This week’s “Ask a Priest” question is a relatively common one these days:
Why can’t Catholics get married on the beach?
Marriage is, of course, a sacrament; in the sacraments, God’s presence is revealed in a special way in the context of the saving work of Jesus Christ. In His Passion, Jesus made a complete gift of Himself, to the point of offering His very life to God the Father, for the salvation of the world. At their wedding, the bride and groom imitate this: they offer all that they have and are to each other, making a complete gift of themselves – body, mind, and spirit – to help each other on the way to salvation. This is why the spouses, not the priest or deacon, are the ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony. This is also why the Sacrament is celebrated in front of an altar, the symbol of Christ’s own sacrifice in which the couple participate – and why it normally takes place in the context of the Mass, in which our union with Christ and each other is deepened. “This is a great mystery,” says St. Paul regarding marriage, “but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32).
Given this understanding of marriage, it can also be seen why living together before marriage is not desirable. Not only do sociological studies show that cohabitation increases the likelihood of future divorce, but it also contributes to a misunderstanding of who we are as human persons. It says that I can give my body to someone without giving anything else, as if my body had no true relation to my mind, my emotions, my will – to my “real” self. This is due to a deep confusion in our culture about our bodies: On the one hand, enormous efforts are expended to attain ideals of physical attractiveness and pleasure. At the same time, we frequently seek to escape from the limitations of the body altogether, through efforts to deny our fertility, to escape into virtual reality, or even, according to some futurists, to “upload” our minds into the “cloud” – though they have some difficulty explaining how our identities will remain continuous with our formerly embodied selves.
A foundational Christian belief is the Incarnation: that in Jesus Christ, God entered history and became truly human. Salvation came through His body—scourged and wounded though it was—which was given up for us on the Cross and glorified in His Resurrection. Christ came not just to save our souls, but our whole selves, body, mind, and spirit.
Christian Smith is a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame who has done extensive research on the religious beliefs and practices of young people. He is perhaps best known for his formulation that many young Americans, even professed Christians, don’t practice historical Christianity but what he calls “Moral Therapeutic Deism.” In this view, God (a) wants us to be nice, kind, and fair, (b) leaves us alone for the most part, except when we need help, and (c) allows more or less everyone to get into heaven. There is very little here about sin, repentance, grace, and Christ’s atoning death on the cross.
On this Fathers’ Day, however, it is one of Dr. Smith’s findings concerning religious practice in families that I find most striking. First, his research shows that parents are by far the most important influence on the strength of their children’s faith once they reach adulthood. (In other words, if I don’t “impose” my faith on my children, desiring them to decide for themselves when they come of age, it usually means that they’ll “decide” to have no faith as adults.) Second, while a mother’s practice has a noticeable effect on whether her children go to church when they grow up, it’s the father’s practice that has the most significant impact – upwards of 80% of children whose fathers faithfully attend church will do likewise as adults.
This fall, Holy Family plans to offer a program to help Catholic fathers, and all the men of our parish, to deepen their faith and live it out joyfully. That Man is You! has been utilized in several parishes in our diocese with tremendous success. The first course in the program, “Becoming a Man after God’s Own Heart,” is described by its creators as follows:
Combining the latest science with the teachings of the Church and the wisdom of the saints, Becoming a Man after God’s Own Heart develops the vision of man fully alive. It makes an honest assessment of challenges facing men today and provides a practical path to transformation by focusing on man’s relationship with God and introducing the 7 Steps to superabundance.
To find out more about this program, please contact our seminarian, Jared De Leo, or visit paradisusdei.org.
Humanae Vitae 50 Years Later (conclusion)
Love is Fruitful
[Married] love is fecund (fruitful). It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being.
“Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.” (Humanae vitae, no. 9)
When God created Adam and Eve, he blessed them and told them “be fruitful and multiply,” a command which follows almost immediately after their creation in Scripture and which precedes any other directive (Genesis 1:28). This command not only highlights the importance of procreation, but also that fruitful love is a way man and woman were made in God’s image and likeness. For just as God in his goodness is supremely generous, creating the entire world to share in his goodness, so should husband and wife be generous, by remaining open to life, oriented toward children that spring from the love they share.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes marriage as “directed towards the salvation of others” (CCC 1534). This emphasis on others reminds us in another way that fruitful love goes forth, brings new life into being, and seeks the good of the other. Marriage calls the spouses out of themselves and into communion with each other and with their family.