So your old roommate’s in seminary and your sister just made first vows, and you’re feeling a little guilty getting excited for your wedding. Marriage isn’t exactly a straightforward regimen toward holiness (you do get to have sex, after all) and isn’t it the default life plan for the leftover people, the ones who didn’t make the vocational cut?
Not at all. If God has called you to the married life, he’s entrusted you with a serious mission. With one foot in the natural world and one in the supernatural – for Christian marriage is a natural state made supernatural by the grace of the sacrament – Christian married couples have a unique means to evangelization. Today’s world needs marriage – needs good Christian marriage – to stand as a sign of contradiction to the world and show the truth and beauty of the faith.
First, love. Everything is about love. Why did God create the world? Why did Christ die on the cross? Why did the martyrs suffer? What makes people saints? What is the greatest and most fundamental desire of the human heart? What is the whole point of everything? Love. Not the warm, fuzzy “luv” rooted in fickle hormones, but the hardcore, disciplined, self-sacrificing love that God is and asks of us. When people seek love, they naturally look to the opposite sex; often, they snuggle close and are left unfulfilled. Christian married couples give the world a concrete example of what real love looks like in a context where the world expects to find love: a relationship between a man and a woman.
Our world is obsessed with sex, and Christian married couples show that people are happier and more fulfilled with a sexually ordered life. The world says sex is a great means of exchanging pleasure (in which you hope not to exchange diseases). Christian marriage says sex is a great gift from God and has a purpose: to express a love deeper than any pleasure, and, if God wills, to let that love become incarnate in a child. Celibate religious show by their lives that joy doesn’t depend on sexual activity. Christian married couples show by their lives what sexual activity is for. Our world needs to see that, too.
Our world doesn’t like to be constrained by commitments; it considers them impediments to freedom. Christian married couples find freedom in commitment. Christian spouses don’t worry that the back door may still be open; they are free to be themselves entirely and to give themselves completely to each other without worrying that the other might leave. Christian married couples show that commitment is a source of a deeper freedom: a freedom for excellence, a freedom from one’s own whims and inconstancies – and those of one’s spouse. Commitment prohibits sexual flings with the attractive co-worker. Commitment requires that spouses work out their disagreements. The sacrifice required to turn back to one’s spouse in love during times of temptation is tiny compared to the deep pain many spouses know from regret, betrayed trust, and divorce.
Our world assaults motherhood and children. The world speaks of pregnancy as a disease and a hormonally manipulated and malfunctioning reproductive system as a healthy one. Children are burdens and motherhood is a hassle you try to fit around your important work, the world says. Christian families affirm the value of motherhood and children. The Christian ethic that proclaims the sanctity of all human life, from conception till natural death, doesn’t stop at mere existence but proceeds to sanctity. Christian married couples welcome children and refuse contraception and abortion, but they don’t stop there. Christian parents devote their lives to the good of their children, attending to their physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological needs. Christian parents love. They don’t merely want their children to survive to adulthood and hold a job but to grow to adulthood as whole persons willing to give their whole selves when they find their vocation. Christian parents who are dedicated to their children work to fill the world with loving adults and, eventually, to fill heaven with saints. Christian parents show the world that children are gifts, not burdens.
Christian married couples can’t give the witness of wearing a cassock or habit in public. They can’t say Mass or hear confessions. They can’t spend all day feeding the poor, or studying and writing, or praying in a chapel. Priests and religious live another form of that hardcore, disciplined, self-sacrificing love – work essential to the life of the Church and the world, but work married couples can’t do. We need priests and religious to commit their lives to that work. But we need Christian married couples, too. A Christian marriage isn’t the same as everyone else’s marriage. Infused with the grace of the sacrament, Christian married couples can evangelize in a way that priests and religious can’t, giving a powerful example of authentic love exactly where the world expects to see it. In a unique and necessary way, Christian marriage affirms the existence of real love.
And isn’t love exactly what our world needs?
Mary C. Tillotson graduated from Hillsdale College in 2011 and has reported for various newspapers, most recently at The St. Ignace News in northern Michigan. She and her wonderful husband, who married in July 2012, live in Virginia.