Father John A. Hardon, S.J. Archives
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by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our plan is to cover the following areas of this fundamental issue.
Christian marriage in the family is a life-long commitment to selfless love.
This selfless love is impossible without superhuman strength from God.
Christian spouses and their families are a living witness to Christ's power to work moral miracles in the world today.
Christian Marriage and Selfless Love
Christ instituted the sacrament of marriage in order to restore marriage to its monogamous position before the fall of our first parents.
When some Pharisees came to test Jesus by asking Him: "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any reason, Jesus answered and said to them,
"Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? Therefore now they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:3-6).
But Christ did not stop there. He not only told His followers that marriage is a lifelong commitment that no human authority can dissolve. He further commanded those who call themselves Christians to love one another with such selfless charity as to be willing to die for one another after the example of His own selfless love of dying for us on the Cross.
This is Christian marriage as elevated by Him to the sacrament of Matrimony. It is a lifetime covenant between husband and wife, to remain faithful to each other until death. It is also a lifelong promise, made to God under oath, to love one another with selfless charity, enduring patience, and whole-hearted generosity. Even more, it is a solemn vow to accept the children that God wants to send them and educate their children for eternal life in heaven with God.
Since the time of Christ, there have been many breaks in Christian unity. There have been many departures from the Catholic Church. There have arisen numerous churches, calling themselves Christian. Why the 'departures? The main single reason has been the unwillingness to accept Christ's teaching on the indissolubility and fruitfulness of Christian marriage, founded on selfless charity.
Need for Superhuman Strength
It takes no great intelligence to see that a faithful and fruitful marriage requires superhuman strength. Change the word "superhuman" to "supernatural" and we begin to see what we are talking about.
Catholic Christianity is unique among the religions of the world, whether ancient as among the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans before Christ, or among the living religions of the human race.
Catholic Christianity is unique in making demands on the morality of its believers that are beyond human nature by itself to live up to. The two hardest demands are the practice of Christian chastity and Christian charity. Combine these two virtues, and we begin to see why Christian marriage and the family require , indeed demand, superhuman power from God to remain faithful to for a lifetime.
This is what Christianity is all about: living a superhuman life by means of superhuman grace provided by Christ to those who believe that He is God who became man to enable us to witness to His name.
That is why Christ elevated marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. He had to, otherwise what He commanded His married followers and their families would be an idle dream.
There are certain things that human nature, by itself cannot, and the word is "cannot" do. Like what? Like living for a lifetime in loving family partnership, without being seduced by selfishness and sexual perversion that surround us like the atmosphere we breathe.
The Eucharist Provides Superhuman Strength
Entering marriage for believing Catholics is one thing. Living in Christian marriage and raising a Christian family are something else. That is why Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The moment we say, "Sacrament of the Eucharist," we mean a triple sacrament:
Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist to give those who believe in Him the power they need to remain alive in His grace. For married Catholics and their families this means the light and strength they must constantly receive if they are to live out the sublime directives of the Holy Spirit for Christian believers.
They have no choice. The world in which they live is,
Not to be deceived by this world, whose prince, Christ tells us, is the devil, Catholic husbands and wives and their families need the light that only Christ can give. He is available with this grace through the Holy Eucharist.
Not to be seduced by this world, master-minded by Satan, Catholics need the courage that only Christ can give. He tells us not to be afraid. Why not? Because, as He says, "Have confidence, I have overcome the world."
What is He telling Christian spouses and their children? He is assuring them that He is still on earth in the Blessed Sacrament; that He is still offering Himself daily on our altars in the Sacrifice of the Mass; that He is literally, physically giving Himself to them in Holy Communion. Why? In order to enable them to do what is humanly beyond their natural intelligence to comprehend and beyond their natural will power to perform.
Catholic families have no choice. The psychological pressure from the world, the flesh and the devil is too strong to cope with by themselves.
The Holy Eucharist must remain, if it already is, or become, if it is not, the mainstay of their family lives. This is no option. It is a law of spiritual survival for Catholic marriages and families in every age, and with thunderous emphasis, in our day.
At the turn of the century, Pope St. Pius X identified the first meaning of the petition of the Lord's prayer, "Give us this day out daily bread." The primary meaning of this petition refers to the Eucharist. We are asking God in the Our Father to open the minds and hearts of believers to their need for daily Mass, daily Holy Communion, and some daily praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Why? To provide us with the daily sustenance that our life of grace requires.
I am speaking to professed Catholics. I am speaking about Catholic marriage and the family. I am speaking to those whose union in Christ must be preserved by Christ, nourished by Christ, grow in loving chastity and charity as prescribed by Christ.
Nineteen plus centuries of Catholic-Christianity proves that the Holy Eucharist is absolutely necessary for married Christians to remain faithful to each other, and selfless in their mutual love. The Holy Eucharist is absolutely necessary for Catholic families to remain united in a world of selfish instability.
Witness to Christ's Power to Work Miracles
If there is one thing that stands out in Christ's visible life in Palestine it is His power to work miracles.
In one chapter after another of the Gospels, Christ performed signs and wonders that testified to His claims to being one with the Father and that, without Him, we can do nothing to reach our eternal destiny.
But Christ's greatest miracles were not His power over the physical laws of nature. They were His power to change unbelieving hearts to become men and women of heroic virtue.
The pagans of the first three centuries A.D. were converted to Christ when they saw Christians practicing chastity and charity. It was especially the faithful and fruitful love of married Christians and the stability of Christian families, that changed pagans into believing Christians and, in the process, changed the history of the human race.
Where did the early Christians receive the incredible strength they needed to live in holy matrimony and propagate the faith through their saintly families? Remember, to become a Christian in those times meant to expect martyrdom. Where did Christians receive the superhuman power to live such superhuman lives? Where? From the Holy Eucharist.
It is not commonly known but should become known that in the early Church Christians heard Mass and received Holy Communion every day. The Holy Eucharist was brought to them in prison as they were awaiting martyrdom by fire or the sword, or by being devoured by wild beasts.
We turn to our own day. What Christ did during His visible stay on earth in first century Asia Minor, He has continued doing down the ages by the exercise of His almighty power available in His invisible presence in the Holy Eucharist.
It is the same,
really same Jesus Christ who worked miracles at the dawn of Christianity, who is now present in the Blessed Sacrament, offering Himself in the Mass, and received by us in the Holy Eucharist.
What do we conclude from this? Obviously, that Catholic families be witnesses in our day to Christ's power in their lives, as were the Christians who were mangled by lions in the Roman Coliseum, or, like St. Thomas More, were beheaded by order of a lecherous king who discarded his wife in sixteenth century England.
The Greatest Need Today
This brings us to our final reflection. I make bold to say that the single most important need for Christian marriage and the family is a renewed faith in the Holy Eucharist.
There is an outstanding statement in the Gospels about Christ performing miracles. The evangelists tell us that Jesus' could not work miracles among some people because of their lack of faith.
Notice what we are saying. We are saying that the Almighty Master of heaven and earth, the Creator of the sun, moon and stars, when he became Man was unable to exercise His omnipotence because of some people's lack of faith. Of course, this means that He could not, because He would not, work miracles where the people refused to submit their minds in humble belief to His Divinity.
Now we turn to our own time and place. Would anyone doubt that in our nation in the last decade of the twentieth century, we need an avalanche of moral miracles to preserve marriage and the family from disintegration by the demonic forces let loose in our country today?
Only God can work a miracle and we need to change the figure, an ocean of miracles in America, as in Canada as in England, and France and Germany and Scandinavia, to mention just a few materially wealthy countries that are in desperate need of divine grace where so many are walking in darkness and the shadow of eternal death.
Jesus Christ is the infinite God who became man. He became man not only to die for us on Calvary. He became man to live with us in the Holy Eucharist.
Catholics have a grave responsibility. They are to stir up their faith in this continued presence of Jesus, now on earth, in our midst, in our day. They are to obtain for themselves and for their contemporaries the power to live their married lives according to the teaching of Jesus Christ. He instituted the sacrament of matrimony and the Christian family to be a constant witness in an unbelieving world to what only God-become-man can achieve.
This divine power is accessible in the Holy Eucharist to those who have the humility to believe.
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