Sacramental Marriage

Catholics believe that marriage is a sacrament, right up there with baptism and the Holy Eucharist.  We believe that God loves marriage so much that He imagines marriage as the intimate, deep and abiding love relationship that He longs to share with each one of us.  He describes our life with Him in heaven as “the marriage feast of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:7).  In our lives, there is no other relationship which comes as close to our union with Christ as our relationship with our spouse.  In marriage, two people become one flesh, and participate with the Lord in the creation of new life.  Of all the sacraments, marriage is the only one which has existed since the Garden of Eden.  Jesus had strong words about marriage when He was asked about it.  Over the centuries Jewish practice had allowed marriage to devolve into little more than a civil contract which could easily be broken.  But Jesus revealed the sacramental nature of marriage when He taught His disciples that marriage is between one man and one woman and that their union can never be dissolved through divorce (Mark 10:6-12, Luke 16:18).  Jesus condemned remarriage after divorce as an adulterous act.
This was a hard teaching for the Jews who heard Jesus’ words and it is a hard teaching for us today.  It’s hard for us to hear because we’ve forgotten what marriage means as a vocation and path to holiness.  We meet someone, fall in love and get married.  Often we marry outside the Church.  Often we marry hastily, without truly making a sacramental and lifelong commitment to our spouse.  When problems arise or the flush of the honeymoon fades, we react by thinking of our lives in a different way, in a single way.  We may have an affair.  We may live a life that is separate from our spouse in many ways and before long, one of us leaves.  In divorce, God’s dream for our lives as a union of love and sacrifice, of giving ourselves to someone else who desires the very best for us, is lost.  Today we know that half of all marriages end in divorce.  Sadly, even though Catholics uphold Jesus’ teaching about the permanence of marriage, half our Catholic marriages also end in divorce.  This must break God’s heart.  All Christians are called to remember Jesus’ words about divorce and to cherish marriage as a gift from God, created to draw us closer to Him.  This is a daunting mission for us in a culture which no longer values God’s vision and plan for marriage.  Fewer and fewer people are choosing to be married, preferring instead to live together.  In a few years, more children in America will be born to unwed mothers than into a home where their parents are married.  Fewer and fewer children grow up with their father living in the house with them.  Single mothers are much more likely to raise their children in poverty, and poverty brings with it a multitude of problems which we all know too well.  The truth is that culture and society will never save marriage because neither culture nor society values it.  It’s only God Who wants the very best for us and it’s only through Him that marriage can be saved.
The Eucharist must be the center of our lives as Catholics.  Only Christ can transform us into the partner our spouse needs and deserves.  We have to pray together with our spouse every day because a sacramental marriage always involves three persons:  the husband, the wife, and the Lord.  We need to spend time together reading God’s word.  In the Gospels, we hear Jesus’ plan for our lives and our salvation.  We learn what it means to be His disciple and follow Him.  We need to attend Mass together every Sunday as a family.  Sharing in the public worship of God with our faith family strengthens and binds us around the table of the Lord.  We can face the trials of life when our faith roots are strong.  And we need to recognize and minimize all those things and people in our lives that detract from our marriage.  Whether it’s too much time at work, too much alcohol, or too little honest communication, we have to b committed to our marriage and our family, first and foremost.  We have to believe, as Jesus does, that our marriage is created in God’s grace and for His great purpose in our lives.

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