Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Family - Part 2 - Marriage

In the animal kingdom, the family is the result of mating between males and females of the same species. Humans are "developed animals." In the very beginning of human history, the male mated with the female (Adam and Eve) and the result was a number of children. To survive, the male hunted for the prey to eat with his woman and children while the woman took care of raising their kids. Where there was fertile land for agriculture, human tribes settled. This is the example of the ancient Egyptian civilization around the Nile. In other areas where there was rain, tribes settled too. Mesopotamian civilization, for example, was built around the idea of conquering tribes in the fertile lands of Syria and Palestine. The role of man in the family developed so that he became a farmer rather than a hunter. Women were considered objects that belonged to their men in the same way as cattles belonged to men. Boys were considered a blessing because the more boys a man had the more helpers to him they would be. Boys would become men that defend the tribe and extend the family in the next generations thus making man eternal. Women of conquered tribes were often raped and taken slaves by the conquerors. So much was the dignity of women thrown away that a man could take many wives just to bear him children and care for them. This is a very sketchy picture but the idea still remains true in underdeveloped cultures today. In traditional Islamic Sharia for instance, a man can take up to four wives at the same time. This is the case in many Islamic cultures to-date. Moreover, a man in Islamic cultures can divorce his wife and marry another one. Jewish tradition too tells us in the Bible that many Jewish men married more than one woman from Abraham himself on to his offspring. Solomon is known to have had many wives under the influence of pagan cultures surrounding Israel. Divorce was allowed in the Mosaic Law down to the time of Christ 1200 years later. This is natural since a man can impregnate hundreds of women in one year but a woman can be impregnated by only one man in the same period. However, only Christ reinstated marriage to its original form: One woman for one man exclusively. A man may not divorce his wife neither can a wife divorce her husband. Their marriage is permanent till death separates them. For 20 centuries the Catholic Church has enshrined this moral doctrine in its Canon Laws. In 16th century England, Sir Thomas More, now a saint, paid the ultimate price for he refused to acknowledge King Henry VIII's remarriage and was therefore taken to martyrdom - A man for all seasons. But let's take a deeper look: What is the purpose of marriage? The Ecumenical Second Vatican Council declared that marriage between a man and a woman is for more than mere reproduction. It is a participation in the procreative act of God who wills that humans be conceived and born into life. The act of sexual intercourse that brings about human life is sacred - It must be open to life (as Pope Paul VI states in Humanae Vitae). It is also an act constituted in love which is the supreme gift of God. No human power can make divorce valid for the supreme gift of God cannot be revoked. This is why, now we understand, "a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife." Why is divorce considered evil? Because in marriage both husband and wife commit themselves to each other in good times and bad, in health and illness and in joy and sorrow. Infidelity is a great evil but is forgiven by the spouse against whom it was committed. While divorce is not an option for Catholics who commit to remain in the Church, secular societies have legalized it since the 1970s. But recent studies show the negative effect of divorce on families particularly on their children. They point to children of divorce that fail in their future marriages significantly more than the children of committed marriage. Divorced people tend to have weaker second marriage if they are remarried. In the eyes of the Gospel and the Church remarriage is invalid if the spouse of the valid marriage is still alive. The Church understands the weakness of the human nature. If spouses are unable to continue living together, they are allowed to be separated but they are not allowed to remarry in the Church. To strengthen the life of married couples Marriage Encounter is a week-end program dedicated to bringing together married couples in order to renew their love and communication. Marriage is not a simple contract. Pre-nuptial agreements that are popular in North America today assume that marriage is a legal contract that will not last. For this reason, the spouses agree before marriage as to the individual rights of each of them for his/her own assets if/when their marriage is over. What is missing in these arrangements is trust of each in the fidelity of the other. The Sacramant of Matrimony is blessed by Christ as a sign of love. In the wedding ceremony/Mass, the bridegroom and bride are each asked by the priest to declare his/her own willingness to spend the rest of life with the other in good times and bad, in good health and illness, and in joyful times and sorrowful times. They are partners for life. In rare cases the Church may consider a marriage to be invalid and therefore annulled only if there is enough evidence of certain conditions before marriage including psychological/physical/health inaptitude in one of the two partners or if one of them was married in distress. To investigate such a case the Church tribunal for marriages carries out lengthy investigations. The open character of the Catholic Church is evident in her treatment of on-Catholic marriages. In the eyes of the Catholic Church every first marriage in any religious/cultural context is considered valid although it lacks the sacramental grace of Christ. Thus the marriage of a Catholic who marries a divorced Muslim is invalid. Moreover marriage is about raising new generations in the grace of God. This is why in "mixed marriages" the Catholic partner promises to raise the children in the Catholic moral education. The same partner also promises to try to persuade the non-Catholic partner to become Catholic. It is important that the family be of the same religion and faith, pray together, and resolve any serious problems immediately by councelling the spiritual guide or parish priest. Marriage reflects the Holy Trinity. How? Marriage cannot be broken because it is in the image of the holy Trinity. Marriage unites two in one love body and soul and its fruit is love. This reflects, to our limited understanding the love of the Father to his only begotten Son. The Son returns the Father's love with love. The power that unites the Father and the Son is also Love - It is the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit gives life here on earth and in eternity.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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