What follows are some key points from an article by Msgr. Charles Pope on the state of marriage today…
|Msgr. Charles Pope|
When Jesus uttered his unequivocal insistence that marriage was between one man and one woman in an indissoluble bond, many were stunned and scoffed. Indeed, his disciples retorted: If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better never to marry! Jesus went on to repeat His teaching while also affirming that never to marry was a positive, not negative role (Matt 19:11ff).
To understand what Jesus taught is thought-provoking in a climate where so many marriages fail. In a culture as troubled as ours, the “education/catechesis” remedy will have only imperfect results. Deeper cultural changes and healing are needed for marriage to recover statistically.
Msgr. Pope posits that we live in a time when men and women have an extremely high ideal for marriage: that it should be “wonderful, romantic, joyful, loving, and happy”. if there is any ordeal, they want out. But there is no ideal marriage, only real marriage. Why? Who really entrs the sacrament? A man and a woman with fallen natures, living in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, have entered the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Indeed, the sacramental grace of Holy Matrimony is necessary not because things are perfect, but because they are oftentimes hard. How many know that marriage is meant to sanctify but, like baptism, its graces gradually unfold, and only to the degree with which the couple cooperates with God’s work.
Real marriage takes a lifetime of joy and tests, tenderness and strain, worries and growth in order for a husband and wife to call each other to the holiness that God gives. These realities are opportunities to grow and to learn what forgiveness, patience, and suffering are really all about. To put it bluntly, if we don’t learn to forgive we are going to go to Hell (e.g., Mt 6:14-15). Marrigae as such is the real one, full of joy, love, hope, and tenderness, but also sorrow, anger, disappointment, and stresses.
Msgr. further stresses that the notion of an ideal (happy, fulfilling, blissful) marriage is seen through the lens of our culture’s hedonistic extremism. If one’s ideal is not met, then many sense a need to end a less-than-ideal marriage in search of one that meets what will prove impossible.
So, in the Church’s Pre-Cana programs but also in the work of helping personal formation, we need to teach that unrealistic expectations are damaging. People must become more realistic concerning their ideals, turning away from the smoke of hedonism and instant gratification. Cutting and running from the imperfect marriage is not the final solution. As we well-know, one imperfect marriage produces another and perhaps yet another.
Msgr. Pope emphasizes that he does not sit in judgment over those who have divorced, but merely points out the fact that in the past:
"….we tended more to stick things out, to work through some of our differences and to agree to live with others of our differences. Life was more seen as hard, a kind of exile to endure on our way to our true homeland and to true happiness. Surely we looked to some joys here on earth, but we had more of a sense of the passing quality of all worldly things, whether good or bad. We would do well to regain something of this more sober appreciation that life here is a mixed bag; it’s going to have its challenges. Marriage is no exception. And though we may idealize it, we should be aware that we are setting ourselves up for resentments and disappointments if we do not balance it with the understanding that marriage is hard because life is hard...."
Of course there are many other problems that contribute to the present high divorce rates. But here is one often unnoticed cause: “many expect an ideal marriage, and if there is any ordeal, they want a new deal.” In a world with adults behaving like this, the children get the raw deal. Let us become more aware of these reflections by this wise pastor of souls.