Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Marriage and Its Religious Dimension

The perception of marriage in its flesh and blood realities can be gleaned from cases submitted to a Church court for resolution. It is from these messy, if not unknown, elements of the contested matrimonial bond that the truth of marriage is ferreted out.
Leafing through the acts and decisions of the Roman Rota the Holy Father, the late Pope John Paul II, discovered a tragic pattern in marriages submitted for resolution. He found out in rhythmic regularity that marriages which broke down are unions wherein the spouses have ruled out the religious dimension of marriage. I am wondering whether this discovery may also be true in other matrimonial courts.

Along this vein Pope John Paul II in his address to the judges of the
Roman Rota, highlighted the importance and the significance of the religious dimension of marriage and the family. He cited the phenomenon of many recent matrimonial cases and observed that there is a pattern. The pattern is the diminishing awareness of the spouses of the significance of the sacramentality of the Christian marriage. Spouses do not consider anymore the transcendence of Christian marriage, its intimate meaning, its intrinsic supernatural value, its positive effects on the conjugal life and family. He also observed that secularism has much to blame to this modern phenomena in Christian marriage. He said: “Today’s strongly secularized mentality tends to affirm the human values of the institution of the family while detaching them from religious values and proclaiming them as fully independent of God. Influenced as it is by models of life that are too often presented by the mass media, today’s mentality asks, ‘Why must one spouse always be faithful to the other?’ A person of faith can easily answer that question; but a person who is cut off from that religious dimension of marriage is in a quandary. Caught in a crisis, this person of no faith “will even reformulate the preceding question in this way: why it is always necessary to love the other spouse even when so many apparently justifying reasons would lead one to leave?”

Confronted with such a phenomenon, the Holy Father enjoined the audience to help the families to value the significance of the sacramentality of marriage in their own lives. He also urged them to always consider the religious dimension when dealing with sacramental marriage. He said: “The consideration of the sacramentality highlights the transcendence of your function, the bond that links it to the economy of salvation. The religious dimension should for this reason permeate all your work. From handling scientific studies on marriage to the daily activity of the administration of justice, there is no room in the Church for a vision of marriage that is merely immanent and profane, simply because such a vision is not true theologically and juridically” (op. cit., 6).

Down the centuries the Church has maintained with insistence the ever-enduring doctrine of marriage and its sacramentality. When it talks on the union of man and woman in a perpetual and exclusive contract of giving and accepting each other in the rite of marriage, it has to be taken within the context of a sacrament and therefore within the area of faith. Christian marriage is more than a piece of legislation; more than the union of a male and a female hit by a chemical reaction called love. It is a sacred union. It starts with the free choice of the man and the woman in love, mutually surrendering themselves to each other which they do by entering into marriage whose meaning and values do not depend on them alone but on God himself. For God is the Author of marriage, delicately endowing it with proper laws and regulations. And more. Due to the reality of sin, making him/her prone to the temptations of the flesh and the pride of life that oftentimes sours the relationship between man and woman, God saw to it that union of man and wife become a source of grace, elevating it into a sacrament. Here the spouses are caught up by the Christ who gives that great promise: “My grace is sufficient for you.”

Marriage therefore bestows that sacramental grace to “perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children” (cf. CCC, n. 1641). To ease out this religious dimension, therefore, is detrimental, if not suicidal, to the union.