Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Haunted Faces

Four years ago today, my professional life as a canonist changed when I became aware of what was breaking in Boston. Unlike other professional crises, this one affected my personal life in that I was just getting use to being a father. I spent part of this morning reflecting on this experience in a column I write for a local webzine.


A Realistic Look at Christian Marriage

I’ve come to a sort of revelation over time. That revelation is that no matter how hard I try, I can never be a hopeless romantic. I’ve always had an aversion to pure idealism, but I think in this area my aversion is at its peak. It is especially prevalent I feel amongst many of my fellow Catholic youth today. As a result, over the next few columns this 23 year old bachelor will talk about marriage, and what I hope will be a realistic look at the union of husband and wife.

Once you start hitting the age I am at now as a Catholic, marriage starts becoming a huge issue. So many friends around you get married. My heart rejoices for each and every one of them, and if anyone is in my prayers, they most certainly are. Yet along with that rejoicing is worry. Many of them I know are not ready for such commitments. They have not really studied what the Church believes marriage to be. Naturally when they announce to me they are getting engaged, I speak to them about these things. Many times I get a blank stare and silence, followed by “Well we love each other and that’s all that matters, our love will make it work.”

This is the idealism I can’t stand. Part of the reason is because experience has taught me otherwise. Love is essential to a marriage. Nothing can happen without love. Yet here we expect the bare minimum. I love the person, therefore we should marry is the same concept I feel as rewarding someone for not smoking crack. Congratulations for doing what you are supposed to do! While no doubt love should lead to marriage, it cannot be the sole reason. I know this for a fact because nobody doubted my parents love when they married. Nobody doubted their love during their 23 years of marriage. Yet at the same time, their marriage was a failure, like so many other marriages today, ending in divorce. Love was not enough. I believe the failure came from (and is the same in most failed marriages) a misunderstanding of what marriage is.

What is the ultimate purpose of marriage? Is it our satisfaction and happiness? Is it the children born as a result of that blessed union? I submit these are important reasons, and the ends of marriage, that of procreation and conjugal love. Yet at the same time, it is not the ultimate purpose of marriage. For those things mentioned above, while ends of marriage, are means in and of itself to the primary purpose. The purpose of marriage is the purpose of everything else we are here for in this life. It is to know and glorify God. All that we do on this Earth and in heaven is for the purpose of glorifying the Holy Trinity. I always hear about how great the person is, how sweet they are, how good of a kisser they are, how much they love them, but when discussing their future spouse, very rarely do I ever hear about how that person helps them glorify God. The children we have and the love we share with the spouse is itself an offering to God in praise to Him for the glory of His name. Rather today, we make marriage about us, as to how that person makes us feel, or we keep marriage on the natural level, and never talk about how God is glorified by that marriage.

Another purpose of marriage is our sanctification so that we may better serve the Lord. It is fitting because matrimony is a sacrament. The person you are united to, that union is a means of grace, strengthened by every act of love. Yet as with all sacraments, we need to co-operate with that grace provided, or else it means nothing. People seem to think that just receiving the sacrament will make them holy. That isn’t the way God has ordained things. Do we really ponder our imperfections and vices, and wonder how the love of the spouse not only offsets them, but transforms them into a virtue?

Now it is true, that classically speaking, this would be tied into love. Like so many things in the Catholic faith, that one foundation has numerous ramifications. So it is with love. Yet I think the finer points of love are sometimes glossed over, and rather we focus on the happy experience. As with so much today, experience trumps truth. Yet for so many today, love is an emotional feeling or a physical feeling. Love is not just a feeling. Nor is it involuntary. It is a conscious act of the will to love someone. I think our Holy Father realizes this. While there are so many things he could cover in his upcoming encyclical next week, love is what he has chosen. What is true love, what is the purpose of love, its means, its ends, etc?

These are just the basics many hopeless romantics and idealists fail to consider nowadays. However, I believe these aren’t the only things, and in future columns I will touch upon those.