God's Plan for Marriage
User's Guide to Sunday, Oct. 7
Sunday, Oct. 7, is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. It’s also the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
In America, clever secular politicians feel they are showing great foresight by opposing the teachings of the Church. Of course, they are only the most recent in a long line of clever secular politicians who have had the same thought, from Nero’s Rome to North Korea.
On Oct. 8, the Church celebrates 11 martyrs of the Spanish Civil War who died at the hands of politicians in the 1930s. In three years, 12 bishops, 4,184 priests, 2,365 monks and 300 nuns died for the faith in Spain.
Genesis 2:18-24, Psalms 128:1-6, Hebrews 2:9-11 Mark 10:2-16 or 10:2-12
Marriage isn’t a smooth and untroubled life. It is difficult. It entails suffering.
There are three ingredients to a fulfilling marriage, according to the Church: being faithful to your spouse, being open to children and staying together through thick and thin.
First, faithfulness. There is no greater fidelity than what Jesus describes in the Gospel.
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel, “and the two shall become one flesh.”
Two don’t just become faithful; they become one. If that sounds like a painless, untroubled existence, think again. Think of the pain one flesh experiences, and then multiply that by two. Now, think how much harsher the pain is when “two become one.” Suddenly, there are two wills trying to be one will, two sets of preferences trying to compromise on one set of choices.
Marriage is often compared in the Bible to Christ’s relationship with his Church. The pain we feel in becoming one is like the pain Jesus felt when being faithful to the Father’s will. The second reading teaches us that Christ was “made perfect through suffering.” Likewise, the only way our love becomes perfected is through the suffering that comes with, for and even because of our spouse.
Second, Catholic marriage requires openness to children. In fact, children are mentioned in each reading.
The first reading from Genesis describes our movement from childhood to maturity: “A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife.”
The Psalm describes our movement from maturity to parenthood: May “your children [be] like olive plants around your table. … May you see your children’s children.”
The Gospel describes yet another movement: back to childhood — “whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
This is the progression of a Christian life. Children start out helpless and rely on others for everything. Adults rely in the same way on their spouses (or their vocations). Then parenthood (spiritual or physical) comes, and through it all we find we need to rely on God for everything.
Third, God designed marriage to be permanent. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery,” Jesus says.
Of course, there are cases where abuse is present or there are other serious issues that can impede this permanence. But in God’s plan, overall, if you are married, you are supposed to stay that way, through all the ups and downs.
A remarkable study surveyed couples before they married, during their first year of marriage, and then checked up on them every five years for decades. What the study found was that most people experience periods of “great dissatisfaction” with their spouses. Those who divorce and remarry are soon enough “greatly dissatisfied” with someone new. But those who stick it out and stay with their spouse will report “satisfaction” again.
Marriage is a sacrament. Sacraments work, guaranteed. We just have to give them a chance, with God’s grace.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.