How to make marriage into what it’s supposed to be.

Yesterday, before dawn cracked, the Son Rise Morning Show called. Its host Matt Swaim asked a question: Will the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage cause a marriage crisis?

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And on live radio, I said no.

And I said it because it won’t.

But last Friday, a lot of Christians responded like it would — “as if everything was perfect last Thursday,” one reader wrote on his Facebook page.

People are freaking out because of the Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage. And I don’t really understand why, since few have freaked out about our own decisions to do the same thing.

If we deny that we’ve been complicit in turning marriage into what it isn’t supposed to be, we aren’t being honest with ourselves. Because marriage is not merely about the “affective gratification of consenting adults.” Except that is exactly what lots of us make it about.

As I wrote in my last post, we make marriage about affective gratification when we treat attraction as the paramount standard for finding a spouse, instead of his or her commitment to our sainthood. It’s what we make marriage about when we pursue sexual compatibility before marriage instead of achieving it after the wedding. It’s what we make marriage about when we don’t cooperate with our fertility but stifle it, and when we treat love like it’s a feeling and not a choice.

The Supreme Court’s decision won’t cause a crisis. It’s a symptom of one. It’s a natural next step in a culture in which marriage as God designed it is so seldom modeled that few know it exists — a culture in which there widely has been no discernible difference between marriage as lived by people in the Church and marriage as lived by people outside it. But there should be.

And there can be.

But first, we have to learn it.

The real crisis is that married people exist who don’t know what marriage as God designed it is. Nobody ever defined it for them. Which is tragic. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church exists, and Love and Responsibility exists, and Theology of the Body exists — invaluable resources (among others, including some that aren’t books!) that define marriage as God designed it. Which is awesome. If we want to make marriage into what it’s supposed to be, we have to learn what it’s supposed to be. Buy a book. Take a class. Start a small group to discuss.

Then, we have to live it.

Knowing what the Church teaches about marriage and believing that it’s right changes everything. It changes who we choose to date and how we date and whether we date at all. A person who believes that marriage — like all vocations — is designed to result in the destruction of self absorption cannot date the same way a person dates who thinks marriage is merely supposed to result in affective gratification.

The point is, there is a discernible difference between marriage as lived like God designed it and marriage as lived like He didn’t. If we want to make marriage into what it’s supposed to be, we have to prove that — which we can do while we’re single or while we’re married, even if we married before we knew what marriage is. (“A marriage can become a noble Christian discipleship, even if it did not begin with a mature decision.” -Fr. Benedict Groeschel)

And then, we have to give it.

As in we can’t do to others what was done to some of us.

We can’t let our kids turn into adults who don’t know that love is “an authentic commitment of the free will of one person resulting from the truth about another person” (St. John Paul II). Or that marriage is designed to be an indissoluble union between a man and a woman (so date wisely). Or that sex is a sacred physical sign of the vows that a husband and wife made on the altar where they were married, designed both for procreation and to be an expression of the unity achieved by the sacrament of matrimony.

If we want to make marriage into what it’s supposed to be, we have to educate others — a responsibility that, when skirted, causes the kinds of crises we decry.

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  • I read your previous post with interest too, and your point that this will not cause a crisis is a good dose of calm reality, since of course the crisis you’re talking about has already long existed, but I’d like to add that the Obergefell decision—as well as the whole legal regime that will flow from it—isn’t just a symptom: it’s a cause of something, even if not the crisis that we are already neck deep in. Think of any generation that was born too late to live through any upheaval but that only lived through its resolution or its aftermath (children born after the Civil Rights Act who have no memory of the most pervasively violent racism, or girls born long after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment for whom voting is a perfectly ordinary thing, to name just two of countless examples): prior generations may have fouled up the proper understanding of human sexuality and marriage, but now what will children grow up with? Obergefell isn’t so much a symptom of the disease as it is a mutation that makes the disease more resistant to our antibodies and our medicines. It is not the crisis, but surely it is a critical and worse than symptomatic problem.

    • Exactly how I was thinking, perfectly explained. Thanks Virgil!

    • Arleen Spenceley

      Great point, Virgil (or “Virgin,” as I accidentally originally typed, which is probably to be expected when one writes about what I write about as much as I do, LOL.)! I agree. I think, too, that it is certainly possible for the decision to be both a symptom of the marriage crisis I wrote about AND the cause of the “something” you’ve identified.

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