What God Has Joined: A Catholic Teaching on Marriage
by Bishop Kevin Vann
What God Has Joined: A Catholic Teaching on Marriage is one of the publisher’s series of books conveying teaching by bishops and cardinals. Author Bishop Kevin Vann, ordinary for the Diocese of Forth Worth, Texas, uses a question-and-answer format.
Bishop Vann first covers basics about the Sacrament of Marriage. He explains what makes marriage a sacrament, the purposes of marriage, why the Church teaches that marriage is life-long, and why it is limited to the union of a man and a woman. He responds to questions about why a Catholic must marry within the Church and names the essential elements for a valid sacramental marriage.
An average layperson is unlikely to ask, “Why is Matrimony called a ‘sacrament in service of communion’?” Yet Bishop Vann’s elucidation of how this sacrament serves the People of God is informative. He describes how the family, the “domestic church,” contributes to the mission of the larger Church and points out that “The very health of the Church and her communion is dependent upon the spiritual health and integrity of the Christian family” (17). He links the shortage of priestly and religious vocations to the marriage vocation and rightly claims that the latter is critical to the life of the Church.
In Part Two of What God Has Joined, Bishop Vann addresses sexual morality. Here are the usual questions about Church teaching on extramarital sex, fidelity, contraception, and Natural Family Planning. The author also provides a positive response to the question “Why does the Church seem so down on sex?”
“Living the Sacrament of Marriage” comprises the third part of the book. Yes, married persons are called to holiness. How do they achieve sanctity? “(B)y their daily giving of self” (39). I wish the author had given a few examples other than prayer and the sacraments. Lay people need to hear that God recognizes the holiness of sacrifices they make in their everyday lives and that they share in the Paschal Mystery through family life. Indeed, marriage is their path to Calvary and to God.
The author’s response to a question about how to deal with marital conflict also disappointed me. He starts well by encouraging couples to employ love, prayer, and communication. However, his explanation of how to resolve conflict seems inadequate even allowing for a small book’s necessary brevity. Naming capitulation, compromise, and coexistence as the “major methods” of conflict resolution relies more on alliteration than the social sciences. Instead, a couple could learn and practice a proven method to work out disagreements (e.g., the Speaker-Listener technique developed by Scott Stanley and colleagues based on research at the University of Denver). Structured dialogue decreases conflict and helps the spouses hear one another. It can lead to mutual decision-making wherein both parties work together. Capitulation and compromise, on the other hand, can breed resentment, and coexistence is not an ordinary solution.
“Difficult Questions Concerning Marriage” will draw some persons quickly to the fourth part of the book. Bishop Vann explains the meaning of annulment, requirements for obtaining one, and the differences between a declaration of nullity, dissolution of a marriage, and civil divorce. Readers must realize that space limits the pastoral responses they might need.
Marriage preparation is the author’s final topic. Bishop Vann names shared prayer as the most important element of the engagement period. He recommends programs that teach how to attain a healthy marriage along with catechesis on the sacrament, and encourages meetings with a priest for spiritual preparation. His paragraph on the wedding liturgy notes that time a couple spends deciding on Scripture and music can inspire them and lead to a wedding that “make(s) everyone conscious of the sacramental reality taking place” (64).
Bishop Vann’s closing recommendations are for couples to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Saint Pope John Paul II’s audiences on marriage and sexual morality, commonly called his theology of the body. These are obviously the primary resources for this easy-to-read little book.
About the reviewer
Mary Ann Paulukonis has been joined in Catholic marriage with a wonderful husband for over forty-five years.
Disclaimer: Book reviews do not imply and are not to be used as official endorsement by the USCCB of the work or those associated with the work. Book reviews are solely intended as a resource regarding publications that might be of interest to For Your Marriage visitors.