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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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The Sacrament of Marriage

Marriage is a natural right. However, the Church reasonably asks couples to refrain from this right until they have obtained adequate psychological maturation. This coming-of-age is indicated by comprehending marriage as a life-long, complete commitment between a man and woman. They would also have to understand that this relationship is orientated toward mutual love and help (fidelity) and to the procreation and education of children. The background to this awareness is a realistic appreciation of the various difficulties in marriage and how they might handle them. They must be free from coercion in making this promise of a shared life and possess integrity of intention or will, resolved to endure any hardship.

Despite the shameful statistics, the Church is almost alone in teaching that marriage is an unbreakable bond. Non-Christians may know it as the noblest of natural contracts; Christians can embrace it as a sacrament, a covenant through which Christ gives grace. St. Paul tells us that Christian marriage is a sacred sign that reflects the lasting unity of Christ, the groom, with his bride, the Church.

A married couple extracts life from out of their love. First, in their reciprocal fidelity, they nurture and give life to each other. Second, in their openness to children, they cooperate with God in the act of creation. They summon into existence separate individuals who will endure for all eternity. What other human work could ever compare with this? Rather than a onetime event, they continue to give life to their children by caring for their physical needs. They must also aid in their spiritual development, laying foundations for growth in faith and holiness. This latter responsibility cannot be over-emphasized. Third, growing in holiness themselves, the couple’s love and service is a powerful witness, giving life to all whom they meet. Seeing their faithful commitment, we are reminded that this kind of love has not utterly passed from the world.

Jesus raised marriage to the level of sacrament. Although we do not know the precise occasion of its institution, the Church early on recognized that the reality of this relationship was transformed by the commitment of two baptized Christians in a covenant of love. Indeed, Christ identifies himself with the beloved.

Marriage makes two people helpmates to each other in seeking holiness. Spouses are to assist each other in becoming saints who will share eternal life with Christ in heaven. If all their earthly preoccupations bypass this objective, then there is something defective in their love. It must be an ingredient— even if it is tragically reduced to one spouse praying for the other to return to faith practice or to join the Church. Ultimately, sacramental grace brings confidence to the couple that God will help them to persevere in love, fidelity, and holiness.

The sacrament of marriage has certain effects:

1. An invisible bond that will last until the death of one of the spouses; and
2. The graces of the sacrament.

The graces of the sacrament include all those necessary to maintain their collaboration and mutual love in all aspects of their shared life— graces to confront and conquer all threats, troubles, misunderstandings, illness, or anxiety. If we walk with the Lord, his promise of grace and his presence will remain with a marriage for a lifetime. It must be made clear that one might receive the sacrament of matrimony with its permanent bond, but without the graces to faithfully live it out. Indeed, a root cause for divorce among Christians is in this regard; serious sin would lower the sacrament to a sacrilege. This is no light matter. Mortal sin destroys our relationships, both to God and to one another. However, even in these unfortunate cases, with the restoration of saving grace through the sacrament of reconciliation, the graces of marriage would be made fully available.

There are many duties and responsibilities in marriage. Chief among these are fidelity, cohabitation, and mutual help (especially with offspring). Statistics reveal that the Catholic divorce rate is rapidly approaching the national average wherein half of all marriages fail. Interestingly, a Gallup poll discovered that couples who pray together for a few minutes every day and who regularly attend Sunday Mass have a much lower failure rate. Indeed, 98% of such marriages survive and flourish. This says something wonderful about the intimacy of prayer between spouses and God— it is a visible testimony about the positive influence of grace living in true Christian marriages.