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Featured Article: A Different Kind of Martyrdom - How I learned to stop talking and start listening. - Martyrs go straight to heaven. I first heard this when I was about five and, after quickly thinking it over, I decided to ask God to let me die as a witness to the truth. It seemed to me the surest, fastest way to be with Jesus forever. Trekking through the jungle, sharing the good news with a lost tribe, being quickly put to death-it couldn’t be all that bad, right? Read Full Story

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 NBCC : LIFESTYLE

Love and Marriage

Damon Clarke Owens lives in West Orange, NJ with his wife Melanie and their five daughters. He is the Director of Natural Family Planning for the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ and the founder of New Jersey Natural Family Planning Love

While joyful marriages experience eros (romantic love) and philos (friendship), they are built and sustained on the solid rock of agape (free, full, faithful, and fruitful love). In keeping with the old playground ditty "First comes love, then comes marriage…" let's build on the last article on love ( "Love is in the Air?" ) and talk a little bit about marriage. Since marriage is a vocation, does that mean everyone gets the call? How will I know when I am ready, or if I have found "the right one?" Understanding God's plan for marriage will shed much light on these weighty questions.

…and Marriage

Wedding vows pledge agape love, and transform the man and woman into a one-flesh union ("…bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…" Gen. 2:23).
It is more than just words; it is a pledge.
It is more than just a ritual; it is a Sacrament.
It is more than just a contract; it is a covenant.
It is more than just ceremony; it is a fulfillment of our personhood made in the image and likeness of God ("Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Gen 1:26-27).

It is easy to lose sight of the sacredness of marriage in our modern world of Vegas wedding chapels, civil marriage, same-sex "marriage", and Desperate Housewives. However, as baptized Christians, we have a higher standard imposed by truth. As Catholics, we have even greater responsibility and burden imposed by the fullness of truth.

This truth sources from Our Lord Jesus Christ himself through his revelation of God to man and the revelation of man to man. What do we know about this God in whose image we are made?

The Truth about you

What we call "God" is a trinity of Divine Persons. Their unity is so complete that these three who's (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit) are one what (God): a Divine Communio. God the Father ("…the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…") by His very Nature pours himself out totally to his Beloved - Jesus Christ ("…eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father…"). This Agape is so complete, we say, "God is Love", not "God has love" or "God loves". Love is His Nature meaning that if he were to stop "begetting" his Son, that is, stop loving (agape), he would cease to be. God the Son, Jesus Christ the Beloved, receives his Father's love perfectly, without fear, hesitation, or doubt. His nature is to glorify the Father in a divine reciprocation of Agape. Indeed, the only right response to love…is love. Eternally, the Father and Son are in a communion of giving and receiving so real, that it is the Third Divine Person, The Holy Spirit ("…the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and Son he is worshipped and glorified."). Talk about love taking on a life of its own! Life and Love are inseparable with God. Made in God's image, Life and Love are inseparable with Man.

The call to marriage

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So, what does this have to do with marriage? We were made to love (agape). We were made relational - to be a self-gift. "..man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except in the sincere gift of himself" (Gaudium et Spes 24). The only two ways to live our vocation here on earth is in marriage or consecrated celibacy "for the kingdom". Though we are all single for some part of our lives, there is no call or vocation to singleness or bachelorhood. This seems harsh to modern sensibilities absent an understanding of the truth of the human person and his destiny. Our destiny is an eternal marriage with Christ. We, the Church, are the bride betrothed to Christ the Bridegroom. Our Lord told the Pharisees that in heaven, man and woman are not given in marriage, yet he raised marriage to a Sacrament here on earth. If it is so sacred and important, why does "death do us part"? In St. Paul's discourse on marriage (Ephesians 5:21-33) we are given the Christ/Church marriage as the model for our earthly marriages.

In the light of this heavenly marriage, we can see earthly marriage as a time of perfecting ourselves: a preparation for eternity. Here we drown our selfishness with selflessness. Here we make right use of our God-given human freedom and free will by ordering it towards serving the other in radical self-gift. Adam and Eve's sin of disobedience cost us Paradise, but - "Oh happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!" - Christ's victory over sin won us more blessings than those lost through Adam's sin (CCC 420). We are now offered divinity through an eternal one-flesh union with the God-Man drawing us right into the divine Communio.

He's Preparing You

Make no mistake; you are in preparation for marriage. For most, matrimony is the Sacrament preparing you for the eternal marriage with Christ. For others, it is beginning the eternal marriage with Christ directly through consecrated celibacy (priest, religious, or consecrated laity). This celibacy "for the kingdom" cannot be reduced to a personal rejection or renunciation of sex. It is a marriage (free, full, faithful, and fruitful), a one-flesh union with Christ, here and now, in anticipation of the eternal wedding. The preparation for both Matrimony and consecrated celibacy, though, begins at the moment of our conception until the moment of our vow, right in our own family.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "It is imperative to give suitable and timely instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their own families, about the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise, so that, having learned the value of chastity, they will be able at a suitable age to engage in honorable courtship and enter upon a marriage of their own" (CCC 1632).

The sacred duty of parents is the procreation and education of children. This education is both in faith and reason - "the two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth" (Fides Et Ratio, Introduction). The essence of maturity is the internalization of our formation. The external rules, structure, or ethic taught in our childhood steadily becomes the internal ethos of an adult. Imperfect obedience driven by fear must become perfect obedience driven by love-love of God and love of neighbor.

This ethos is both required to make a vow of love and further developed within marriage. Put another way, we cannot pledge ourselves as a gift until we have taken ownership of ourselves (i.e., self-mastery). If your future spouse were to enter your life right now, would you be ready to make a gift of yourself? You can't give what you don't own. More important than finding the right one, we must struggle and work to be the right one. This struggle and work is seeking sanctification (personal holiness) in our ordinary, daily life through the sacraments, prayer, and sacrifice. When we draw closer to Christ with all the "tools" available to us in his Church, we can be assured that he will equip us to answer His call for us. God doesn't always call the equipped, but He always equips the called. Bring your "five barley loaves and two fishes" before trying to feed the "five thousand" because his grace always builds on nature.

Practical Tips

  1. It's never too soon…or too late
    We all have a call from God. Marriage or consecrated celibacy may seem like a decision too many years ahead, or perhaps passing us by, but we must trust that He will equip us in all ways according to His time.
  2. Pray and sacrifice
    Our suffering is real, but it need not be in vain. The great saints and martyrs of our faith have taught us to attach those sufferings to Christ on the cross. He will make them redemptive. Offer them for your future spouse that he/she may stay chaste in preparation for a chaste marriage. Stay encouraged in your prayer to do whatever it is our Lord asks of you.
  3. Study
    Set aside time everyday for prayer and study. Read the lives of the saints (St. Gianna Molla), the section Catechism (Marriage, Part 2 Article 7), and Christopher West (Good News About Sex and Marriage, Theology of the Body for Beginners). Unfortunately, you have to work to find good Catholic material on authentic marriage. Familiarize yourself with modern Natural Family Planning (NFP) as a proven marriage strengthener.
  4. Seek Godly Counsel
    Whose marriage do you admire? Ask them questions; spend time with them. If you don't have a spiritual director, begin asking around and seeking godly counsel.
  5. Stay Chaste
    We have reached a level of insanity today where sex has nothing to do with children or marriage. Viewing, reading, or listening to sexually explicit material trains us to cheapen the dignity of each other. Pornographic addiction in men is the silent marriage killer. Is that good marriage preparation? Today, the decision to engage in sex is less serious than the decision to have a child or the decision to live together or even to marry. Experience in sex or living together will be a burden for your future marriage, not a help. The Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist are powerful, real weapons in this battle.

Conclusion

Ultimately, we are all called to marriage - eternal marriage to Christ. The only two callings (vocations) to prepare for this marriage are matrimony and consecrated celibacy. Made in the image and likeness of a God whose nature is total gift of self (agape), we are also made for free, full, faithful, and fruitful love (agape). Earthly marriage is a Sacrament because it points to, and prepares us for, this eternal marriage; it really joins a man and a woman into a union imaging the Trinity; and it is a font of graces to live out our agape wedding vow. No matter what our stage in life, our good works for the Lord, or our sins of the past, He is preparing you for marriage.

Some excellent recommended Catholic resources

Books

ABC's of Choosing a Good Husband
Steve Woods

ABC's of Choosing a Good Wife
Steve Woods

The Exclamation: The Wise Choice of a Spouse for Catholic Marriage
Patricia Wrona

Christian Courtship in an Oversexed World
Fr. Tom Morrow

Relationships 101: How to Prepare for a Lifelong Love (CD)
Steve Woods

Web

Family Life Center
[Source for many of the above materials] www.familylifecenter.net

Ave Maria Singles
www.avemariasingles.com

Catholic Match
www.catholicmatch.com


Damon Clarke Owens lives in West Orange, NJ with his wife Melanie and their five daughters. He is the Director of Natural Family Planning for the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ and the founder of New Jersey Natural Family Planning (www.njnfp.orgg). He speaks nationally on marriage, chastity, Theology of the Body, and Theology of the Family. He can be reached at damon.owens@njnfp.org or (973) 847-0165.

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