This month’s teaching editorials will explore vital aspects of the richness of marriage and family life in preparation for the October 2015 Synod: “The Vocation and Mission of the Family for the Church and Contemporary Society.”
When I was 5 years old, my parents discovered I had two half-formed vertebrae. Trusting their guidance, I submitted to wearing a body brace to avoid developing a hunched back. Today I’m physically free of any serious back problem. I have come to see church teachings regarding Christian marriage much like a brace that allows for human maturity and the nobility of marital love to flourish.
I confess that until I began reporting for Catholic publications I understood little about the nuances of church teachings, which are based on sacred Scripture and have been chiseled over centuries. Church teachings often fly in the face of societal forces that accept hooking up, premarital cohabitation, the redefinition of marriage and artificial contraception. As well-intentioned as secular media may be, the church offers reliable resources on marriage such as www.foryourmarriage.org and the Youth Catechism — or YOUCAT — that pulls from church documents like “Gaudium et Spes” and “Humanae Vitae” both written by Pope Paul VI.
Marriage: Mirror of divine love
The sacrament of marriage unites a man and a woman to each other so they might be “no longer two but one,” as we read in Matthew’s Gospel. Pope Francis commented last September at a marriage ceremony at the Vatican on the complementarity of the sexes, saying, marriage is about “man and woman walking together, wherein the husband helps his wife to become ever more a woman, and wherein the woman has the task of helping her husband to become ever more a man.”
They are to live unified in a covenant of love that is fruitful, faithful and for the spouse’s welfare as well as his/her own. In dark and bright days, they are called to “cultivate and pray for steadiness of love, large heartedness and the spirit of sacrifice,” as we read in “Gaudium et Spes.”
This multi-faceted love wells up from divine love and mirrors Christ’s union with the church; it seeks the higher good of all. The well-being of individuals and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the health of communities produced by marriages and families.
Given our flawed nature, marriage can seem a tall order to fill. But God’s mercy abounds and can restore relationships, ultimately adding to their depth.
I have witnessed this firsthand when I was in college and my parents’ marriage hit a rough spot.
Thankfully, they retreated to what Pope Francis has coined “a field hospital” that is the church. They fought for their marriage, in large part, for the sake of their children. With forgiveness, grace and pure will, the two moved through their difficulties. Now, after 53 years of marriage, they are drinking up life together — traveling and enjoying their six children and 11 grandchildren. As their adult child, I am grateful for their perseverance and fidelity.
Openness to life and
“Gaudium et Spes” reminds us that by its very nature, “matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown.”
True marital love does not desire to be self-contained, but welcomes children as gifts from God that contribute to their parents’ welfare. With courage, a couple with “gallant heart and with wise and common deliberation” may opt for a large family. In all marriages, the church advises responsible parenthood. For legitimate reasons that include social, economic and psychological conditions, the church accepts the avoidance of a new birth through natural means known as Natural Family Planning (NFP).
My husband and I began practicing NFP at the start of our marriage. It requires marital chastity (disciplining of sexual drives and emotions) and is described as the “school of love” in the YOUCAT.
NFP preserves the dignity of man and woman, promotes communication between spouses, respects the innate laws of the female body and promotes mutual affection and consideration. Today, besides diocesan classes, there are online resources through websites like “Living the Sacrament: A Catholic NFP Community” (www.livingthesacrament.com).
The gift of hospitality
Openness to having children cultivates a love of neighbor, demonstrated by generous hospitality. My parents’ door has been open to many. Their “large heartedness” was evident when they housed my grandparents for 11 years after my grandfather suffered a stroke. At the time, my youngest sister was two years old. While there were periods of tension, love prevailed.
I like to think that God has judged my parents’ marriage “worthy of special gifts, healing, perfecting and exalting gifts of grace and of charity,” as Pope Paul XI wrote in “Gaudium et Spes.” They truly have worn the brace of noble love.
Suzanne Haugh has worked as a journalist for more than 16 years. She is a parishioner at Holy Spirit Church along with her husband of 22 years and their three children.