Christian Marriage is a Calling
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
The small conference room was filled with twenty eight young couples, obviously in love, hoping for a wonderful future together as married couples. They had already sat through two talks on this sunny Saturday afternoon when they probably would have loved to be at the beach or outside enjoying the weather. My talk was scheduled to be the last of the day. I was glad to be invited back to teach in the pre-marriage program sponsored by Catholic Charities. It is mandatory for all couples preparing for marriage in my Diocese.
As in the past, I was asked to give the talk entitled “The Sacrament of Marriage.” I was happy to do so. I have lived this vocation of Marriage in Christ for thirty years. I know that it is just that-a vocation -a call to follow the Lord in a specific way and, in so doing, to grow in holiness, participate in the very life of God and in the continuing mission of Jesus Christ as He walks it out through His Body, the Church, of which the domestic Church of the Christian family is a cell.
The couples had already heard what are sometimes considered the “practical talks” of this day long experience, the ones concerning developing communications skills and developing a mutual approach to the stewardship of finances. They had participated in group experiences, private question and answer sessions with one another and group discussions; all intended to deepen their trust in one another. I believe that these efforts and talks will be helpful as they prepare to live out the daily realities of married life.
However, once again I wondered how much they had been introduced to the foundational vision for this Christian calling that they were responding to; this vocation to Marriage in Christ, this way of holiness and call to ecclesial mission. Christian marriage is first a calling to follow the Lord. All of the communications skills in the world and a good approach to financial stewardship will not, in and of themselves, prepare couples to be faithful to this Christian vocation for life.
My talk is on the “theological” dimensions of Christian marriage. I am asked to give the talk because of my theological training and my experience as a married man as well as a member of the clergy, a Deacon of the Catholic Church. I agree to give it whenever possible, partly because I am convinced that one of the reasons we see so little difference in the divorce rates between couples married in the Church and those who are not is because we have not done a very good job preparing couples for Christian marriage as a vocation.
It is hard to learn how to live in a house if you do not first know the floor plan or the architecture - and there is an architecture, what philosophers call“ontology” -an “essence” - an identity, to Marriage in Christ. After all, it is a Sacrament of the Church, a very participation in the life of God, a manifestation - in the real world- of His presence and purpose, a source of continual grace, and a call to holiness.
We need to ask ourselves some probing and important questions about how we prepare couples for marriage. Let me suggest a few.
In our marriage preparation programs, do we emphasize the vocational dimension of marriage in Christ? Are Christian couples really being “prepared” for Marriage “in Christ” as a call to holiness of life and mission? Given the hostility of our contemporary neo-pagan world, are Christian couples made aware of the challenges to fidelity and marital chastity that they will face? Are they taught the importance of the evangelistic and prophetic witness of their life together and the ecclesial dimension of their vocation? Are they evangelized and catechized?
If not, it is a shame and, we have ourselves to blame. What they need most of all is solid instruction on how to live this vocation out in an age that is increasingly hostile to their way of life. Failure to prepare them well could also result in a loss to the Church in this new missionary age into which she is called to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. After all, Christian families are the little platoons, the missionary units of the New Evangelization that is underway.
When I give this talk I explain that marriage is revealed in the natural law, a part of God’s plan for the human community. It is not simply a social construct that can be changed by the whim of a legislature or some judicial pronouncement. I trace the history of marriage through the Old and into the New Testaments. I explain, through the wonderful letters of St Paul, how God thought first of the spousal union of Christ and His bride, the Church, and then He then made husband and wife look like it! That, though in the order of creation, something of what St Paul calls this "plan hidden from the ages” (Ephesians 3:8-9) is revealed, it is ...
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