Possibly one of the most beautiful gifts that God has given to humanity is the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Sadly, it is also the most attacked and profaned by Satan. Many people have very little understanding of just how important and holy the gift of marriage is. This can explain why many do not see the importance of saving the gift of sexuality for after they are married, why so many marriages end in divorce and why there is an increased push for homosexual unions. At the root of this problem is a lack of understanding of just what a sacrament is.
A sacrament is a sign instituted by Christ to convey grace. The Church teaches us that the sacraments are the most profound way that God administers His grace to us, His children. The sacraments are His most direct and significant means of healing our brokenness. It is through the sacraments that we, His children can come in direct contact with the living God. Ultimately it is the way that God makes Himself visible, physically present to us.
Through Baptism we receive the "initial cleansing" that washes away the stain of Original Sin, making us a new creation in Christ. Confirmation further equips and strengthens us with grace to be His disciples, to be warriors on the battlefield. The Eucharist, the most important of all the sacraments, is for us our "daily bread" — food for our daily needs — by which we receive Jesus in the most profound and real way we can, in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The Eucharist is the very flesh He gave for the salvation of the World, our salvation. Confession allows us to receive the continued cleansing of our souls and the need we have for further healing.
Because of the effect of Original Sin on our lives, we have a tendency to fall into sin. This tendency, called concupiscence, is what pulls us toward sin. By humbling ourselves in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we allow God to reach into our souls and heal us as individuals. The more humble and truthful we are with God, the more He can mend the brokenness of our souls. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, also known as Extreme Unction, strengthens us during times of illness and, if called, prepares us for the journey at the time of our deaths to be received by God into His heavenly kingdom.
The Church teaches us that marriage is more than just two people living together who share common likes or because of convenience. It is a sacramental covenant that bonds two people together in an indissoluble union by which the couple makes God present in their marriage. It is the only sacrament that is not administered by a priest. The priest is present at the wedding to witness the validity of the marriage. But the sacrament itself is administered by the husband and wife to each other. The sacrament begins at the moment they commit themselves in marriage with the exchange of vows to freely, faithfully and fruitfully love each other. But the sacrament is perfected when they consummate the marriage in the marital embrace. It is in the sexual union that the couple makes manifest the sacrament and shares in the divine grace that God wishes to give them as man and wife. The vows said with their mouths at the altar are perfected and renewed through their bodies each and every time in the conjugal act.
It is important to understand that the union must be open to life, open to the gift of children, for the marriage to be valid. This is why contraception is a direct contradiction to the very openness to life that must be present in a valid marriage. Without this openness, we block the grace that God wishes to give to marriage. This is also why two men or two women can never be married, because for a marriage to be valid in the eyes of God, the sexual union must potentially be fruitful — something that can never happen in homosexual unions.
In scripture, God gives us His intended plan for marriage and the beauty of sexuality. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells us of God's intention for marriage:
'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church (Eph 5:21-32).
In the original Greek the word for "mystery" here means sacrament. The great mystery or sacrament of marriage is meant to reflect the love that Christ has for His people, the Church. Christ loves His people completely without holding anything back. His love is freely given, fruitful, and faithful. A marriage is to reflect Christ's love for the Church. This is why divorce is impossible for a valid marriage because the bond between man and wife has made them one flesh. To divorce is to profane and destroy what God has joined together.
Because of the great significance this sacrament has on the family itself, it has probably received the greatest attacks from Satan. As it is Satan's desire to destroy all of humanity, he knows that to attack the Sacrament of Marriage is to destroy families at their very core. Possibly the most significant attack that he has made is profaning and devaluing the gift of sexuality. Premarital sex is a significant problem and this is promoted by the mainstreaming of the mindset of the pornographic subculture. "Hooking up," a term used on college campuses to describe uncommitted sexual relationships, is common among young adults. To many, using another's body for their own selfish pleasure is just something to do for recreation.
Pride and selfishness are the key factors that Satan has used to lure man and woman away from God's intended purpose for life:
The Serpent said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? …You shall not die, For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil' (Gen 3:1-5).
The result was the Original Sin and with it came the corruption of love and marriage, distorting the original intent of marital love into lust. Lust is the desire to use another for ones own selfish pleasure, while love is to will the greater good of another. Love and lust are directly opposed to one another.
Satan's attack on the Sacrament of Marriage through the corruption of the sexual union is intended to prevent us from gaining the very grace that is given by God to help us throughout our married lives as man and wife. Indeed it is the very grace we need to help us succeed in marriage.
When men seek out selfish pleasures — "It's all about me and my pleasure. If you love me you will fulfill my sexual needs" — they will often turn to pornography, masturbation or even adultery. Their corrupted intellects see women primarily as objects to be used for sexual pleasure, a mindset that is all too often carried into marriage. With the Internet, pornography is much more accessible and is often used as an easy escape for many men. Yet, Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew, "You have heard it said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:27-28). When men view pornography, they are committing adultery in their hearts.
Satan convinces women that men only want to use them for sex. If they are not getting their emotional needs met, if they are not feeling loved or understood by their husbands, they withdraw because they do not wish to be used. They may withhold sex as a bargaining chip or give into having sex with a man, even if they are being used in order to "feel" loved. Men will use love to get sex, while women will use sex to get love. Lust is the root cause of many of the problems we see in marriages today. Lust destroys marriages by destroying trust between the husband and wife. We must have trust to be vulnerable. We need to be vulnerable in marriage for marriage to succeed. Ultimately we need to trust God's intended plan for marriage for marriage:
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:21, 24-25).
Couples must be subject to one another "out of reverence for Christ." Without this kind of trust, we cannot experience the kind of joy that God intended for marriage. Without wives giving themselves completely to their husbands, and without husbands loving their wives with the giving of their very lives, marriage will not work. Men must be trustworthy in order for their wives to be open and vulnerable. This level of trust in marriage can only be accomplished by allowing the grace of God to transform us and transform our marriages, to open our hearts completely to God and Trust Him with everything. In order to love as God loves us, we need to have the love of God in our hearts. We cannot give what we do not have.
Jesus performed his first public miracle at a wedding. This shows us the great significance that God places on marriage. The Catechism tells us that "Without [Christ's] help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them 'in the beginning'" (CCC, n. 1608). This is the very reason that God gave us the sacraments, to help restore that which was lost in Original Sin. Christ came to restore the superabundance of grace that He intended for every holy sacramental marriage. We are to see each other as a gift to one another — to be given freely and not taken. We are to see in our spouses the image of God, as we are all created in the image of God. We need to give ourselves completely to God, entrust Him with our marriage, our family, indeed our very lives, to experience the great gift that He wants to give all of us.