Guest contributor: Ed Trego
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24)
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1)
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:5-6)
“My dear friends, you have come together in this church so that the Lord may seal and strengthen your love in the presence of the Church’s minister and this community.” (Catholic Rite of Marriage)
Of the many vocations of the Church, marriage is by far the most common. Unfortunately, it seems many people don’t look at marriage as a vocation these days. It is rare to see a priest abandon his vocation; Deacons don’t usually resign; Sisters and Brothers rarely call it quits. But marriage has a failure rate near 50%. Catholic marriages, a sacramental covenant of God, suffers a divorce rate just over 21%.
If God cries, I think he must be weeping over what has been done to the sacrament of marriage. Marriage is under attack in today’s society. If you doubt that fact, simply look at the divorce rate, the out-of-wedlock birth rate, the number of people who choose to live together without benefit of marriage, the push to recognize homosexual marriage and the general degradation of human sexuality exhibited virtually everywhere you look.
God created marriage and endowed it with certain characteristics which are necessary to the continued well-being of the human race. Marriage is intended to be the building block of a successful society. It provides a basis for family life and allows for the procreation of children in a safe, nurturing environment. Any society that chooses to disregard the sanctity of a covenantal marriage cannot long survive. Without the loving and giving environment of marriage as intended by God, society risks deterioration into an amoral, selfish environment which cannot long sustain itself.
Scripture, in both the Old and New Testament is filled with references to marriage and its proper use. Even after the fall of man brought about by original sin, the relationship between Adam and Eve remained permanent and fruitful. As a result of their sin, childbirth became painful for the woman, but the joy of motherhood overcame the pain of childbirth and the couple continued in God’s plan for procreation through the marital relationship.
God instructed Noah and his sons to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”. Marriage and the resulting progeny are to fill the earth. A sacramental marriage is intended to be fruitful, producing children. By its very nature marriage and married love is intended for, in part, for the procreation and education of children and it is in them that it finds its true purpose and glory. To reject this purpose of marriage is to reject the original intent of marriage.
Efforts to redefine marriage as any relationship between any two people as well as the open acceptance of non-marital relationships has had a negative impact on marriage and the civilizing effect it produces in society. The current impetus to consider same sex relationships on an equal basis with marriage is just one more effort by the secular society in which we live to further dismiss and disregard the true meaning of a marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman. Under no other circumstances can a sacramental marriage exist.
However, same sex relationships are not the only, or even the biggest, threat to marriage in our society. A general disregard for the sanctity of the marital relationship throughout society is by far a greater threat to marriage than any one specific action. Indiscriminate sex and living in a sexual relationship with another is not the equivalent of living within the bond of a sacramental marriage regardless of the circumstances. Without the vows and the commitment of marriage, the relationship is sinful at best and seriously disordered and even dangerous at worst. Relationships of this type are frequently associated with violence. These non-marital relationships of all kinds present a serious abuse problem for both the man and woman involved. Children are especially at risk in these relationships. Hardly a week goes by that there isn’t a report of children being physically or sexually assaulted by a Mother’s live-in boyfriend, in many cases resulting in the death of the children. A person who is not willing to enter into a permanent relationship is not worthy of the trust necessary to allow access to innocent children.
The ease and frequency of divorce has also undermined the sanctity of marriage. Some are now even changing the wedding vows to “as long as we both shall love” rather than “as long as we both shall live”. There is a move to redefine marriage as a contract with an expiration date. If either of the partners chooses not to renew it, the contract expires and the marriage is defunct.
When is the last time you saw a series on television that portrayed a healthy marital relationship? Most don’t even include marriage, although there are always numerous references and depictions of sex. If a marriage is portrayed, it’s usually in tatters or is a caricature of a true sacramental marriage. If a character in the series is serious about marriage or morality they are normally portrayed as the “weird” one. The rest of the cast make fun and try any means possible to convert the person to their own secular, anything goes attitude toward sex and marriage. Are you old enough to remember the television shows where marriage was the norm and sex was not in your face from the opening to the closing scene”
Marriage, as it is intended, is more than a relationship between a man and a woman. The marriage vows are taken before God and witnesses for a reason. There are actually three partners to a marriage; a husband, a wife, and God. If the couple will keep in mind the third party to their covenant, they will always have an arbiter for disagreements. Through prayer and love of God and each other they will have a position of strength from which to build and maintain their commitment. If they honor God as part of their marriage, they should also honor each other as members of a holy covenant. If they exclude God from their relationship, they will lose a powerful ally in their married life.
The New Testament, through the teachings of Christ, re-emphasizes the sanctity of marriage. One of the first public appearances of Jesus was at the wedding in Cana. His presence and his miracle of turning water to wine speak to the importance of marriage in God’s eyes. He taught that marriage is permanent and should not be dissolved. “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 1:9) Matthew records the questioning of the Pharisees concerning marriage and divorce. When asked if it was lawful to divorce, Jesus replied, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning 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’? So they are no longer two, but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Matthew 1:4-6)
When the Pharisees pressed him about the laws Moses had given concerning divorce, Jesus said “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8) Throughout both the Old and New Testaments there is consistent teaching of the permanence and sanctity of marriage.
If our society is to survive and continue to prosper we must recapture the glory, faithfulness and sanctity of a truly sacramental marriage. We cannot continue to disregard the wishes of God and expect to also continue to receive his blessings. The near total disregard of proper marriage in favor of the many distorted varieties of relationships is condemning us to failure as a people of God. For the sake of our society, our children and our future, we must turn to God and relearn His definition of marriage and make that the standard by which we live. Any other course is a path to the continued degradation of our society and culture. Cultures from the Greeks to the Romans and others throughout history discovered that a society based on humanism and the rejection of God’s will and purpose for man cannot long survive. When God is eliminated from the culture, the destruction of the society is not far behind.