The truemeaning and purpose of marriage has become clouded over the last 40 years. This
confusion has influenced why and whether young people marry. While we
understand marriage as a sacrament, it's critical we learn to use non-religious language
to explain it to our children and friends in ways that properly convey its
truth and beauty.In reality, marriage
unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born
from this union.
Polls show most people think marriage is merely the recognition of
a committed loving relationship principally for the benefit of the spouses.
However, marriage is much more. Responsible negative influences include
no-fault divorce, which makes marriage conditional on the happiness and
fulfillment of adults and the separation of sex from procreation and marriage.
breakdown of marriage has reached crisis mode. Today more than 50 percent of
births to women under 30 occur outside marriage. According to sociologists, the
increased numbers of children in poverty, in fatherless homes, and who
experience abuse and neglect all relate to changing attitudes about marriage.
The phenomenon of the breakdown of marriage has spread rapidly into the segment
known as Middle America and is now touching nearly every extended family.
to reverse these current trends should be an imperative of social justice for
every citizen, and a primary concern of every parent. Who would choose that
their grandchildren should be deprived of mothers and fathers united in
marriage, or that their own children should grow up to be single parents?
a Christian culture – and in this case, a marriage culture – does not start
with judging others but with our own conversion. Conversion is a journey, not a
destination. That journey is essential to the New Evangelization and the reason
Pope Benedict XVI declared the Year of Faith. To evangelize the culture,
starting in our own families, it is crucial to study and transmit the teachings
of the Church about love, marriage, and sexuality to our children, but to also present
them in non-religious terms that reveal their truth, beauty and goodness. No matter
how well they know the Catechism, young people are vulnerable to accepting conflicting
ideas that seem reasonable and appealing.
only accept Church teaching that correlates with their own experience. Building
a deeper faith and increasing confidence requires testing and verifying what
the Reality of MarriageThe child has the right to be ... brought
up within marriage: it is through the
secure and recognized relationship to his
own parents that the child can discover
his own identity and achieve his own
proper human development. The parents
find in their child . . . the permanent sign
of their conjugal union, the living and
indissoluble concrete expression of their
paternity and maternity.
Vitae, no. 1
things aren't true because they are in the Catechism. They are
in the Catechism because they are first true. Church teaching does not create
reality; it gives us a deeper understanding of it. Marriage as an integral part
of God's plan for creation is a reality that can be verified without the
benefit of revelation. "Father…
for although you have hidden these
things from the wise and the learned you
have revealed them to the childlike," Jesus said
(Lk 10:21). Looking at marriage from the perspective of the child within us reveals
experience informs us. We all have a desire to know, be connected with, and
loved by our own mother and father regardless of our relationship with them.
This experience of God's plan for creation has been stamped into our very
adopted people wonder about their biological origins, or children created from sperm
donors search out the person who engendered them, as well as their
Rather than merely biological artifacts, moms, dads and siblings
are part of our identity. Every person has a right to be part of a family, to
be born to a mother and father united in marriage.2
Due to the
confusion about marriage today, many struggle with expressing marriage so that
its truth and goodness are evident. This is what marriage is and does:
unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their
can only be recognized and not changed (Catechism §1601-1603). It expresses procreation,
complementarity, motherhood and fatherhood, irreplaceability, kinship, and the
good of the spouses and children. It even includes the potential for the
heartbreak of infertility. Not every married man and woman has children, but every child has
a mother and father.
reveals why marriage has been recognized by every culture, society, and
religion, each within its own sphere of interest or knowledge. In law, marriage
creates the sole civil institution that unites children with their mothers and
fathers and provides the only authority to promote it for the common good.
The Church provides a deeper understanding of this same reality which was
elevated to a sacrament by Christ's total self-gift to us on the
cross, and by the understanding of His relationship with His bride, the Church.
Beauty of Marriage Revealed
marriage, a man and woman freely choose to become irreplaceable to each other.
This choice prepares them to receive the gift of a new life that has the same
value and dignity as their own. The child is irreplaceable to them and both are
irreplaceable to the child. Marriage begins the circle of irreplaceability we call
is true for adoption. Marriage prepares the man and woman to receive that child
into their circle of irreplaceability, permanently substituting for the mother
and father the child lost.
considered through the eyes of the child, marriage is beautiful. To rebuild a
marriage culture, the truth about marriage must be restored and promoted so that
more men and women choose to enter into the marital union as the foundation for
imperative of social justice, public policy, education, entertainment and media
all need to promote the importance of men and women marrying before having
B. May is author of Getting the Marriage Conversation
Right, a Guide for Effective Dialogue
and President of Catholics for the Common
Good, an apostolate for evangelization of
Longenecker, "The Risk of Faith," The Veritas Series (New
Haven, CT: Knights of Columbus Supreme Council, 2008), http://www.kofc.org/un/en/resources/cis/cis332.pdf
(accessed May 17,
Vitae (Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin
and on the Dignity of Procreation),
Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith (1987).