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Bearing witness to God’s love

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"Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man" (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1604). This begs the question, "How does God love man?"

We know from the creation accounts (Genesis 1 and 2) that out of love, "God made man in his image and likeness, male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, so he fashioned the woman from the man’s rib and the woman was the helpmate of the man. God’s first command to them was to "increase and multiply" (Gen 1:28) and this was not only good — but very good.

God loved man so much that he created man in his own image — and he wanted that same love for the man who saw that the woman was "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gen 2:23). It is to that complementarity that we are drawn, and by which we are able to fully express our love. This love is ordered to and perfected in marriage. "The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws" (the catechism, 1603). 

Some would say that God’s "proper laws" limit the goods of marriage. Our society today would tell us that marriage is an arrangement or even a "license" for consenting adults to have their relationship recognized and validated by the public — we should "love" without these limitations. God’s laws are not limiting; they are liberating. They define what is properly ordered (by creation), and why we are made. We see countless examples of God’s laws in our lives, for example food is to be eaten and nourish our bodies (and sometimes, when prepared well, it is very good).

God’s laws help us to know, with certainty, the truth — so we can enjoy what is good. The goods of marriage are: the good of the spouses, and the procreation and education of offspring. The goods of marriage are not to be separated from marriage or from one another, otherwise it is not what God intended — it is not very good. So, let’s look at: the marriage; the good of the spouses; and the procreation and education of offspring.

Marriage is a covenant by which a man and a woman enter a lifelong union in the eyes of God. A marriage between a Christian man and a Christian woman is a sacrament, celebrated within a religious ceremony because it is God who unites the man and a woman. The spouses must freely, fully and maturely consent to this union. Spouses consent not only to be with one another for the rest of their lives, but also to "accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his church." This union of man and woman naturally leads to new life (as God provides). In order to freely, fully and maturely consent to marriage, we must necessarily consent to God’s will for us; we must cooperate with God.

The marriage vows, where we promise to be true to one another (in good times and in bad, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and honor all the days of our lives/till death do us part) indicate the good of the spouses. What is interesting, is that these vows not only provide a good for ourselves (a helpmate in all these times), but also the good of the other. This "good of the other" requires self-gift and sacrifice. Sometimes, we sacrifice one good for another or a self-interest as a choice for the other’s good. We choose the good for the other guided by the moral law. With love and God’s grace, no sacrifice is too great. In this way, we imitate and bear witness to Christ’s love for us.

Finally, marriage requires openness to children and raising them in the faith. Children are a good — all children. They deserve to be welcomed into the world and raised in the security of a home founded on the vows of marriage. When the spouses love one another as Christ loves his church, this love overflows to their children. We see our spouses in our children (in physical traits or personalities), which endears them to us. Children see their parents in themselves, and know they are loved (in good times and in bad). When spouses are unable to have children of their own, the sacrifice of this tremendous good allows them to extend their love and commitment to pass on the faith beyond the limits of their homes. They, too, are called to generously give of themselves to bring God’s life to others.

The sacrament of marriage is much more than what secular society offers. God’s laws for marriage give us freedom and security. The love God gives to each one of us is expressed, and incarnate, in marriage. God’s love provides goodness for us, is life-giving and is holy. Therefore, so is marriage.

Lienhard is the director of the Catholic Education Center and special consultant for catechetics for the Diocese of Arlington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021