There may be no better commentary on marital unity than the following excerpt from the Exhortation Before Marriage, which was once commonly used at the time of the sermon during the marriage rite.
Henceforth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete.
What does all that really mean? Do most couples have any idea what they are getting into when they get married? Do they really understand that “the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5)? Probably not.
Formal marriage preparation often begins between six and twelve months before a couple’s planned wedding date. Often by that time the dress has already been bought, the reception hall booked, the caterer chosen, the invitations designed, and many other arrangements made. Marriage preparation may first appear on the couple’s radar as a condition of booking the church for their desired wedding date.
Do six to eight meetings with a FOCCUS couple really seem sufficient to prepare two people to be united in an indissoluble, lifelong covenant? Consider that there are only two sacraments of service in the Church. The first one requires several years of discernment, formation, study, prayer, and scrutiny before receiving. The other is marriage. The first one, by the way, is holy orders.
You may think, Yeah, but it’s way harder being a priest. Many priests would disagree, especially those who do marriage counseling. Consider that, compared to priesthood, a marriage involves twice as many people who are wounded by Original Sin and, though healed in baptism, still bear the scars of concupiscence. And that’s before any children are involved!
What is the Church to do about this? Should we demand years-long marriage formation and preparation programs? No, that would be unreasonable; nobody would ever get married in the Church. Instead, we need to encourage and support spiritually healthy families so more children have 18+ years of marriage preparation before leaving their parents’ home. Children should be exposed to the Four Goods of Marriage, so they become part of their expectations if they discern marriage for themselves.
What are the Four Goods of Marriage? Initially formulated by Augustine (De bono coniugali), further developed by Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, Supplementum), and expanded upon by Pope Pius XI (Casti connubii), the Four Goods have become a cornerstone of the Church’s official teaching on marital unity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1643 – 1654). Simply, they are the foundation of this radical, one-flesh union, and they are embedded in the wedding rite.
- Partnership. “Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?” Husband and wife share their whole life with each other – mind, body, and spirit. This requires a supernatural level of trust, growing together in Christ through hardship and struggles rather than apart. Do you always speak positively and lovingly about your spouse around your children?
- Permanence. “Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?” This supernatural commitment may be the key to the other three. Husband and wife must live with radical confidence that God will give them the courage, strength, and perseverance to carry their crosses. Above all else, this requires mercy which overcomes the inclination to selfishness. Saying “I forgive you,” may actually be more important than saying “I love you.” Do your children have examples of couples who have been married 30, 40, or even 50 years in their lives?
- Fidelity. “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” Such faithfulness and steadfast reliability requires supernatural intimacy – not just physical – but overall vulnerability and real emotional closeness. In the unconditional acceptance of each other’s true selves, we reveal the very love of God. We find true happiness by giving ourselves away for the good of the other. Do your children see you go out of your way to do things for each other?
- Fruitfulness. “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” Accepting the gift of children requires a supernatural generosity, a radical trust in God’s providence. Parenthood is a constant exercise in sacrifice. However, the marriage covenant naturally seeks to perpetuate itself, so it is fundamentally ordered to procreation and education of children in the faith. Are your children active participants in your family\’s domestic church?
The Four Goods of Marriage – partnership, permanence, fidelity, and fruitfulness – work together in harmony like the members of an orchestra to produce the symphony of martial unity. Again from the Exhortation Before Marriage, \”Henceforth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections.\”
How do you model the Four Goods in your marriage?
© 2013. Joel and Lisa Schmidt. All Rights Reserved.