Marriage is a life-long journey

Marriage a lifelong journey
Brian Gleeson CP

Brian Gleeson CP

Brian Gleeson, a Passionist priest, lectures in systematic theology at the Yarra Theological Union

The marriage of Christians is a life-long shared journey of a man and woman with each other, and with Jesus Christ as the third party to their union. Their union is a sacrament because it’s a sign, reflection and channel, of the love of Jesus Christ for his followers.

It expresses his kind, constant, creative, caring, compassionate, forgiving and faithful love, so generously demonstrated in how he lived, served, suffered and died.

In their mutual attraction, each admires, esteems, feels for, values, and is drawn to the other. But marriage is much more than attraction and desire. It is something concrete and practical, shown in specific acts of caring and kindness. So much do the partners value each other that they seek to assist the other’s wellbeing and development in every possible way.

In their reaching out to the other the whole process of ‘me first’ is changed in favour of the needs of the other. The other-centredness of their mutual love, in fact, involves  a dying to their ‘own comfort, convenience, wants, needs, concerns, interests’; in fact it requires ‘a dying to egoism, a dying to “I” in order that two “I’s” become a “we”’ [Kathleen Hughes].

On the other hand, the union of marriage is not meant to deny or destroy the unique personality or individuality of either partner for the sake of some blended or fused identity. Thus, the partners do not have to be physically with each other every single moment of every single day nor do every single thing together.

There is still some time for individual activities and pursuits, and for personal space and solitude even in the deepest of relationships. In fact, the spiritual side of the couple’s relationship will lead each to protect the other’s individuality and personal space in order to enhance their togetherness.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) broke new ground when it called marriage ’an intimate partnership of married life and love’ [‘Church in the Modern World’, #48]. It called it a covenant rather than a contract, and so it highlighted the acceptance, honesty, openness, trust and affection each brings to the other in their intimate relationship.

Because Jesus Christ has always been faithful in his relationships, his followers regard marriage as a life-long loving commitment ‘till death do us part’. But life-long fidelity to this commitment is only possible through the power of Jesus’ love working within their sharing, and his empowering their love to last ‘in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health’, as put so well in the marriage vows.

Some couples marry without thinking enough about the future. Their focus is far too much on the wedding and far too little on the marriage. They may even incorporate a significant condition into their wedding. They will stay together ‘just as long as things work out!’ But anything less than the intention to marry each other for life is not good enough to be called a real marriage or to keep it going.

Marriage is equally for the couple and their children. Up till Vatican II, the Catholic Church maintained that the primary purpose of sex in marriage was to produce children. Its secondary purpose was said to be for mutual help and a remedy for lust. But at the Council the Church ditched all talk of primary and secondary purposes. It gave equal importance to the begetting and relational aspects of sex.

Normally the vocation of marriage includes a call from God to cooperate in bringing children into the world, in order to populate both the world and the Church. But making a baby is but the beginning. There remains the extended task of supporting and loving their children, so that they will live good and useful lives on earth and see and enjoy God in the hereafter.

In having children, parents take on enormous responsibilities – responsibilities which require the ongoing presence and action of Jesus Christ and his Spirit. They are expected to provide acceptance and affection, food and clothing, shelter and protection, information and advice, discipline and forgiveness, guidance and good example. Just to name a few things!

The reciprocal relationship which develops between parents and child is regularly experienced as mutually satisfying and enriching. As the child grows in wonder at the discovery of the surrounding world, so do its parents grow in the wonder, pride and joy which they feel in their child’s achievements and progress. Parents who take the time to enter into their child’s mind and world are in for a life-giving experience.

For the child there is nothing so conducive to its total growth, including its spiritual and religious development, than receiving unconditional acceptance, guidance and support from loving parents. Where such unconditional love is lacking, there is simply nothing or no one who can function as an adequate substitute.

Where adults have lacked parental love as children, they frequently carry the scars for life. Vatican II has said, then: ‘The family is, in a sense, a school for human enrichment’ [‘Church in the Modern World’, #52].

Being created as a man or woman indicates not simply a capacity for making babies (the procreative aspect of marriage) but a capacity too for giving and receiving love in an intimate partnership of life and love (the unitive aspect of marriage). In our Western culture all that has been said so far on the dynamics of married love needs to be emphasised more than ever.

For far too often today our culture separates love from sex, reduces sex to bodily passion and pleasure only, and dehumanises both men and women as simply sexual objects to sell cars, underwear, cosmetics, magazines, etc.

There’s every reason, then, for a couple to keep looking to Jesus, the third party to their union, for his powerful grace to sustain them as persons and a couple on their shared journey. 

Footnote: Many of our readers have been married for 50 years or more. Why not send us in a photo of your wedding? We will include the photo in future issues of the Majellan to celebrate our new and revised ‘Your Wedding’ book. This story first appeared in The Majellan in 2016. It has been reprinted to coincide with the release of ‘Your Wedding’ which is a wonderful resource for couples who are thinking of marrying in the Catholic Church. Further details from majellan.media/product/your-wedding and for suggested Readings for your Church wedding go to: majellan.media/weddings/readings

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