The institution of marriage
By Sean Martin
The Catholic Church in United States celebrates National Marriage Week the week of February 7-14, 2012. Marriage and family life are one of the recent pastoral initiatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The fruit of the bishop’s labor is the development of a document called Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan and the launching of the websites foryourmarriage.org and www.marriageuniqueforareason.org.
God is the author and designer marriage. He instituted marriage as an intimate partnership between one man and one woman, a sacred covenant that brings about mutual life-giving consent where the spouses mutually accept each other as lifetime companions. It is a sacred family bond between husband, wife, and God Himself, for the good of the couple and their children that come about through their mutual life-giving love.
God instituted marriage for the purpose of continuing the human race for the benefit of both Heaven and Earth. It is ordered through conjugal love for the “the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1601). Children are the ultimate blessing in marriage, not a curse! They are the fruit of a married couple’s love. Conjugal love unites the couple into one flesh. Their intimate union with each other helps them perform the tasks assigned to them. Through the marital union the couple grows in holiness and perfection. The mutual gift of themselves to the other witnesses to their fidelity and benefits the marriage and family.
Christ blessed the institution of marriage and family. Marital love flows from the Divine love, and is a model of the intimate union between Jesus Christ and the Church. God the Father made Himself known to the Israelites through a covenant which shared His love and fidelity. God the Son, the spouse of the Church, is made present in the covenantal Sacrament of marriage. Jesus Christ is the source of the love and fidelity of spouses. Married love is authenticated when it is unified with Divine love and is modeled after Christ’s love for the Church. Jesus gave himself up for the Church by dying on the cross. Spousal love that imitates Christ’s love leads the couple to the perfection of charity and holiness. Marriage has been elevated to a Sacrament in order that, the marriage partners are made worthy to receive the graces necessary to fulfill one’s duties in life, including obligations toward the marriage and family. The Holy Spirit guides the couple to practice a life of virtue culminating in further glorification of God.
True love between husband and wife is manifested in many ways. Conjugal love is directed from one person to another for the good of another, it expresses body and mind with dignity, and it is a distinct love only shown in marriage. God works through this love to bring about healing and the perfection of graces and virtues. Marital love is a free and mutual gift of oneself that pervades the whole of one’s life. It enhances the married spouses’ ability to love and to be rooted in the practice of loving. This love grows deeper and deeper when it is generous, and ultimately surpasses lustful and selfish inclinations. The marital actions of intimate chaste union are good and admirable, and promote mutual self giving to enrich each spouse. When rooted in the faithfulness of Christ’s love, the love of the couple remains true in good and bad times and will never be profaned by adultery and divorce. When rooted in Christ the unity of marriage will emanate from the dignity of each marriage partner.
The execution of the duties embedded in a Christian marriage is dependent on the reliance of the virtues. The couple ought to pray and sacrifice together. When Christian couples witness to their fidelity and love and make manifest all their familial duties, society will have no choice but to elevate the institution of marriage. Educating society on the sacredness of the marital institution begins a platform in educating the youth. The youth ought to be instructed at a young age in the sacredness and dignity of married love, beginning with the self-mastery virtue of chastity.
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