Chapter 6: Marriage-Theology of the Body
Part 1: Reading Assignment:
“God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” –Genesis 1:27
“The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.”-Genesis 2:18
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”-Matthew 19:6
“In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband”-Ephesians 5:33
Marriage is a vocation that we are familiar with; we all know someone who is married. I would imagine that most of us have, at one point in time, at least imagined ourselves getting married. We ask the question, “Who do I want to marry? What am I looking for in my future spouse?”
These are good questions, but they are not the right ones.
Hopefully you have heard the phrase “Marriage is a vocation.” What does that mean? The word vocation comes from the Latin word “vocare”, which means “to call.” A vocation is a call from God. He created each and every one of us with a plan in mind, and the best way to carry out that plan is to live your vocation.
So now that we understand what it means to say that marriage is a vocation, how does that change the questions we ask about it; how does it change what we think the purpose of marriage is?
For a Catholic seeking to live out God’s will in their vocation, the questions we ask should be more along the lines of, “Who does God want me to marry?” Even before that, we have to ask, “DOES God want me to
marry?” Marriage is a vocation, but it isn’t the only one! Discovering your vocation requires discernment, a conscious effort of prayer and reasoning to try and seek and understand God’s plan for you. Have you ever thought of marriage in this way, as the result of discerning the will of God for your life?
Besides being a vocation, what is marriage? What is its purpose? The Catechism answers:
- “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (CCC 1601)
Marriage is a sacrament. It bestows grace upon the man and wife, as they themselves become a sign of the love of Christ. Notice also that marriage is referred to as the “matrimonial covenant”. Covenant is a serious word; it conveys a much stronger meaning than a simple promise, agreement, or commitment. A covenant is made not just between man and wife, but also with God. This matrimonial covenant establishes “a partnership of the whole life”. We as Catholics take this marriage thing pretty seriously. It’s not the kind of thing you can run off to Vegas for and then forget about a couple months later. As baptized Catholics, when we enter into marriage, it’s for the long haul. “Until death do us part” aren’t just pretty words, they’re a promise. A covenant.
Now let’s unpack what the Catechism says about the purpose of this matrimonial covenant. The first purpose of marriage is for the” good of the spouses”. What does this mean? Good can be a very vague term. We need to look at “good” in the language of the Church, and not in our own everyday use of the word.
When the Church says that marriage is ordered toward the good of the spouses, it means it is meant to help them fulfill their purpose. The Church is using good in the same sort of way we do when we say “A Ferrari is a good car” or “Fido is a good dog.” What we mean is that the Ferrari and Fido are both properly fulfilling their purpose. So what is the purpose of the spouses? Their purpose or “end” is to reach Heaven and live in eternal union with God. So the purpose of marriage is to help the spouses help each other reach Heaven.
Marriage is also ordered toward the “procreation and education of offspring.” This is often a controversial part of the Church’s teaching. Marriage calls for a radical and total gift of self to your spouse, and that include your fertility. Using contraception in marriage is in essence telling your spouse “You can have all of me, except for this,” or “I want all of you, except for that.” That isn’t the way God wants us to share ourselves with our spouses. We are supposed to give everything that we have, just like Christ did for His Church on the cross. Imagine if Christ had in effect “contracepted” His saving work on the cross, if He went through the motions of suffering and dying for us, but somehow stopped that act from having any fruitful effect on us. What a terrible reality that would be! Contraception in marriage is similar to this. We go through the motions of total self-giving, but we prevent it from carrying out its intended effect.
Marriage is a difficult calling. It asks you to give everything you have, everything that you are, and place it in the hands of another person, for life. It can be a terrifying proposition, but there is a definite upside. In return for this gift of self, you receive the same from another. It’s in that mutual trust and sacrifice that we find the beauty of marriage. God brings together two people, a man and a woman, different in their strengths and weaknesses, in their quirks and habits, and He makes them one flesh.
Please read the following (in this order):
- Genesis 1:26-31
Sirach 26:1-3, 13-18
1 John 3:18-24