Now, most of us know the solutions to this difficulty since we have seen very healthy marriages and thus know what they look like. I think of my own parents, who have been married for 58 years. They are not perfect. However, they do exhibit that fidelity, commitment and love which are the hallmarks of a good marriage.
Marriage is a communion of persons wherein new life is the fruit of love. The two purposes of marriage are the unitive (love of the couple) and procreative (blessings of children). Sexual expression is to be the deepest manifestation of these two purposes. Unfortunately, for the past 50 years, there has been growing not only a division between these two, but a chasm. It began with seeking to have marital relations without having children. Soon, however, sexual relations became completely separated from both love and children.
How do we get out of this mess? I would suggest five things.
First of all, we, married and single, need to know better who we are as created by God. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is vital to that process. Fundamentally, this means that we see ourselves as created in the image of the loving Trinity, where we really become human only in the total gift of ourselves, imitating the gift of Christ to us. The Trinity and the cross must be the center of every Christian’s life. This will give meaning to marriage, as well as to religious and priestly vocations.
Second, we need to counter the contraceptive mentality of our society, which has helped to create this gap between sexual activity, and love and children. The best way to do this is to promote Natural Family Planning. We know that commitment and companionship, based on hard work and dedication, are the solid bedrocks of a successful marriage. NFP supports this completely, and clearly invites into the marriage that one partner who is most needed: God. NFP is simple, satisfying and effective; and it engages the couple more completely in the family planning process. NFP does not change our bodily nature nor our bodily relationship; rather, it respects what is God-given.
Third, we need to recognize that marriage is good for us. 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.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1609) Marriage also can teach us the equality of men and women and their clear differences and complementarity by working toward a loving unity.
Fourth, we need to recall that marriage is good for children. Children in intact families are more likely to be successful and less likely to experience a myriad of evils that surround us. The roles of mother and father and their healthy interactions are important for the development of boys and girls and show them the beauty of faithful and eternal love. This is the best gift that a husband and wife can give to their children.
Finally, we need to pray and to celebrate the sacraments. Praying as a family, and praying as a couple are vital. Recourse to reconciliation and the Eucharist are essential for ourselves and for assisting our spouse and our family on their journey to heaven. Jesus commanded us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Not doing so would mean that we would have no life in us. How can we share life, our life or any life, with our spouse or children if we do not have that life within us.
Marriage is essential for our society, for our church, and mostly for our salvation. Let us work and pray for the building of this great sacrament of service.
– Bishop Earl A. Boyea is the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Lansing.