Marriage is a private relationship with a public significance. In the human love that brings a woman and man to marriage, we already hear God speaking to us of the beauty and fidelity of love, its transforming power, and its creative energy. In the sacrament of matrimony, God speaks to us of a fullness of human love. Our limited experience of love is only a sign and beginning of love that changes us into children of God, who share his own wondrous and unending life in love.
Christ’s love for the Church is the pattern for married life. “Love one another as I love you!” (John 15:12). Perhaps, this sounds a bit impossible. To a young couple preparing for marriage, the reality of Christ’s love being the pattern of their own love gets lost in the dream-like quality of what is thought to be a perfect love. Real teachers of this truth of married love are the couples with whom we celebrate our annual Jubilarian Mass, some of whom have been married for more than sixty years. These couples speak simply and beautifully of learning to love in a self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of way, of nurturing a love that can weather the stresses and strains of married love and family life. I invite you to listen to some of their wisdom.
In a society that is intent on changing the very definition of marriage and family, we must never tire of preaching the good news that “the intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. God himself is the author of marriage” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1603).
This Christian understanding of marriage has a very public benefit. Christian marriage is for the good of society, not just the married couple and the Church. In a society where family life is collapsing and our social order is unraveling, the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the obligation of parents to their children is a timely remedy. First, it ensures that every child will have the benefit of having a mother and a father. Second, it creates a stable environment for children in a world in which we see many children generated by parents who take no responsibility for them. We observe the proliferation of gangs and individuals who feel alienated and often react violently by hurting others. Family life is under assault because marriage is devalued within our culture. As members of the Church, we are obliged to be all the more attentive to the challenges that weaken marriage as a social institution and an expression of God’s plan for the well-being of the human race. Residents of Maryland have the opportunity to address this issue at the ballot box this week. Insuring that the definition of marriage does not change is a gift to our children and to society.
Living marriage as a vocation with a life-long mission requires commitment, faithfulness, and sacrifice on the part of each of the spouses. This is a gift that flows from the gift they make of themselves to each other, which has to be definitive if it is to endure in the face of difficulties. At every stage marriages need to be nurtured through prayer and reflection and formation. I hope you will take advantage of the spiritual and educational resources for strengthening your marriage which may be found on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Website, “For Your Marriage.”