In this series of essays Father Manny considers the nature of The Sacraments and reflects upon their meaning in our lives.
The Sacrament of Matrimony
“You British you love your neat and tidy gardens with their well trimmed borders but the Lord, he creates Jungles!”
There are few situations in which this quotation rings more true than that of our present one in regard to marriage and family life. The Church teaches the importance of fidelity and stability on marriage as a sure foundation for the upbringing of children. Nevertheless almost every day as a priest working in a parish, I encounter the jungle of tangled and broken relationships.
Consequently the priest and indeed the Church is presented with a sensitive and difficult balancing act. That of respecting the realities of peoples’ lives and showing compassion when relationships have broken down, whilst at the same time upholding the Church’s teaching on marriage and its permanence. Fewer and fewer people in society seem to have an understanding of the rich and profound Catholic vision of marriage. Many couples are distracted from what is at the heart of the ceremony by a disproportionate emphasis on having their ‘perfect day’ and all the expense and energy that this involves; wedding dresses, receptions and honeymoons etc. In saying this I do not intend to be a kill joy, far from it. I am all in favour of a joyful celebration, it is simply a question of balance.
Often marriage is reduced to little more than a contract between two parties with a bit of religion added on. It is just such an impoverished view that has led politicians to propose the idea that marriage be made available to same sex couples. Such a proposal utterly fails to grasp the Catholic understanding of the sacrament. The Second Vatican Council presents this wonderfully in it Decree on the Church in the Modern World. In paragraph 48 we read:
“The intimate partnership of life and the love which constitutes the married state has been established by the creator…for the good of the partners, of the children and of society. This sacred bond no longer depends on human decision making alone. For God himself is the author of marriage”.
In refusing to support same sex marriage the Church is not being homophobic, She is simply remaining faithful to God for He is the author of marriage. Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is a sign of the love Christ, the Spouse, has for his Bride the Church.
In marriage the couple bear witness to the fidelity of Christ who laid down His life for His Church. They keep alive in our world the ‘rumour’ of God’s love, a love which by its very nature is sacrificial, creative and fruitful.
This points directly to that other important purpose of marriage. Marriage exists for the good not only of the couple but also of the children. The Vatican Council continues :
“By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the off spring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory”.
Yes the Lord created jungles but they are dangerous places. Our society has become a place fraught with dangers for the well being of its members, especially its most vulnerable , our young. If I am honest I am much more at home in a beautiful English garden. In the account of creation the Lord, the Spirit hovered over the waters bringing order out of chaos. In creating marriage God is seeking to provide us with the order and stability in society which enables both parents and children to flourish, to find security and happiness.
The marriage ceremony begins with the words:
“Father you have made the bond of marriage a holy mystery “.
The vocation to marriage is a noble and sacred mystery, entrusted to us by the creator from the beginning out of love. Yes it is a high ideal but one that is attainable through God’s grace. Whilst always showing understanding and compassion for those who suffer when the ideal falls short we as a Church must uphold this Catholic vision of marriage not just for our own sake but for the sake of the whole of society and above all for the sake of our children.
Rev. Emmanuel Gribben