By Mario and Paola Martínez
The Bishops of the United States issued their pastoral letter, “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan” in November 2009, beginning their reflection on marriage as “A Natural and Supernatural Gift.” They present marriage as a natural institution, “a blessing that comes to us from God the Creator,” and humankind’s oldest institution.
The Bible from beginning to end is a love story; a story of marriage. It begins in Genesis with the first spouses, Adam and Eve, and ends with the vision of the glorious wedding feast of the lamb in the book of Revelation. “Marriage is not ... the effect of chance or the product of evolution of unconscious natural forces; it is the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love” (Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, no. 8). It is all about God’s love for His beloved. We are His beloved.
Father Bryce Sibley from the Diocese of Lafayette wrote a beautiful article for the Homiletic & Pastoral Review which presents marriage as a natural vocation. He says, “Marriage, at its most basic level, is a natural vocation, a call written into our very DNA, into the very structure of our being.” His assertion, of course, is backed by The Catechism of the Catholic Church which teaches that, “The vocation to marriage is written into the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (§1603).
The bishops remind us that marriage is a natural gift that has an impact on everyone because it has the power, through God’s grace, to nurture spouses, create family and build up society. This is also backed by science. Researchers have found that children and youth who are raised by parents in healthy marriages, are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and are more likely to succeed academically.
Women who are in healthy marriages are less likely to suffer from domestic violence and more likely to be mentally and physically healthy. Men who are in healthy marriages are wealthier and have better relationships with their children. Researchers have also found many benefits for communities when they have a higher percentage of couples in healthy marriages, such as lower crime statistics and even higher property values. It is clear that God designed marriage for the wellbeing of His people.
Marriage is also a “supernatural gift to the Church,” a visible embodiment of Christ’s love for the Church which Christ himself raised to the dignity of a sacrament. Pope Francis explains that “The image of God is the married couple: the man and woman; not only the man, not only the woman, but both together.” Together, the husband and wife are called to reflect the communion of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who live in perfect and eternal union. Through our marriage, we can be a gift to our family and to our community, serving others and giving witness to God’s unwavering mercy and love.
(To download the pastoral letter and/or for additional resources, we invite you to visit sbmarriageinitiative.org.)
Mario and Paola Martinez are co-directors of the Office of Marriage and Family Life Ministries in the Diocese of San Bernardino.