What Catholics Believe - Chapter Twenty-One
Joined in Christ - The Sacrament of Marriage
It was a warm April afternoon in Rhode Island; friends and family packed the small church of St. Agatha and watched as we exchanged our vows- the outward sign of our commitment to each other in the bond of marriage. In his book Love & Responsibility, Blessed John Paul II (then Karol Wjotyla) wrote of marriage as “an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family - a domestic Church.” We are firmly convinced, after our first seven years as a married couple, that it is due to the grace showered upon us by Christ, through the sacrament of marriage that we have grown as individuals, as a married couple, and thereby as parents of the six additional souls that make up our domestic Church.
God, the author of each of our lives, is ultimately the author of marriage. For us, our marriage was the culmination of years during which we learned to surrender our wills to the will of the Father. By doing so, we were able to enter into “the marriage covenant, by which a man and woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love,” which the Catechism reminds us “has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator” (CCC, 1660).
This intimate communion of mind, body and soul between a husband and wife is expressed fully in the mutual gift, or self-donation, that takes place in the marriage bond. It is this gift of self, unique to the marriage act, which mirrors the sacrificial love of Christ and His Bride, the Church. Man and woman witness to this spousal love of Christ through their own selfless and sacrificial love for one another. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults captures this beautifully, “the grace of this Sacrament perfects the love of husband and wife, binds them together in fidelity, and helps them welcome and care for children. Christ is the source of this grace and He dwells with the spouses to strengthen their covenant promises, to bear each other’s burdens with forgiveness and kindness, and to experience ahead of time the ‘wedding feast of the Lamb’ (Rev 19:9)” (USCCA, p. 285).
The Church in her wisdom articulates the two purposes of marriage: the unitive, as described above, and the procreative. As husband and wife, we have had the privilege of being co-creators with God, of six beautiful souls (Michael Jr., Mariana, John Paul, Therese, Julia, and Gabriel, who we trust is in heaven). The complete communion of the man and woman in Christ forms a bond that ultimately can bear fruit in the miracle of human life. “‘By its very nature, the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds crowning glory.’ (CCC, 1642: GS, 48)
The fruitfulness of married love includes the moral, spiritual, and faith life the parents hand on to their children. Parents, as principal educators of their children, are at the service of life” (USCCA, p. 283-84). In this beautiful vision of the Church, the parents seek holiness for each other, which as a result enables them, in “the service of life,” to seek holiness for their children. Likewise, this “domestic Church” becomes a beacon of light to the world around it encouraging others to desire sainthood in their own lives. The Church recognizes that “not all married couples are able to have children. ‘Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning.... [and] can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality and of sacrifice’” (USCCA, p. 285).
With so many people not understanding the importance of sacramental marriage as an institution of Christ it is no wonder our society bears the scars of broken marriages begun on a secular foundation of sand. The Church, through Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, offers a foundation of rock: “By their mutual fidelity, the spouses continue to make present to each other the love of Christ and lead each other to greater holiness through the grace they receive from the sacrament” (USCCA, p. 283). In April of 2004 we began such a journey together. It is our prayer and hope that many others, with faith in God, will do the same.