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What is Marriage?

Deacon Pedro

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I posted an entry titled: What If I Was Miss California – and I wondered how I would answer if I was asked the same question she was asked, on national television.
The question is: Do you believe every State (in the U.S.) should legalise same-sex marriage?
My response would be that whether same-sex marriage is legal or not is not the real question. The real question for me is “what is marriage?” And that is what I tried to answer. Here’s what I came up with:
A Marriage is a relationship within which sex is guaranteed not to cause any problems, heartaches, disease, issues or any pain.
This of course, created some confusion – but that’s good, ‘cause I needed to explain it first. But I wanted to hear if anyone could come up with another definition for Marriage. Instead, we received two responses.
Fearghus writes:
It’s fine for me that Carrie Prejean has her viewpoint so long as she doesn’t seek to impose it on me. I’m also sorry that she was discriminated against for holding those views because we know that discrimination is wrong, don’t we?
Now the much thornier issue in your post is a definition of marriage that is focused on sex. Love always seems to me a more valuable focus and where does your definition leave those heterosexual couples who no longer have sex. And what of those heterosexual marriages where sex is the cause of heartache, disease, issue and pain? There are no guarantees who ever you are and who ever you love. That’s why we have faith in each other, in the people we love, and yes, in God.
Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you and look forward to reading your explanation.
I responded:
Thanks Fearghus for your post. You make a very good point, and one that I’ve struggled with for the past years - if Marriage ONLY has to do with love, then what sets marriage apart from any other loving relationship? Why is two friends who love each other living together, not a marriage? Why are two lovers who live miles apart, not necessarily a marriage?
Why do we think that a sex-less relationship can be a marriage, but one that is not healthy, but full of sex, is? Doesn’t make sense to me.
For those of us who strive to understand the world from a Christian/Biblical point of view, why is there marriage at all? Why has the Church (and Christ) elevated it to the level of Sacrament?
For these questions and more, I am more and more beginning to be convinced that there is something about marriage that has to do with procreation and not just the “making” of the babies, but the bringing them up. This is in fact going to be the point of my next blog entry - once I hear more from people like you.
Having thought about it a bit longer, I also want to say to Fearghus that the Church is not “imposing” her view on anyone. No one is telling anyone what to do. The Church simply believes to be teaching God’s design for Marriage. People can still go ahead and do whatever they want – and they do.
Another comment came from Celia, who writes:
I’m truly confused Pedro,
If I’m correct you are trying to establish that Marriage is the union where a couple loves each other, has sex with each other and raise children together. My parents had in my opinion, what I use in my personal life as a definition of Marriage. They trusted each other to have the same principles when related to life, they had the same beliefs when related to Faith, they truly did for the other the best that they could because that is what their partner would have done for them; and they assumed all the responsibilities that two adults have when committing to have children together; to raise and teach their children on the best of their abilities and with the faith and principles that they were raised with…
I think that in bringing the marriage definition for discussion we transform in questioning all beliefs and maybe our unconditional faith… Leaving our next generation with very little to work with.
How do you explain to a young couple that the only difference in between living together and marriage is the fact that they can have “a relationship within which sex is guaranteed not to cause any problems, heartaches, disease, issues or any pain” and raise children together? In a society where the easiest way out is the one that we pick I believe that by doing that you are saying…Marriage is not a good option, it brings lots of headaches and responsibilities and make all the good things that you feel that really make you want to get married eventually go away and you are left with responsibilities only…No wonder the indices of divorced are so high!
I responded:
I hear what you’re saying - and that is in fact the biggest challenge we have: how do we explain this to young people? And I am a firm believer in beginning to teach these things about love, sex, marriage and relationships to our children from the time they are very young, because you can’t explain it in one blog entry. It takes a long time to teach, explain and understand.
What I would say to young people is this: Don’t you want to be in a relationship that is guaranteed to not have any problems? Do you want to be guaranteed to not have any pain, any disease? Who wants to have broken hearts? No one, right? Well then let’s teach them how to have healthy relationships. Marriage is the only relationship within which sex can be healthy. That’s what I mean. I don’t mean that marriage is only about sex. For sex to be healthy, love has to be part of it. So, of course, love is an integral part of the equation, but love is not specific to the marriage relationship.
Anyway, I love the comments - I will write a new blog entry with a clearer explanation of my definition of marriage - but let me say for now that a marriage is not a marriage if it is not free, faithful, fruitful and total. I believe that if we stick to those criteria for marriage, then sex within that relationship will always be healthy and good.
I hope that makes sense.
I hesitate to write too much more at this point. I really am curious how other people would define marriage. But here’s my problem: If we say that “Marriage is the loving union between two consenting adults of the opposite sex” that doesn’t explain why. What I am trying to get to is that marriage is the institution created by God to safeguard the family. If it is meant to safeguard the family, it has to safeguard sex (because without sex there is no family) and so we go from there.
But now, it’s your turn. More on this later.
Blaise Alleyne
I am nowhere near a concise definition myself, but I think is has to have something to do with erotic love (that is, eros — romantic, sexual love, discussed in Deus Caritas Est). Eros is a productive love, a generative and life-giving love. (Of course, there is the danger of lust, but, if I remember correctly, Pope Benedict XVI says in Deus Caritas Est that eros is purified by agape — divine or charitable love…)
There’s something profoundly trinitarian about eros. It is not only a love between two, but it brings about the creation of a third, a flowing forth.
I’m not sure exactly how to express this idea concisely, but marriage between a man and a woman is the only sort of relationship that can fully realize the potential for eros purified by agape, for an erotic and life-giving love with the purity of a selfless, charitable love.
I’m not sure if I’m making much sense…
My response
Thank you Blaise. This is very helpful. You made me think of something that I came up with many years ago when trying to figure out why there were so many words for love in other languages (Agape, Storge, Eros in Greek, for e.g.) an only one in English. And so, in English, we “love” pizza; I “love” my wife; I “love” God. Hardly, those are all the same thing. I came up with 7 different kinds of love: maternal (nurturing), paternal (protecting/providing), fraternal (philial), sexual (eros), spiritual (agape), romantic and platonic. I won’t go into explaining all of them, but it occurred to me that whichever love you have for someone determines the kind of relationship you have with them. For example, my sister and I share the fraternal love strongest and sometimes she is maternal towards me, sometimes paternal, sometimes I am paternal or maternal towards her. It has spiritual elements to it, but it is never romantic or sexual.
The love I share with my wife is high in all 7 categories. That, I guess, in a way is what Theology of the Body means when it says that spousal love has to be TOTAL.
Thanks for your post Blaise.
Blaise Alleyne
Thanks, I’ve been thinking about the four Greek loves, but your list of 7 makes a lot of sense too.
N. Schultz
I don’t see the point of this exercise in which people are invited to “define marriage.” Why do Catholics need to define marriage? Scripture and tradition are quite clear on this point. Those sources should be the reference point, as opposed to consulting the shifting and arbitrary whims of confused people.
My response:
Jason Gennaro
Hi Pedro:You’re right in assessing that the legality of same sex marriage is not the issue.
Although I understand what your definition was trying to achieve, I think it falls short, mostly because it does not address the origin of marriage: God.
For a short but splendid definition, I defer to Pope Paul VI, who wrote the following in his encyclical Humanae Vitae:
8. Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who “is love,” (6) the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” (7)
Marriage, then, is far from being the effect of chance or the result of the blind evolution of natural forces. It is in reality the wise and provident institution of God the Creator, whose purpose was to effect in man His loving design. As a consequence, husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.
The marriage of those who have been baptized is, in addition, invested with the dignity of a sacramental sign of grace, for it represents the union of Christ and His Church.
God bless you and all that you do for the faith!
Lorraine Hartsook
I believe our definition of marriage begins in early childhood. Many psycologists tell us everything a child is taught and experiences between birth and seven years old determines the belief systems that remain with us into our adulthood. If this is true then we can certainly understand the many lies and truths that may define "what is marriage" depending on each persons experience of their home experience and what they were taught.

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