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Theme four: Two Become One Print
Guest column
Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Veronica Arntz

To prepare for the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this September, the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Diocese of Madison is providing a monthly series on a particular theme on marriage and family. Each theme is a chapter in the preparatory catechesis developed for the event entitled Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, available in paperback from www.osvparish.com or for free online at www.worldmeeting2015.org

Marriage is indissoluble

The themes of lifelong fidelity and love permeate the wedding vows: "I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."

Almost all men and women entering into marriage want to fulfill those vows, for every person has a two-fold longing: the commitment of unceasing love and the ability to give the same in return as self-gift.

Yet it is all too clear that, in today's modern society, in which individuals often live selfishly and autonomously, this "forever" love -- or "fairest love," as St. John Paul II calls it -- is absent from many marriages, resulting in divorce and broken families.

After the fall of Adam and Eve, their primordial marriage was clouded and stained by concupiscence, such that the two longed for each other lustfully (Genesis 3:14-19). But, through Christ's new covenant, marriage is raised to the level of a sacrament and restored to its original beauty. It becomes "a great mystery" that is "in reference to Christ and the Church," as the author of Ephesians writes (5:32).

Thus, with the coming of Christ, the union of man and woman is indissoluble, for as Christ says regarding divorce, "from the beginning it was not so" (Matthew 19:8). As the new Adam, Christ seeks to restore marriage to its original dignity; St. John Paul II reveals this fact when he exhorts married couples to "become what you are" (Familiaris consortio 17). Through the sacrament, married couples are a sign of Christ's love for His Church, and by deepening their love for each other, couples become more and more that image.

The role of the Church

In her great mercy, the Church does not leave married couples to learn how to live a life mirroring Christ's love for His Church on their own. Rather, through her teaching and practices, she offers a path that married couples can follow through the kindly Light of Christ.

Wedding liturgies often use 1 Corinthians 13 as one of the readings: "Love is patient, love is kind." The love that St. Paul poeticizes, however, is not a sentimental feeling. Rather, it is the summation of the cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude) and theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity), which are all necessary to fulfill and maintain the vow of indissolubility.

The cardinal virtues are those which men can gain and exercise through reason and habit (with God's grace), but the theological virtues are those that are given as a gift from God, as supernatural gifts to the married couple who prays for them (Summa Theologica, I.II, q. 62, a. 1).

In his Letter to Families written in 1994, St. John Paul II elaborates upon the love that St. Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 13. He calls that love "demanding," but that is "“precisely the source of its beauty: by the very fact that it is demanding, it builds up the true good of man and allows it to radiate to others" (LF 14). In other words, love that is not as demanding would not be as beautiful.

Similarly, when the King of the Universe had "no beauty that we should desire him" and "was wounded for our transgressions," He remained the most beautiful Being in heaven and on earth, because He surrendered His life for man's sins. Thus, St. John Paul II says, "Love is true when it creates the good of persons and of communities; it creates that good and gives it to others" (LF 14, emphasis in original).

Just as Christ loved man to the end, even to the point of death on a cross, so that man would have the opportunity to enter the gates of heaven and experience the beatific vision, so too must the husband and wife sacrifice selfish desires for each other.

Sacrificial love is the way

Herein we find the way that the two become one flesh, as proclaimed by the theme for this month. This sacrificial love that Christ reveals in the Paschal Mystery, which is necessary for sustaining a marriage, is the way that the two become a union of persons.

The love that is supported by the cardinal and theological virtues is that which wills the good of the other, so that the two become increasingly united in their marital covenant.

This is not the love of the world, which unceasingly and boldly proclaims the good of self over the good of others, such that the desires of the flesh supersede any desire to love others in truth. Thus, couples ought not to follow the way of the world but the way that Christ offers in His new covenant, which is the covenant of self-giving love.

Through the gifts and graces of the Church, given particularly in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance and discovered by living virtuous lives, couples are aided in preserving the indissoluble vow and are therefore able to love God and each other more deeply.

Next month: Creating the Future

Marriage is meant to be fruitful, and children are the source of the future. As domestic churches, families are the schools of love that help develop children into the authentic human persons they are gifted and graced to be. How important is the family and new life to society? "As the family goes, so goes the world," says St. John Paul II.

Free online study guides are available at www.worldmeeting2015.org For more information, go to www.madisondiocese.org/wmof


Veronica Arntz is an intern in the Marriage & Family Program in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Diocese of Madison. She will be a senior at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo., and is pursuing a degree in liberal arts.