Last week in our blog post, Catholic Teaching on Marriage, we looked at the state of marriage today and began to look at Catholic teaching on the sacrament of Marriage. This week we will look at marriage from the aspect of being a lifelong covenant, ordered to procreation, and raised to the level of a sacrament by Christ. We will also examine the argument for following the Church’s teaching on marriage.
Marriage is a Lifelong Covenant
Marriage is an unbreakable bond between husband and wife until death separates (cf. Rom 7:2) because it represents Christ’s unbreakable love for His bride, the Church. As Christ died for His bride, so are husbands called to make a total gift of self to their wives, including death if necessary. The husband’s role as head of the wife is that of a servant leader, far from the notion held by the feminist movement that women are enslaved by men in a subservient role.
Marriage is Ordered to Procreation
The martial act is both procreative and unitive; every martial act should be open to the creation of life.
This particular doctrine…is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act. The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called.[i]
Catholic teaching on marriage promotes the virtue of chastity, both before and after marriage. God calls couples to be sexually pure until marriage and exclusive to each other in their marital relations, forgoing all others. Artificial barriers to conception place a restriction on the total gift of self of each spouse to the other. Couples who contracept are literally saying to one other, “I give you my all…except for my fertility.”
Contraception inhibits the unitive function of the martial act, damaging the relationship. Studies have shown that couples that do not use contraception and practice Natural Family Planning have a divorce rate of less than 0.20 percent, experience happier marriages, share a deeper intimacy with their spouses than couples who contracept and are unlikely to have engaged in sex outside of marriage.[ii]
Pope Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae described the negative effects of the contraception mentality on the stability of the family and society.
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.[iii]
Since the 1960s, the promotion of sexual freedom, through the widespread use of contraception, has resulted in the denigration of women as mere objects whose only purpose is the sexual fulfillment of men. Catholic teaching on sexuality and marriage promotes the proper dignity of women as an equal partner that should be protected with care and affection.
Marriage is a Sacrament
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.[iv]
Many today argue that the Catholic view of the sacrament of marriage is an unachievable ideal that no one can possibly fulfill. As a sacrament, God provides the spouses with superabundant grace to live out their vows of chastity, purity and exclusivity. Christ is the source of this grace and only through Him are couples able to take up their crosses daily, to forgive each other and to carry each other’s burdens. The joy of marriage and family life that God provides the couple here on earth is a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven.[v]
The Catholic family shares in the life and mission of the Church. The family is a “church in miniature” (ecclesia domestica),[vi] helping to build up the kingdom of God. The Church builds up the family and the family builds up the Church. Their mission is the same, imitating and reliving the self-giving and sacrificial love that Christ has for the all humanity. Just as the Church gives glory to God in all that she does, so does the family.
Arguments for Following Church Teaching on Marriage
Marriage is not a human institution; it was instituted by God for the good of the couple. God has provided his laws regarding the sacrament of marriage to guide and nurture the couple in their vocation as husband and wife.
Let it be repeated as an immutable and inviolable fundamental doctrine that matrimony was not instituted or restored by man but by God; not by man were the laws made to strengthen and confirm and elevate it but by God, the Author of nature, and by Christ Our Lord by Whom nature was redeemed, and hence these laws cannot be subject to any human decrees or to any contrary pact even of the spouses themselves. This is the doctrine of Holy Scripture; this is the constant tradition of the Universal Church; this the solemn definition of the sacred Council of Trent, which declares and establishes from the words of Holy Writ itself that God is the Author of the perpetual stability of the marriage bond, its unity and its firmness.[vii]
True happiness lies in living in obedience to God’s commands. The breakdown of the family and the ills of society prove that disobedience to natural law concerning human sexuality only leads to broken individuals and despair.
For man cannot attain that true happiness for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature. These laws must be wisely and lovingly observed.[viii]
The Father truly knows best as He is the creator of man, woman and the martial union. Satan, the enemy of marriage and the family, has convinced a majority of modern society that true happiness lies in sexual freedom, multiple partners and every kind of deviant behavior that ignores the natural law engraved upon the human heart.
These enemies of marriage go further, however, when they substitute for that true and solid love, which is the basis of conjugal happiness, a certain vague compatibility of temperament. This they call sympathy and assert that, since it is the only bond by which husband and wife are linked together, when it ceases the marriage is completely dissolved. What else is this than to build a house upon sand? — a house that in the words of Christ would forthwith be shaken and collapse, as soon as it was exposed to the waves of adversity “and the winds blew and they beat upon that house. And it fell: and great was the fall thereof.” On the other hand, the house built upon a rock, that is to say on mutual conjugal chastity and strengthened by a deliberate and constant union of spirit, will not only never fall away but will never be shaken by adversity.[ix]
God is to be honored in the martial relationship as its creator and provider of grace that equips husbands and wives with the means necessary to live out their vows. God’s laws concerning sexuality and marriage are to be obeyed not out of fear of retribution but out of a deep love for the Father and each other. True love will always act for the good of the other; false love only seeks to satisfy oneself and leads to destruction.
Yet, owing to the efforts of the archenemy of mankind, there are persons who, thanklessly casting away so many other blessings of redemption, despise also or utterly ignore the restoration of marriage to its original perfection. It is a reproach to some of the ancients that they showed themselves the enemies of marriage in many ways; but in our own age, much more pernicious is the sin of those who would fain pervert utterly the nature of marriage, perfect though it is, and complete in all its details and parts. The chief reason why they act in this way is because very many, imbued with the maxims of a false philosophy and corrupted in morals, judge nothing so unbearable as submission and obedience; and strive with all their might to bring about that not only individual men, but families, also — indeed, human society itself — may in haughty pride despise the sovereignty of God.[x]
These words aptly describe the state of marriage in our society today yet they were written by Pope Leo XIII in 1880. The Church, in its infinite wisdom inspired by the Holy Spirit, lovingly guides husbands and wives in their vocation of marriage. It behooves us to listen and follow the wisdom of the Church. Woe to those individuals that seek to twist what is holy and sacred in the eyes of God.
Finally, let the spouses themselves, made to the image of the living God and enjoying the authentic dignity of persons, be joined to one another in equal affection, harmony of mind and the work of mutual sanctification. Thus, following Christ who is the principle of life, by the sacrifices and joys of their vocation and through their faithful love, married people can become witnesses of the mystery of love which the Lord revealed to the world by His dying and His rising up to life again.[xi]
Marriage is under attack. Satan, knowing that he has been defeated by the blood of Christ, is seeking to destroy that which is nearest to God’s heart, the family. The Great Deceiver has convinced countless individuals that the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is outdated and only seeks to deny sexual freedom.
The proponents of sexual freedom promise happiness and fulfillment. Is this the case? Jesus told us that prophets would be known by their fruits.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.[xii]
The fruits of sexual freedom are evident. Divorce, cohabitation, single parent families, drug and alcohol abuse among minors, teenage sexual experimentation and abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, violence and lawlessness are rising exponentially. Broken parents and children are left in the wake of the destruction of the family. The only hope for society is to return to the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding the sacrament of marriage. True happiness is only found in obeying God and His commands.
[i] Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae, §12, July 25, 1968; http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html (accessed October 28, 2015)
[ii] Mercedes Arzú Wilson, Divorce Rate Comparison Between Couples Using Natural Family Planning & Artificial Birth Control, March 1-4, 2001; http://www.physiciansforlife.org/content/view/193/36/ (accessed October 28, 2015)
[iii] Humanae Vitae, §17
[iv] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition (Washington, D.C.: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000), 1601.
[v] Ibid., 1641-1642.
[vi] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, §86, November 22, 1981; http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio_en.html (accessed October 29, 2015)
[vii] Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Casti Connubii, §5, December 31, 1930; http://onemoresoul.com/marriage-children/church-teaching/on-christian-marriage-casti-connubii-encyclical-letter-of-pope-pius-xi.html#more-154 (accessed October 29, 2015)
[viii] Humanae Vitae, §31
[ix] Casti Connubii, §78
[x] Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Arcanum, §16, February 10, 1880; http://onemoresoul.com/marriage-children/church-teaching/on-christian-marriage-arcanum-encyclical-letter-of-pope-leo-xiii.html#more-156 (accessed October 29, 2015)
[xi] Gaudium et Spes, §52
[xii] Mt 7:15-20