This past Sunday, the Church celebrated World Marriage Day. yesterday the Church commemorated Our Lady of Lourdes, and the week closes with St. Valentine’s feast day. This sequence of celebrations and saints is not accidental. The Church gives order to the many Bible passages, saints days and special services in order to teach the faithful. This week of liturgical celebrations also reminds us of the challenges we face in contemporary society, which remains counterpoised to foundational principles about love.
The Role of Marriage in Catholic Life
Marriage is the pivotal sacrament that orders community life. God created men and women by nature to complement each other, in more than just our physical attributes. Female attributes and male attributes often stand in complementarity to each other and therefore form a greater whole than any individual. The purpose of marriage is to discover the joy of sacrificial love toward each other and through the procreation and raising of children. Parents are primary educators of their children, and children benefit best from receiving nurturing from both mothers and fathers.
The home is the primary social unit of society, the place where each person forms his psychological make-up and learns to live in community with others. By nature, God made us as social creatures. The gift of speech and the activity of loving service wed our family lives in close intimacy. The home is also a training ground for virtue, where we learn to make sacrifices, tame our wills, and develop the self-restraint that provides the foundation to all the virtues. Knowing we are loved, knowing we belong and learning how to empathize are the keys to psychological wholeness; these form in the family.
The union of husband, wife and children image the unitive principle of Trinity — in many one.
The Healing Message of Our Lady of Lourdes
When Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to the young St. Bernadette, she called herself the Immaculate Conception and she provided the healing waters of Lourdes to which millions make pilgrimage. On this feast day, the Church celebrates the sick, those suffering who bear the imprint of the crucified Christ. In suffering we are one with Jesus, and caregivers are reminded in a special way how caring for the sick in a way that honors their dignity places us close to holiness.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception reached common audiences through this revelation; previously, the doctrine was discussed in more scholarly circles of the Church and universities. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception provides a connecting thread to what the incarnation reveals about the sacredness of marriage.
Unlike the rest of us, Our Lady was conceived immaculately, without original sin. This made her womb a pure and holy vessel to prepare the God-made-flesh for the nativity. The fact that God chose to humble himself in human form elevates our recognition of divine imagery in the creation of each of us. Christ became one with us, and Mary is the vessel who immaculately facilitates the incarnation and who carries us to unity with her son.
St. Valentine’s Day
St. Valentine set out on a mission to marry Roman soldiers to their brides in direct disobedience to Roman law at that time which prohibited any man in the army from getting married. St. Valentine spent time in jail for his “crimes,” and from prison he sent letters to the faithful. This is the Christian root to Valentine’s Day.
At the heart of the message of St. Valentine’s Day is the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman open to sharing their blessed unity with the children God brings into their lives through the marital union. St. Valentine witnessed that preserving the sanctity of marriage is worth defying unjust laws because the eternal and natural law stands above human conventions.
We live in an era in which the sanctity of marriage remains under siege from within and from without. Cohabitation has delayed or circumvented marriage. The divorce rate has reached the 60% mark. A contraceptive culture makes parenthood an option, and endangers the lives of “unwanted” children. Individual “fulfillment” and “freedom” has replaced the spirit of lifelong commitment and sacrifice. The unitive principle remains fragmented except in increasingly smaller circles of the faithful.
The Real Deal on Love
Love is a lifelong commitment that involves not just your spouse, but also the self-sacrifice of the couple to remain open to and nurture children. This primary unit of society requires more than a fleeting “feeling” of passion to sustain it, and one cannot call any appearance of loving feelings the stuff that images the unitive principle and reflects the Creator’s image.
Love requires sanctification to become holy. Love requires commitment to remain open to life and service. Love requires ongoing refinement of the will to restrain selfish instincts and to work at loving others. This is the lifelong journey that readies us for heaven.
Notice that in this most famous of passages about love in the Bible that God warns us to put away “childish things.” Let us pray that we can live out this highest call of God and that our society can be healed of it’s vast brokenness and confusion on the nature of love and family life:
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13)