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Marriage—Becoming Christ-like

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Marriage can flourish with the grace that comes from remaining close to Christ

Marriage is about love, but, what kind of love? Our modern culture is filled with all sorts of notions about love and marriage. Some are true and others false. When it comes to the unique relationship called marriage, these wildly different ideas can cause serious problems, especially when dating, during engagement and eventually in marriage. What the Catholic Church teaches about the uniqueness of spousal love can help one wade through a lot of false notions about authentic love and marriage.

Our faith teaches that although people often have admirable desires and aspirations, human nature has been wounded and weakened by sin and we are prone to making wrong choices. The effects of “Original Sin,” the sin of Adam and Eve described in the Book of Genesis, continue to wound humanity and distort human relationships, especially the natural good of marriage. The mystery of Original Sin and its effects is a problem that the Church has reflected upon for generations.

One of the giants of Christian thought, St. Augustine of Hippo (died in 430 AD), is among the earliest theologians who wrote about the harm of Original Sin on human relationships, including marriage. Writing about marriage, Augustine put it well when he said that what was meant to be a “patriarchy of love, service and cooperation,” because of sin turned into “aggression, power and envy.” (See Augustine’s On the Good of Marriage, and The City of God.) If Augustine is right and human nature is so greatly weakened, what are we to do? That’s where participation in the life of Christ comes into play.

Due to our baptism, Christians are in the deepest of relationships with Jesus and each other. Baptism draws us into the life of God by making us members of the actual Body of Christ. St. Augustine describes this relationship as “a journey of healing or purification of the heart” (see white paper by J. Cavadini). Augustine can say this because when we are in a relationship with Jesus we will become transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit (USCCB, “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” p. 30). This transformation is not “magic.” It points to the real and beneficial changes that Baptism confers on men and women. It also speaks of the good that can happen when a person loves well. In the case of loving Jesus – the Second Person of the Divine Trinity – that means redemption and eternal life!

The transforming power of the Sacrament of Baptism can be reflected upon in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism says that God gives the baptized His grace which enables Christians to have faith, hope and love (no.1266). This “sanctifying grace” enables each baptized Christian “to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit” which allows “them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues”(no.1266). In real life this means that as Christians, we have been given all the spiritual gifts to live and love as God intended.

When we accept the love that Jesus offers and we seek a vital living relationship with Him, we will be able to identify our strengths, weaknesses, and sinful tendencies more easily. It is the Holy Spirit who can lead us beyond the burden of our faults and failings to healing and forgiveness through Christ. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, is such a wonderful help when we are burdened by past sins, in order to start “fresh.” Some may not think of this, but past or current sin can affect a new relationship. So, it is also important to go to Confession!

Baptism gives us God’s grace to overcome human weaknesses and more importantly, to love like Christ. Participation in Christ’s life is participation in His love. This has profound implications for marriage. Indeed, participating in Christ’s life will help a person to become the best of lovers.  

Theresa Notare, PhD, is assistant director of the Natural Family Planning Program, Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC.  

©2013 Theresa Notare. All rights reserved.

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