Marriage is for Life

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In “the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” They are no longer two but one flesh. “Therefore,” Jesus says, “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Jesus teaches, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.

Now Christ’s Church does believe and teach that there can be situations where it is prudent and right for a person to physically or legally separate from their spouse. Perhaps there’s physical or emotional abuse in the marriage; destructive, unchecked addictions; or obstinate infidelity. And after the marriage falls apart the Church can investigate whether something essential to that marriage being a binding, sacramental bond before God was missing from the start.

It is possible for Catholic brides and grooms to fail to marry sacramentally in many ways. For instance, the couple might get invalidly married outside the Church; inside a courtroom, on a beach, or in a barn. The bride might feel forced to marry such that her consent is not free. The groom might lack the psychological or physical capacity for marriage. Or one of them might say the vows without not really meaning them. There are many ways a marriage can be sacramentally invalid and non-binding. And where the Church finds sufficient proof for this she will grant an annulment, permitting the man or woman to remarry. So as I said before, being divorced is not necessarily a sin; it does not automatically bar you from receiving Communion. However, to abandon one’s spouse without cause, or to remarry when you are not free to remarry, are sins that require repentance.

What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Jesus said this in response to a question about divorce, but what other things of human sexuality has God joined from the beginning which no human being should separate? God joined sexual relations to the covenant of marriage. He joined love-making to the possibility of life-making. And he joined one’s biological sex to one’s identity. God created them male and female, one man and one woman, not identical sexes—but physically and spiritually complimentary mates, and made God them man and wife in a covenant for life.

God’s first commandment in the Garden was “be fruitful and multiply,” and today we hear Jesus tell us “Let the children come to me.” His wish is to bring “many children to glory,” as our second reading says. God’s Word in the Bible celebrates having many children as a blessing, not a curse. Today’s psalm proclaims this blessing

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
  in the recesses of your home;
  your children like olive plants around your table…
  May you see your children’s children.

Indeed, being surrounded by the love of many offspring is among the greatest blessings for the aged. But human beings separating sexuality from an openness to life distorts God’s plan and the society around us.

Contraception is not something new. It existed in ancient times. Genesis relates how a man named Onan repeatedly “wasted his seed on the ground” during intercourse to avoid conceiving children. “What he did greatly offended the Lord, and the Lord took his life…” Egyptian scrolls dating to 1850 B.C. describe other methods and the pagans practiced contraceptive techniques in the Roman Empire in the days of Christ and the Early Church. The Church Fathers, such as St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Augustine, and St. John Chrysostom condemned acts of contraception or sterilization. Even the first Protestants denounced contraception, too. Martin Luther the founder of Lutheranism, John Calvin the founder of Calvinism, and John Wesley the co-founder of Methodism all wrote against it.

All Christian groups were agreed on this less than a century ago. That is until the Anglicans in 1930 became the first Protestants to officially approve artificial contraception use for hard cases. (Thirteen years before, in 1917, the same group had declared contraception “demoralizing to character and hostile to national welfare.”) As is the way of such errors, the exception became the norm and the Protestant denominations changed their teachings. By 1961, the National Council of Churches could pronounce that “most of the Protestant churches hold contraception… to be morally right when the motives are right.” The Catholic Church, however, stood firm and stood alone against the spirit of the age.

At the end of 1930 and again in 1968, the popes wrote encyclical letters reaffirming the constant teaching of Christ’s Church about the nature, purpose, and goodness of marriage and the marital act; and repeating the consistent and ancient rejection of all directly-willed acts of contraception, sterilization, and abortion. In 1968, St. Pope Paul VI predicted in his encyclical Humanae Vitae that the widespread use of contraception would broadly lower morality, increase marital infidelity, lessen respect towards women, be coercively imposed by governments, and promote the self-harming belief that we have unlimited dominion over our bodies and human life in general.

According to its advocates, contraception was supposed to strengthen marriages, prevent unplanned pregnancies, improve women’s happiness, and reduce abortions. After decades of cheap and widespread contraceptive use, half of all pregnancies are unplanned, half of all marriages end in divorce, women report lower and lower levels of happiness throughout the decades since the 1970’s, and about one-in-five U.S. pregnancies end in abortion, with more than 60 million killed since Roe vs. Wade in 1973. When persons and societies decouple and oppose human sexuality to its life-creating purpose, many harmful errors follow. You can trace the path of one error leading to the next. We are now to the point that many people cannot even define what a woman or a man is.

I would be remiss here if I did not mention that the Church teaches that there can be holy reasons and virtuous means to avoid conceiving more children. Natural Family Planning (also known as NFP) uses signs from a woman’s body to identify the days in her cycle when she can conceive. Equipped with this knowledge, for serious reasons a couple may virtuously abstain from the marital embrace to avoid a pregnancy, while respecting God’s design and the dual meaning of the marital act.

Couples who practice NFP report growing in communication, self-control, and intimacy. They are more open to discerning and embracing God’s plan for their families and are statistically less likely to divorce. Not only is NFP completely natural, the information it tracks about a woman’s body commonly leads to the diagnosis, treatment, and cure of health disorders, from infertility to life-threatening illnesses. Unlike common chemical contraceptives, NFP does not cause increased risks for breast, liver, or cervical cancer; nausea, vomiting, stomach problems, or diarrhea; depression, mood swings, or lowered libido; and it does not cause spontaneous abortions (by preventing implantation of newly conceived children into the uterine wall).

Realize that NFP is not the Rhythm Method. The old Rhythm Method simply counted how many days had passed since the woman’s last cycle and was a moral but rather ineffective approach. Faithfully-followed NFP techniques have a 99% effectiveness rate, comparable to illicit methods of artificial contraception. If you would like to learn more about NFP, visit the Diocese of La Crosse’s website and search for “NFP”. There you can investigate NFP techniques, their science and their benefits, and register for on-line courses.

Whether or not you are married, whether or not you are past the age for children, I hope that you will recognize that in the chaotic, constantly-changing, errant stream of human history, is our stable rock for truth is Christ’s Church. The Bride of Christ, our mother the Church, calls us to follow her teachings from Christ as faithful, trusting, loyal sons and daughters. Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Do not miss out on blessedness, in this life or the next.

2 Responses to “Marriage is for Life”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:

    Well done :).

  2. pussywillowpress Says:

    It makes me think of Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”

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