First, we must be convinced that God is the author of marriage and family life. Many people today consider marriage solely in terms of biology, sociology or culture. When marriage and family life are viewed in a merely naturalistic manner, they lose all reference to God and are no longer rooted in absolute values or founded upon divinely ordained truths. One result is that premarital sex, trial marriage, and cohabitation are commonplace today. Adultery, divorce, and remarriage are treated casually. “Pre-nuptial contracts” are becoming a popular way to take out economic insurance against a likely future divorce. Some go so far as to support homosexual "marriages." While this may be the prevailing “wisdom” of the world, we must look to the Bible, the Christian tradition, and the teaching of the Church to discover God’s plan for marriage and family life.
Marriage between a man and a woman is at the heart of God’s design for creation. In the first creation story we find man and woman as the crown of God’s good creation. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our own image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:26-27). Moreover, God “blessed” them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:28). Here God revealed that marriage, sexuality, and family life are not meant to be just biological and evolutionary phenomenon, but are integral to his purposes, part of his plan for the human race created in his own image and likeness.
The second creation story is more graphic. It depicts God forming man out of clay and breathing into him the breath of life (cf. Gen 2:7). When God placed the man in the Garden of Eden, he took note that “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Gen 2:18). We are told very graphically how God formed woman from Adam’s rib. Upon seeing her, Adam declared “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called woman, for out of man this one was taken” (Gen 2:23). Woman is man’s designated helper, but this in no way undermines her dignity. Having been formed from Adam’s rib, she, by design, is close to his heart and, as Adam himself acknowledged, she shares his very own nature. In God’s plan, man and woman are complementary. “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, preferring to be gods unto themselves, they devastated their life together as a married couple. No longer were they faithful and loyal. The effects of their sin have contaminated every marriage and family. Their own family bears witness to this truth. Cain killed his brother Abel (cf. Gen 4). Do we see what transpired because of sin? Marriage and family life, the centerpiece of God’s work, became fragmented and broken.
The evil of the Fall should not blind us to God’s love.He immediately promised a Savior (cf. Gen 3:15). This greatwork of redemption was accomplished in Christ Jesus. Our marriages and families can be healed and rejuvenated only if we participate in this new life. Pope John Paul II has stated: “the Church is deeply convinced that only by the acceptance of the Gospel are the hopes that man legitimately places in marriage and in the family capable of being fulfilled” (Role of Christian Family in the Modern World, n. 3). When a Christian couple enters marriage, they do so in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through faith and baptism, they participate in a new life in Christ, in the covenant which was founded on the shedding of his blood. Thus, when a Christian couple stands before the altar, in company with the priest and witnesses, they are presenting themselves to God in union with Christ, as members of his body. They are saying to God: “We have been cleansed of our sin. As holy members of your Son’s body, temples of the Holy Spirit, we approach your throne. As sharers in his covenant, we commit ourselves to one another, with you, Father, as our divine witness, to live together and to become one in heart, mind, and body.”
The unbreakable covenant between a Christian husband and wife is possible only because they participate in Jesus’ everlasting covenant. As partakers of the Holy Spirit, they can confidently commit themselves to one another, knowing thatno sin can destroy the mutual promises.
Willed by God in the very act of creation, marriage and the family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ and have need of his graces in order to be healed from the wounds of sin and restored to their “beginning,” that is, to the full understanding and the full realization of God’s plan (Role of the Christian Family, n. 3).
Only if we are clear about the greatness of God’s call in marriage and family life will see the importance of our responsibilities, the way sin undermines these, and how the Sacrament of Reconciliation can restore familial relationships. We need not fear. Rather we should rejoice that Jesus has thought us worthy of so marvelous a calling as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. We can find great strength in his saving presence, power and life.
The Second Vatican Council has emphasized that “all in the Church… are called to holiness” (Constitution on the Church, n. 39). Christian marriages are an essential means used by God to sanctify the members of Christian families.
“The sacrament of marriage is the specific source and original means of sanctification for Christian married couples and families” (Role of the Christian Family, n. 56). As married couples, we are to examine our lives in light of the responsibilities we have to God’s call to holiness. These responsibilities are fourfold in nature: 1) to God; 2) to our spouse; 3) to our children; 4) to society at large. By rooting out sin and through the healing and empowering effects of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we will be able to attain the holiness to which we are called.