Tag Archives: sacrament

Marriage as God intended it – sacramental, faithful and fruitful

The institution of marriage is under attack today, perhaps more than at any other time in history.

In a 2015 address, Pope Francis said the family “as God wants it, composed of a man and a woman for the good of the spouses and also the generation and education of children, is deformed by powerful contrary projects supported by ideological colonization.”

The pope has applied the term “ideological colonization” to a number of social evils, but it always refers to the conflict between troubling ideologies and the Christian ideal. When it comes to marriage, the ideal is rooted in God’s design from the beginning of creation, Christ’s establishment of marriage as a sacrament, and the Church’s long tradition of the marriage covenant.

Marriage in scripture

Although detractors may claim marriage is a strictly human institution, it is of divine origin. The Book of Genesis tells us that God created man and woman for one another: A man “leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (2:24). Genesis also affirms marriage as a complementary relationship of equals: Adam called Eve “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (2:23). Together they are called to participate in God’s life-giving power and exercise stewardship over the created world: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28).

Marriage is therefore the “default” or natural human vocation for man and woman; when a person has a vocation to celibacy, he or she is “called” away from the marriage vocation.

Following the First Couple’s commission of Original Sin, however, marriage suffered from the disorders it introduced; man and woman could not live according to God’s plan for marriage without divine assistance. That help arrived when Christ elevated marriage to a sacrament, providing supernatural grace for husbands and wives to live according to the ideal.

Christ performed His first public miracle at the wedding feast in Cana, which the Church sees as His affirmation of the goodness of marriage and a sign of His efficacious presence in marriage. Whereas the law of Moses had allowed divorce in some instances, Christ would later explain that marriage “from the beginning of creation” was meant to be a lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman. Citing the passage from Genesis, He said of the relationship between husband and wife: “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has brought together, let no man put asunder” (Mk 10:9). To divorce and marry another, He continued, constitutes adultery.

Nuptial imagery had been used in the Old Testament to convey the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Christ in His parables sometimes portrayed Himself as a bridegroom as though preparing for his bride. In the Book of Revelation, the heavenly banquet is described as the wedding feast of the Lamb, who is Christ, united with His bride, the Church.

St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament draws upon all these scriptural images to reflect upon the sacramental character of marriage. Not only are man and woman individually created in the image of God, but in marital union they constitute “a great mystery.” They are to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). The husband is to love his wife “as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her,” even as He loves His own body. This reciprocal self-sacrifice and self-giving reflects the relationship between Christ and His Church. The Second Vatican Council relates sacramental marriage to this covenant relationship.

Sacramental theology took centuries to develop, but Christian marriage was recognized as something sacred by leading Church fathers from a very early date. In the early second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote that “it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God.” In the early fifth century, St. Augustine said of marriage that “now this is threefold, faithfulness, offspring, and the Sacrament” — affirming matrimony as exclusive, fruitful, and lifelong with the help of God’s grace. Popes and councils over the centuries defended marriage as a sacrament against heretical claims to the contrary.

St. Thomas Aquinas drew greatly from patristic and later Church sources to systematize our understanding of marriage and sacramental theology. His work was heavily influential during the sixteenth-century Council of Trent – which set the groundwork for Catholic teaching on marriage today.

Marriage and the Catechism

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, summarizing the Council of Trent and the development of doctrine that preceded it, states: “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” (CCC 1661). It further states: “Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage” (CCC 1664).

Catholic marriage law requires that for a sacramental union to exist both bride and groom must be free to marry, give full and knowing consent, and intend to enter a faithful, lifelong, and fruitful commitment of love and mutual self-giving. In the Latin Rite, the bride and groom themselves are the ministers of the sacrament, with the priest or deacon as its official witness.

Children are the “supreme gift of marriage,” says the Catechism (1652). The family is considered “the domestic church” because it is through their parents – as they’ve promised in their sacramental marriage vows – that children are educated in the faith and its practice (cf. CCC 1655-1658). It also is “a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit” (CCC 2205).

Sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage because it is a sign of the total self-giving of the marriage covenant. It properly has two essential dimensions: It is unitive, because as an expression of selfless love it strengthens the marital union for the good of the spouses; and it is procreative in that the sexual act must be open to the creation of new life (CCC 1643).

Modern challenges

Today there are mounting challenges to the true meaning of marriage:

• Divorce and remarriage (without benefit of Church annulment) go against the indissolubility of marriage.

• Same-sex “marriage” and polygamy run counter to marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman.

• The practice of cohabitation, like all premarital and extramarital sexual activity, fails to honor and obey the Church’s sacramental covenant of Holy Matrimony as binding, permanent, procreative and unitive under God.

• Gender theory – the idea that a person may subjectively identify as a gender that differs from his or her biological sex – is a “great enemy of marriage today,” remarked Pope Francis in 2016.

• Illicit forms of contraception and elective sterilization deny the procreative purpose and potential of married love.

• Self-absorption and materialism mitigate against the ideal of mutual self-giving.

• Fear of commitment and radical feminism can create distorted perspectives on the meaning of marriage and male/female roles.

The Catholic response

What should Catholic men and women do in the face of such challenges? Even as we seek to restore the dignity of marriage and family through educational and legislative means, our most effective response is the faithful witness of Catholics living in the world: those exemplifying Catholic living as put forth by the traditional teachings of the Church.

“People are hungry for the truth; and they’ll choose it, if it’s presented clearly and with conviction,” wrote Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., ahead of the 2015 World Meeting of Families.

“Therein lies the need for every Christian marriage to be engaged in preaching by example. A husband and wife who model a love for Jesus Christ within their family — who pray and worship together with their children and read the Scriptures — become a beacon for other couples. … Catholic families have a key role in God’s healing of a broken world.”

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

What God has joined together…

Marriage has its moments of joy, love and happiness, and certainly its crosses. Human weakness, tragedy, and everyday stresses of work, finances, and raising children can strain any marriage. As St. Paul wrote in the first century, where sin is present, grace abounds even more.

Several Legatus couples have learned that lesson firsthand, and see that God has always been there for them, even during their darkest, most challenging times. Their stories underscore Paul’s message
to the Corinthians that “love never dies.”

Ripple effect of unified rediscovery

Mark and Linda Pierce, Cleveland Chapter

Looking back on their early years, Linda Pierce says she and husband Mark had a “fine marriage and a good family.” But it was like a “rudderless ship” with no direction.

“We didn’t have that strong father in the same faith who could guide us,” she said.

Mark, 57, had grown up as son of Methodist and Baptist parents who only took the family to church on Easter, and admits he didn’t have a faith life.

When he and Linda, 56, married 38 years ago, Mark agreed to let Linda raise their children Catholic. He would accompany the family to Sunday Mass and sit in the pews with his arms folded.

“I would be thinking about Catholics going to hell for worshiping statues,” said Mark, who eventually became part of the parish community in volunteering for fish fries and delivering meals.

Seven years into marriage, Mark — after being asked to be a godfather — felt prompted to join his wife’s faith and “unify” the family. Linda sponsored him in RCIA, and together they learned much more about Catholicism.

Mark’s RCIA experience motivated him to read Catholic books, attend Bible studies, and immerse himself further in the faith. His deepening Catholic outlook began to change him on all fronts.

“Our marriage transformed because I had not been treating my wife properly according to God’s laws,” said Mark. He later became more of a servant at home rather than trying to get his own way.

He also changed his business approach from a secular to a faith-based model. As a business and leadership coach, his leadership-development approach is now based on five pillars: spiritual, emotional, mental, physical and financial health.

But perhaps the biggest testimony to Mark and Linda’s transformation is their two youngest adult children are practicing Catholics with faithcentered lives. The two oldest children who grew up before Mark’s conversion are not churchgoers, though they’re impressed by what their father has become.

“They tell me, ‘You’re such a different dad,’” said Mark, who with Linda is involved in a diocesan marriage preparation ministry, as well as enrichment retreats for married couples.

Said Mark, “It’s given me a greater sense of purpose.”

Grappling with powers and principalities

Troy and Christy King, Orlando Chapter

When their 8-month-old son Leo died last year from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Christy King says God let her see the devil using that tragedy to spiritually shipwreck her family.

“It really ticked me off,” said Christy, 47, who has been married to Troy, 48, a pediatric dentist, for 20 years.

Christy said the family decided to fight back.

“We really stepped up,” she said. “We were already praying together as a family, but much more so now — a lot more family rosaries, and with refocus and redirection. Troy and I began uniting particular sufferings with Christ’s suffering on the cross, which gives them so much power.”

The King family has been through this before. Seven years ago, they’d lost another young son, Dominic, in another apparent case of SIDS.

“We endured the worst thing ever, then we had to do it again,” said Christy, saying she doesn’t know how people can weather a terrible setback without God in their lives.

“With tragedies you either come through stronger, or they destroy your family. That was never an option,” said Christy, who met Troy at a gym. They dated for 10 years before marrying 20 years ago.

The couple has had 18 children, including the two who died in infancy. The older siblings have handled those losses differently, in their own way – some choosing to go to school and lacrosse practice rather than stay home; another took bike rides in his sadness over Leo.

One daughter, who’s now Leo’s godmother, told Christy she is thankful for having a special connection to a young saint in heaven. For Christmas, the family had stockings for the deceased boys, and the children talked about how much Leo would have enjoyed the season. And though the kids miss Leo and Dominic greatly, they’re hopeful to be with them again.

“Some suffering is not always the worst thing,” Christy said.

Vows renewed in forgiveness

Pete and Mimi Peters, Mobile Chapter

Mimi says she wouldn’t wish what happened to her on her worst enemy.

“But my faith deepened because I had to lean so hard on the Lord,” Mimi said.

About 11 years into their marriage in 1991, Pete had an affair and decided he no longer wanted to be married.

“I believed the lie that I could be a better dad if I was with this other person,” Pete said.

The couple’s two children were 2 and 4 years old when they divorced the following year. For the next several years, Mimi — who tried to talk Pete out of divorcing – reordered her life and raised the children. She allowed Pete to remain part of their kids’ lives, and said she learned a lot about herself and her faith.

“I had to look at myself and see how I could change,” Mimi said.

“Mimi always put the best interests of the kids first by allowing me to be a big part of their lives. She showed me what marriage was supposed to be about. It’s a commitment — not about how you feel,” Pete said.

With “a lot of prayer” and the grace of the Holy Spirit, Pete began to realize in the late 1990s he’d made an awful mistake. He was determined to prove to Mimi his sincerity about bringing their family back together.

Mimi and Pete sought counsel from their Christlike pastor.The first time Pete asked to reconcile, Mimi didn’t believe he was ready. In 1998 after he attended a silent retreat, Mimi said Pete apologized and vowed to spend his life making it up to her.

“I knew I’d married a good man, and that he was going to come back around,” Mimi said.

Pete said the couple told their children they were going to reconcile on their daughter’s 13th birthday. Pete said their daughter had included reconciliation in her birthday wish list.

Not long after, the couple renewed their marriage vows in a private Mass followed by a celebration at Mimi’s horse farm, Silver Lining Farm.

“There were so many people who were happy for us because they had seen a miracle,” Pete said.

Today, Pete, 64, and Mimi, 63, counsel other married couples going through rough times. Both their children are devout Catholics married to Catholic spouses. After recently spending the holidays with their children, Pete said it was another reminder that nothing in life would satisfy without his wife and kids.

“I’m not finished learning,” he said. “I now know that I had a hole in my heart and God wasn’t going to fill it until I got where I needed to be with my family.”

Launching a business to reclaim family

Jay and Lucinda Bolding, Omaha Chapter

Friends thought Jay Bolding was having a midlife crisis when he left corporate America in 2006 to start his own business.

But for Bolding, CEO and president of Bold Office Solutions in Omaha, the opportunity to start a company and have his wife, Lucinda, as business partner offered him an opportunity to “reclaim” their relationship.

“For so long, work overshadowed all else, and I wanted to create a family business that would allow us time together,” Jay said. “I knew that by having her with me, she’d add a spiritual touch not only to our culture, but keep me grounded in seeing all we have is a gift from God.”

Lucinda said she was surprised when Jay wanted her involved in the business. Jay said she has helped him to recognize that he needs to pray every day for wisdom, understanding, guidance, and to trust that God has a plan for them, their family and the company.

“As we look back, it certainly was a challenge for us, but we had a strong marriage before and we are stronger in many ways now,” Jay said.

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.


Why marry in the church?

Today, only 25 percent of those identifying as “Catholic” marry sacramentally in the Catholic Church. And within that segment, many don’t attend Mass, catechize their own children, or embrace spiritual order. Other adult Catholics who were raised in the faith, even married in the Church, concede to their kids skipping the sacrament of Holy Matrimony altogether in favor of indulgent alternatives. Education, comfort and opportunity have brought society a long way. But to where?

Christine Valentine-Owsik

The reason for sheltering marriage under the protective wing of Christ has been largely forgotten. Today, the divorce rate among Catholics is indistinguishable from society at large.

Except in a little nondescript town near Croatia – where there are no marriage breakups. A priest recently relayed their story in a sermon.

“The Cross of Christ has a special place in that town,” he said. “When a Catholic couple there stands at the altar to be married, the priest tells them ‘you have found your cross.’” The couple brings a special crucifix to the ceremony, the priest blesses it, and they keep both their hands upon it. They promise to be faithful to God and the precepts of the Church. They conclude by kissing the cross – not each other. Bringing the same crucifix back to their home, they give it a place of honor from that day on, to remember to go before Jesus for help with any problem.

Catholics have historically approached the sacrament of Holy Matrimony in earnest, vowed to embrace God’s will for their life and its direction, accept children willingly, and persevere through good times and bad. They couldn’t know all that might lie ahead, but they committed and trusted in God’s fortification.

He had good reason to create the First Couple in complementarity – male and female – and to validate their purpose from the beginning. “… male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…’” (Gen 1: 27-28). At the wedding feast of Cana, the bride and groom invited Christ and His mother as honored witnesses – and were helped immediately – even miraculously – in their need before thinking to ask their esteemed Guest for it (John 2: 1-12).

This circles back to why marrying in the Church makes an interminable difference.

If man’s purpose is to align with God, bring others to Him, and live happily with Him in eternity, God will certainly assist spouses along their journey if He’s invited. Numerous studies over recent decades have shown that among the happiest and least-stressed of people are those who pray regularly and practice their Christian faith.

In Catholic faith-practice, Holy Matrimony is vital for a reason. Christ anticipates spouses’ need for His special grace and intervention – for themselves, and in raising their children. Through sacramental marriage, He blesses them. And when each remains faithful to Him, He channels what is needed, in good times and in bad, spiritually and temporally.

The Lord’s is the most important wedding invitation, and His gift is beyond compare.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.