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Monday, August 25, 2008

The Holy Sacrament Of Marriage: An Act Of Love And A Leap Of Faith

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
(Matthew 19: 6.)

Doug writes: I read in the newspaper today that John and Cindy McCain have a prenuptial agreement. When I remarked on that discovery aloud to my wife, she replied, “Cindy McCain has a lot of money.” We then discussed prenuptial agreements and both agreed that if one of us were engaged to a fiancé who demanded, or for that matter, even suggested the signing of a prenuptial agreement that we would instantly call off the wedding. That scenario, of course, is hypothetical. First of all, my wife and I love each other deeply and are committed to our lifelong marriage vows to each other, with 20 years already behind us, and hopefully many more ahead of us. Secondly, given our financial state, even the very mention of a prenuptial agreement is downright hilarious!

I find nothing in the Catechism that specifically cites prenuptial agreements, but 1662 sheds sufficient light on the matter: “Marriage is based on the consent of the contracting parties, that is, on their will to give themselves, each to the other, mutually, and definitively, in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love.”

A prenuptial agreement, by its very definition, is, at the very least, a “what if” condition, and at its very worst, an “out clause,” to coin a legal term. In either case, it is the antithesis of faith, a staple of which marriage is to be founded upon.

Marriage is also founded upon love. We know from 1 Corinthians 13, a favorite passage of many couples, and often read at their wedding ceremonies, that love is patient, not jealous (or might I add, to paraphrase the 9th and 10th Commandments, “covetous”). Love does not demand its own way. It isn’t resentful. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. It is even greater that faith or hope. St. Paul didn’t exactly leave a whole lot of wiggle room there for a pre-nup, did he?

Jesus taught us and expects us to be of His world, and not of this one. The 3rd Joyful Mystery of the Rosary is a rightful reflection on poverty, as it depicts from Luke 2: 7, the birth of Jesus in a manager, with the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. With their faith and love, an impoverished Joseph and Mary got along just fine. A close friend of mine formerly worked in the cut-throat corporate world and got laid off due to downsizing about three or four times before finally going into business for himself, but not entirely without hardship for him, his wife and their three children. After the last time he lost his job, I offered condolences to him, to which he calmly, succinctly and faithfully replied, “God provides,” and shortly thereafter, He did.

A prenuptial agreement is a simultaneous clinging to materialism as it is an actual barrier to love, a barrier just as much as contraception is, or as is a continued refusal to share conjugal love in a marriage. Marriage is a unity, and in any real unity, there is no room for barriers.

In our modern hedonistic world, narcissism is running amok and ruining marriages and lives. Singles now “hook-up” upon meeting. In other words, sex begins before dating, and certainly outside of marriage. Most women especially often regret such hook-ups after they occur. Dating barely lasts, when it exists at all, before couples engage in premarital sexual relations and very soon often cohabitate. From there, a new and disturbing trend is now emerging: as if so-called “accidents” weren’t bad enough, many couples now deliberately conceive children while unmarried and then later and cavalierly “see if things work out” before even considering marriage. It’s all part of the same gratuitous, corrosive, and dehumanizing evil. Human dignity is being discarded, if not defiled, for immediate sexual gratification, knee-jerk emotions, greed, and overall gross self-centeredness.

By doing things the right, or “traditional” way, slowly, deliberately, and with wholesome courtship and sexual abstinence, both parties can truly come to know each other, and true love can be fostered and nurtured, but even then, only after time, prayer, reflection and discernment. Love is more than an emotion. It is also a decision. The mental aspect must be as deeply present, if not more, than the emotional aspect. Such is the difference between love and infatuation.

With this deliberate and focused slowing down of the intended and seemingly almost obsolete relationship process, fact will trump fantasy, if not fiction, and discernment can overcome the potentially destructive blindness of infatuation-driven denial. Some people are very astute at deception, and others are less savvy at reading people, but all too often, those in infatuation are also in denial, and thus cannot as easily detect someone who is not trustworthy, or places materialism on a higher plain than his or her supposed soul mate.

A decision to love is also a decision to sacrifice. It is also a decision to stay, “in good times, and in bad, in sickness, and in health.” My wife and I can regale you with 20 years worth of roller coasters of “good times and bad,” and of “sickness and of health.” I have known several physically disabled people whose spouses left them because he or she just could not, or more appropriately, would not tolerate the later-acquired disability of his or her spouse. Words have meaning. A promise is more substantive than an agreement, and likewise, a vow is greatly more significant than a promise. In marriage, we take wedding “vows” for a specific reason, in much the same way that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, and not “a few helpful suggestions.” There isn’t supposed to be a “what if,” or “an out clause” in marriage, hence the “vow.” That is where the mental overcomes the emotional, and the decision can and must override the circumstances. Suffering hardships in life draw us closer to Christ, grant us special graces, and make us stronger in our faith and relationships to Him and to each other, in much the same way that intense fire is used to forge the defects off of precious metals, and in the end, making them that much stronger, and even more precious and valuable.

The divorce rate in the US is currently at about 50%, and sadly among Catholics, it is about the same. Being Catholic in name only is one factor, as roughly 75% of American Catholics don’t regularly attend weekly mass and receive the Eucharist. Cohabitation is also a relevant factor. Roughly 80% of cohabitating couples later and permanently separate, even after later marrying each other. That stark statistic brutally debunk the popular, but detrimental folly that cohabitation is better way for a couple to get to know each other prior to marriage, if marriage is even truly in the picture at all. Too many Catholic couples get married in the Church to only placate their families, often parents and/or grandparents, who may be paying for all or part of the wedding, and thus want their say. Some Catholic couples don’t marry in the Church. The Church thus does not recognize their marriages and then those couples live in a state of unrepentant and grave manifest sin, may not receive the Eucharist, even if they so desire, and are in danger of eternal damnation if they do not confess and repent in time.

We Catholics are not called to be of this world, but that of our God and our Savior. To save marriage, and to limit needless misery, we must culturally change our mindset. That begins with being faithful to our Church, up to, including, and long after receiving the Holy Sacrament of Marriage. In the Catholic engaged couple ministries, we teach couples that marriage is not comprised of two entities, that being just of husband and wife, but rather, of three entities, God, husband and wife. Without that crucial and intended trilateral relationship, the marriage is potentially doomed before it even begins.

A prenuptial agreement is symptomatic of idol worship. It places love of money before love of the person, and thus, before love of God as well. It is conceivably a violation of the 1st Commandment, if even only indirectly so. It is steeped in greed, lacking, if not devoid of true faith and true love, and effectively says, “Just in case…”

Students study for exams. Athletes practice for competitions. Soldiers train for battle. Firefighters drill for that inevitable fire or other catastrophe. Likewise, before even considering the vocation of marriage, and marriage truly is a vocation, we must also genuinely, earnestly and diligently prepare. Money is at or near the top of the short list of causes for arguments, and in some cases, divorces among married couples, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be so. Our Catechism refers to “consent” and “covenant” in marriage. The consent must first be full before the covenant can ever be solid.

Then there will be no need for a “…just in case…”


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