When we think on this theme, we tend to see a wider perspective – many kinds of partnership, temporary arrangements and casual encounters. We may wonder how is Christian marriage possible in today’s world? And yet there are many good examples of it. We are impressed by the efforts some go to, to get this right – while others view the matter much more casually
The recent Synod in Rome sets interesting thoughts before us. The Interim Report offers many ideas that give us an indication of how we should look on marriage. It begins by thanking God for the fact that there are so many Christian families who live out their vocation and mission. These two words are important – marriage being both a calling and a divinely given task. This of course is not always easy. The family is a school of learning – and so difficult. With so many people simply co-habitating, it is interesting to read the statement: ‘The desire for a family remains alive, especially among the young’.
A Realistic Approach
Pope Francis wanted the Synod to look at marriage, as it is nowadays, with its lights and shades. But all this needs to be done in the light of what Christ has revealed. ‘Faithful to the teaching of Christ we look to the reality of the family today, in all its complexity’. In the Bible, marriage is revealed to us in its beauty, roll and dignity. He wants us to gain a fresh appreciation of what is at stake – in a marriage between a man and a woman. The meaning of marriage is given from the beginning. God created both male and female (Gen 1.27) and told them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1.28). As a result, ‘therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh’ (Gen 2.24). God has made known to us that a marriage is between a man and a woman. The believer cannot contradict this or change this. Moses allowed divorce in certain circumstances, but Christ did not approve of this. The divine will is for exclusivity and fidelity in marriage. This has been redeemed by Christ, and should reflect God’s fidelity to his Church. A special grace is given to those who enter a Christian marriage, to bear witness to the Creator’s love and fidelity, and to live a life of communion together.
The Support of the Church
Vatican II has defined marriage as a community of life and love. It praises the true love of husband and wife – spouses consecrated by the sacrament of matrimony. They form the domestic Church. Paul VI strongly affirmed the intimate bond between conjugal love and the transmission of life. A basic question that lies under everything is what constitutes a marriage. It is the reciprocal gift of the spouses to each other and to the Church. The pair getting married in their mutual acceptance and with the grace of Christ, promise total fidelity to each other and an openness to life. They seek the help of the Church for this. God consecrates their love and confirms their insolubility, offering them aid to live their fidelity. Great praise is given to upright families.
The Church views those that are faithful to the teaching of the Gospel with joy and consolation. They are thanked and encouraged. Such families reveal the beauty of marriage. The family is a community of persons, revealing the Blessed Trinity, and is the domestic Church. The Document quotes from the Roman catechism: ‘it is here that there is learned the fatigue and joy of work, brotherly love, generous pardon, often renewed, and above all the divine cult through prayer and offering one’s own life’.
Marriages – Not Christian
The Pope recognises that there are good elements in marriages, which are not Christian – particularly in those that are stable. The Pope is concerned that the Church has a pastoral approach to those who are not living out a full Christian marriage. He has three groups in mind: those who have entered a civil marriage, those divorced and remarried and those who just live together. The Church has to approach these people with mercy and patience. It has to reveal to them the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives, and help them to see the full plan of God for them. The Church turns with love towards those, recognising that to some degree the grace of God is at work in them. However, it is alarmed at the number, especially of young people, who so easily abandon an undertaken marriage and begin another.
James Kelly, SJ