One thing that became stunningly clear in light of the recent Synod on the Family is how little people really understand the Catholic vision of marriage — perhaps most especially Catholics! Test your Catholic marriage IQ with the following questions.
Q: What is the primary job of the Catholic husband and wife?
A: The primary job of a Catholic husband and wife is to help get each other to heaven. That's a big part of what it means to say that marriage is both a sacrament and a vocation. When a husband and wife get married in the Catholic Church, they are affirming that they believe God has chosen them to play an essential role in each other's sanctification — second only to the saving power of Jesus Christ. Incidentally, this is also a big reason the Church frowns on divorce. To actively pursue divorce is to say, "I refuse to play the role God chose me to play in helping this person get to heaven." Of course, God can still get them there, but divorce deprives them of a major support. The only way to step out of this role validly is to find — through the process of an annulment— that God really didn't choose you to play this role after all.
Q: True or False. You and your spouse get to say what your marriage should look like.
A: False. That's why Catholic couples are forbidden to write their own marriage vows. Of course, every marriage is different in some ways, but rather than defining the nature of marriage for themselves, as many secular couples do, Catholic couples implicitly agree to live marriage as the Church defines it. Why? First, because they believe that the Catholic Church has a lot to teach them about what it means to be fully loving people and second, because they want to be living witnesses of the freeing truth of the Catholic vision of love and sexuality. Every Catholic couple is supposed to be a living, breathing sign that the Catholic understanding of love and sex is the path to true freedom, joy and fulfillment so that they can call the whole world to Christ through their example.
Q: True or False. Marriage is the sacrament of sex.
A: True. Every sacrament depends on a physical sign that actually causes what it represents. Baptism uses water to signify the actual cleansing of the soul. The Eucharist transforms bread and wine into spiritual food. Sacramental marriage turns sex into a spiritual reality that, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote, "rises in ecstasy toward the divine." Just like you can't baptize without water, a couple cannot be validly married unless they are capable of having sexual intercourse. In a sacramental marriage, sex actually causes the spiritual union physical intimacy represents. Likewise, it allows couples to be co-creators of life, it serves as a physical reminder of the passionate love God has for the husband and wife, and it helps to sanctify the couple by challenging them to embrace the vulnerability they experience in each other's arms and to grow in virtue as they work together to build the intimate partnership that enables them to work for each other's good in and out of the bedroom. Incidentally, when Catholic couples ask, "What gives the Church the right to tell us what to do in the bedroom?" The answer is that they couple did — when they stood at the altar. (Check the small print.)
Q: True or False. Marriage is eternal.
A: OK. Trick question. The answer is "both." You've probably heard that "there is no marriage in heaven" (Mt 22:30). But, in a sense, marriage doesn't end in heaven as much as it is transformed and expanded into the communion of saints. Marriage is the earthly sign of the nuptial union God intends all of his children to experience in him (Jn 17:21). This union is, of course, not sexual, but the Church teaches us that it is nuptial, in the sense that it is totally self-giving and completely bound up in the passionate, life-giving love God has for each of us.
Q: True or False. Marriage teaches us about God.
A: True. Marriage teaches us a lot about the way God loves the whole Church (Eph 5:31-32). When the world looks at a Catholic couple, it is supposed to see a vibrant example of the passion and faithfulness with which God loves all of his broken, wounded people. That's why remarriage after divorce (without annulment — see first question) is such a big deal. It defaces the icon of divine love marriage is supposed to be, making it harder for the world to see how God could love us the way he does. It's hard to believe in something we have never experienced. Catholic marriage is supposed to give the world a sign of a love that endures no matter what as.
How'd you do? To learn more check out my all new, revised and expanded 2nd edition of For Better...FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.
Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books, including the all new, revised & expanded 2nd edition of For Better...FOREVER! To learn more about his books and Catholic tele-counseling services, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.