On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was “…manifested, given, and communicated as a divine person: of his fullness, Christ, the Lord, pours out the Spirit in abundance” (CCC, 731). So, confirmation is a continuance of Pentecost.
On Pentecost the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit, in form of fire, to rest upon those gathered in the upper room. With this anointing of the Holy Spirit, the church is thus definitively established to share in the life and mission of the persons of the Trinity. “The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 737).
Confirmation strengthens, deepens, increases and matures baptismal grace in the very depths of a person’s being and existence. Baptism allows us a share in Trinitarian life. Through baptism we become adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly Father.
Confirmation “roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (CCC 1303, cf. Romans 8:15). It also “unites us more firmly to Christ…” and “it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us” (CCC 1303).
From this we see that the effects of confirmation are very Trinitarian. First, our relationship as sons and daughters of the Father is more deeply rooted in us. Second, our unity with the Son/Messiah is made more firm in us. Third, the Holy Spirit, whose temple we are, increases his gifts in us.
In relation to this we must understand that confirmation “…renders our bond with the Church more perfect” (CCC, 1303). So, confirmation roots us more deeply in our relationship with the persons of the Trinity, but it also renders our bond with the church Christ established more perfect. This means we too share in the life and mission of the church, who is the body of Christ.
From the event of Pentecost we can understand what this means. What did the disciples do upon the reception of the Holy Spirit? They went forth and boldly proclaimed the Gospel, which led people to repentance, to baptism, “…to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). So confirmation, “…gives us (as it did the apostles) a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ more boldly, and never be ashamed of the Cross” (CCC, 1303).
After confirmation we have a duty, out of love for Christ, the church and all of humanity, “to spread and defend the faith by word an action.” The grace of the sacrament does not necessarily make it easy, but it does make it possible.
Many are under the mistaken notion that they should keep the faith to themselves. However, Christ tells us something very different when he says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that is often hostile to Christianity, one that tells us religion should be a purely private affair. The challenge for us is whether we are going to obey Christ or the culture. Do we love Christ, and the men and women we come into contact with everyday, enough to share with them what the second person of the Trinity died to give them and us? Are we willing to imitate Christ in his suffering and death as a result of his proclamation of the Good News? Remember, Christ also faced a culture which was hostile.
During the first few centuries of the church, many holy men and women lived and proclaimed the Gospel in a hostile culture. Many, more than can be numbered, offered their lives so that we might one day know and love Christ. Many died by crucifixion, burning or by being torn apart by beasts in the Roman arenas, for boldly professing their faith and not worshipping the false gods of Roman culture. Are we willing to die for Christ? Are we willing to boldly profess the faith and not worship the false gods of money, sex, power, convenience and comfort?
If we have learned anything from Christ, we must recognize that he taught us that love means sacrifice. We also know that Christ doesn’t command us to do anything without also giving us the help to accomplish what he commands. In this case he provides us with none other than one of the seven sacraments he sacrificed his life to give us.