The Meaning of Marriage

A Reflection by Damien J. O’Connor, Office for Pastoral Services, Diocese of Bridgeport

I remember when I was a high school morality teacher, I used to show a video by National Geographic entitled, Lions in the Darkness. I’m sure that most of my students questioned my sanity for showing it to them. Nevertheless they watched the video intently. The scenes simply documented the daily habits of the lions and lionesses. The scenes revealed them copulating, hunting/eating, sleeping together, killing the weak and a total disregard for the greater good of the animal kingdom. It was simply in their nature and their DNA to act this way. This was their normal state. The question I presented to my classes was quite simple, “How are human beings any different in today’s society than the lions?” Now these were fairly intelligent adolescents yet they all struggled with this question. Some simply could not make a distinction between the lions and humans while others, rightfully so, were offended by the implication I was making about them (as part of society) through my question. Thank God for the students that were offended!

The recent debate over same-sex marriage has gained national attention in the United States and rightfully so. The institution of marriage or more appropriately, the Sacrament of marriage has been reduced to a simplistic list of qualities a couple should have if they meet the criteria for marriage as understood by mainstream society. The currant language that seems to qualify a couple for marriage is:
• I/We love each other
• I/We make each other happy
• I/We enjoy intercourse together
• I/We would die for each other

There is a subtle yet dangerous dynamic that occurs in every aspect of mainstream society called Normalization. Simply put, the more we are exposed to something, the more normal it becomes and ultimately accepted. Rarely do we see qualitative or quantitative studies to substantiate that which we now consider normal even if it had always been considered abnormal or even evil in nature. Rarely do we see studies that evaluate what benefits the greater good of society, consult teachings from scripture or even basic common sense and human nature. Nevertheless normalization is all around us and it is often evil.

It has become “normal” and expected to be politically correct and yet no one can provide a credible source through which politically correct or incorrect language and behavior is elucidated. Beyond inclusive language that in many cases seems reasonable, political correctness is nothing more than an overwhelmingly persuasive way of thinking that is based in fear. Due to normalization we now live in a very strange reality: we self-censor ourselves. We are afraid to say anything, so we say nothing. This is not of God and most certainly not Christian. Society and I would dare say most politicians, do not want Catholics to think, use logic, common sense and most certainly live our faith through a radical missionary spirit: which is exactly what we are called to do through our baptism.

The marriage debate regarding same-sex couples offends me deeply not because I am anti homosexuals but because the Sacrament of Marriage is immeasurably more than how it is defined by most in society and is most certainly more than a catchy one-liner on Facebook or 120 characters on twitter. Furthermore, and to be fair, if I was in a homosexual relationship and perceived the way in which marriage is predominantly exemplified in society, it would seem only fair that same sex couples qualify for the same rights. That is precisely my point. I have never understood it as a right but as a vocation.

I knew as a young adult that I was meant to give myself to God in some way as we all are. I had grown up around priests and they deeply influenced my faith development. I witnessed the profound graces of their vocation as I observed them live their faith. I also knew them as human beings, who like me, could be Christ to others or falter and need God’s mercy through the sacrament of confession. Needless to say, I was naturally drawn to the priesthood but wasn’t sure if that was what God was calling me to. I began praying daily that God would show me my vocation, because we all have one. I knew that true joy could only be achieved by fully giving of myself to God and not taking or desiring that which others had. I spent over a year praying daily that I may grow closer to God and that when my vocation became clear, I would first be completely grounded in our Lord.

Then I was given the greatest gift of my life, my wife Monica. Far more important than our nascent physical attraction, love for each other and friendship, God called us to be together. The way in which we live our marriage is a Sign of the Sacrament of Marriage. Our vocation is to be a living Sign of God’s love to all those we encounter, most especially our children, who through the miracle of their birth, consummated our Holy vocation. Although we fail at this often, that is our constant calling and what we have given our lives for. I simply do not understand marriage outside of these parameters. Our marriage (as all marriages) is meant to be a gift to the world and ultimately God, and not a gift that I deserve or qualify for. I deserve it no more than I deserve life itself.
Since Adam and Eve the world has understood marriage and the family as the basis of a civilized society. It has always been the primary source for education, faith development, morals, dignity, self-worth, sacrifice and the stewardship of God’s most precious gift, children.

From the beginning of time there was nothing more natural or understood than the structure of a family being a man, woman and children. It is shockingly narcissistic and naïve to think that suddenly now, we the current (and temporary) stewards of the earth, have come to some sort of unfounded evolution of thought and behavior that contradicts a previously universal truth that has existed since the creation of the world.

Society needs a “new normal” regarding marriage. It is paramount that sacramentally married couples boldly live their vocations and be a very visible Sign in mainstream society. We must all pray publically for vocations to sacramental marriages. When a man and a woman desire marriage, they must understand that their preparation to receive the sacrament, is just as important as the formation prior to joining religious life or ordination to the priesthood. They are giving their lives completely united in God. Canonically, a man and a woman have a right to be married. However, this does not presume that they are automatically predisposed to be Signs of a sacramental marriage. We must have the courage and discipline to prepare these couples with the same fervor, spirit and candor that is applied to men who desire ordination to the priesthood or women who wish to join religious life.

From the beginning of Christianity it has always been through our example that we evangelized the world. I implore sacramentally married couples to live their vocation with a missionary spirit, joyfully in the public square!

Salvation history was changed forever through a family, the Holy Family.

“At a historical moment of severe family fragmentation throughout the Western world, the example of evangelical Catholic families that share joys and burdens, and do so with wit and grace, is one of the most powerful conversion tools available to the Catholic Church.” (George Weigel)

Happy Feasts of Saints Monica and Augustine!

At Catholics Come Home, we hear from many parents who continually pray for their children to return to the Catholic Church. There are few people who understand these parents’ hearts and struggles better than St. Monica.

St. Monica prayed unceasingly, fasted, and wept for the conversion of her son, Augustine, back to the Catholic Faith from his wayward lifestyle. Before St. Monica’s death, St. Augustine became a practicing Catholic–and he would later go on to become one of the greatest bishops and theologians the Church has ever seen.

“I do not know what there is left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled. All I wished for was that I might see you a Catholic and a child of Heaven. God granted me even more than this in making you despise earthly felicity and consecrate yourself to His service.” -St. Monica to St. Augustine

If you have children away from the Church (or any family or close friends), pray to St. Monica! In her own words: “Nothing is far from God.”

St. Monica (feast day: August 27) and St. Augustine (feast day: August 28), pray for us!