what is marriage? (a litany of questions)

IMG_6339by Kate Henley Averett

The matrimonial covenant…between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1601)

Sacrament. A visible sign of God’s invisible grace. “Caught up into divine love.” But does marriage always reflect divine love? Can we always look to married couples and somehow see, somehow know, some little piece of God’s love through them? Can’t non-married couples reflect this too? I know that I’ve seen love that overwhelms, that you feel blessed just by being near it, that you can learn from, in relationships that were not that of marriage – are these relationships not Sacramental? And God knows there are marriages that, overwrought by the power and hierarchy of patriarchy, reflect nothing of the mutuality of the trinity, nothing of the selfless love of Christ, and nothing of a love that yearns for justice. Are these marriages visible signs of God’s grace? And yet, our God is a covenant-making God. Maybe there really is something about that vow, the covenant made between spouses, that is a unique reflection of Grace?

The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1603)

I knew a woman once who, on her second date with her now-husband, fell to her knees in prayer when she was struck with the overwhelming knowledge that she was called to marry the man she was with. She confessed this to him at a later date and he revealed that he, too, felt that God had spoken to him on that date. But most vocations to marriage aren’t so road-to-Damascus dramatic, right? I’ve always tended to think of vocation as out-in-the-world work, and relationships as personal – but is the personal not political, or in this case, vocational? Does making that distinction limit the ways one can think about the relationship between marriage and one’s work in the world?

Christian spouses, in virtue of the sacrament of Matrimony, whereby they signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and his Church, help each other to attain to holiness in their married life. (John Paul II, “Christ Made Marriage a Sacrament,” May 6, 1992)

Does being married make us more holy? Surely such a relationship has the potential to aid us in becoming our best selves, better able to serve each other, serve the world, serve God…but again, can’t non-marital relationships achieve this too? Or is there something about the commitment, the covenant, of a marriage that frees us in some way to become our most holy selves?

Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: “It is not good that the man should be alone.”92 The woman, “flesh of his flesh,” i.e., his counterpart, his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a “helpmate”; she thus represents God from whom comes our help.93 “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.”94 The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been “in the beginning”: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1605)

Confession: For all my pondering these last few weeks about the relative merits of the Church’s teachings on marriage, I feel like it hasn’t been a worthwhile endeavor. Because everywhere I look, repeated more frequently than one would think necessary, are the reminders that marriage, for the Church, wasinthebeginningisnowandevershallbe only between a man and a woman.

I’m wasting my breath, I know, but this is a litany of questions, so I’ll ask them anyway:

Why can’t covenants between members of the same sex be holy? Signs of God’s Grace? A way for partners to grow in holiness, to be co-creators with God through nurturing a family? How come my relationship can’t be a ministry, a way of reflecting bits of the divine out into the world? And in light of all of my other questions, why does this exclusion hurt so much?

Kate Henley Long will become Kate Henley Averett a week from today when she marries (according to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, anyway) her partner of four years. This is the fourth and final reflection in a series she has written this summer reflecting on Church teachings on marriage.

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2 Responses

  1. Kate,
    Bravo! Bravissimo! So incredibly well-put, so well-examined, how could any serious, thoughtful person read this and your other posts on the topic and still cling to the notion that, as you put it, the “wasinthebeginningisnowandevershallbe” proposition is even defensible, let alone sensible?
    Please continue to use your amazing mind to shine bright light on obsolete conventional wisdom.
    Yeah, your Dad…

  2. Yes, that is correct with your conclusion. I am going to do some research and post it here for clarity. Stay tuned and I’ll be back with the info. I made sure to bookmark the site so I’ll be able to find my way back. LOL Also, if any of you women need <a href="http://sites.google.com/site/bestabexercisesforwomen&quot; exercises for a flat stomach don’t hesitate to begin immediately.

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