Love and Life in the Divine Plan
What is marriage, really? This week, the bishops of the United States voted to approve the release of their new pastoral letter on marriage called “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.” This message from the bishops is so important today because of all the challenges and or threats to the institution of marriage. In their own words, “Our pastoral letter is an invitation to discover, or perhaps rediscover, the blessing given when God first established marriage as a natural institution and when Christ restored and elevated it as a sacramental sign of salvation.” After all, “God himself is the author of marriage.” Not us.
Here’s the gist of what the Church believes marriage to be, as authored by God and explained by our bishops.
· It is an institution created by God
· It is an indissoluble bond
· It is established by mutual consent
· It is a “lifelong partnership… of mutual and exclusive fidelity”
· It is an exclusive partnership between one man and one woman, who are complementary in their two distinct ways of being human
· It is a “unique communion of persons” through the mutual self-giving of conjugal love
· It is meant to image and point to Christ’s love for the Church
· It is ordered towards two equally important ends: the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children
One of my favorite quotes from the letter is this: “The love that is as strong as death is the love that prays and praises, caught up into divine love.” The idea that love can be “as strong as death” is an intense concept. This sentence says that love is this strong when it “prays and praises,” placing love and service of God at the forefront of married love. In my last entry, I cited Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s words: “Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction.” If that looking in the same direction means looking towards the cross of Christ, then married love can be “as strong as death,” caught up in the divine love which is itself stronger than death. Such a beautiful thought!
The bishops then go on to talk about several “fundamental challenges to the nature and purposes of marriage” today, which include: contraception, same-sex unions (by the way, way to go people of Maine!), divorce, and cohabitation.
All of these challenges can be seen as stemming from original sin, which harmed the original communion intended for marriage; but Jesus restored the institution by raising it to the dignity of a sacrament. Because I just can’t say it any better, I quote a paragraph from the bishops about this:
“In restoring to marriage its original meaning and beauty, Jesus proclaims what the Creator meant marriage to be ‘in the beginning.’ He does so because marriage will be made into the visible embodiment of his love for the Church. In his espousal of the Church as his Bride, he fulfills and elevates marriage. He reveals his own love’to the end’ (Jn 13:1) as the purest and deepest love, the perfection of all love. In doing this he reveals the deepest meaning of all marital love: self-giving love modeled on God’s inner life and love.”
In marriage, Daniel and I are called to give ourselves to each other as fully as Christ gave himself to the Church. That’s a pretty tall order. If every married couple and every single or engaged person discerning marriage were to read this letter and make this a goal in their own marriages, that would be pretty amazing! I’m reminded of Mahatma Gandhi’s suggestion (here I go with another quote) to “be the change you want to see in the world.”
Daniel and I can work towards loving as Christ loves through self-gift every day, even when it isn’t easy, and thus be the change that we (and the bishops) want to see in the world.