Theology of Marriage

Didn’t say it all semester.

The assignment was to pick 15 questions out of 24 or so. This was the review over the whole class.


  1. I.1 What is Love?

POPE ST JOHN PAUL said, “The only adequate response to a person is love.” Love is the correct response, then, to a person present to us: the icon of God. Love is an act of the will to know and do the good of another – rather than oneself. Since God is Love, this act of self-giving is the action of the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father. In the tripersonal unity of God, this shared love is, itself, another person the Holy Spirit. Since God as ground of being is the source of all being, all existence is an act of and participation in this love. To not-love (to use) is to act contrary to being.

  1. I.4 Utilitarian Relationships.

Yes, the Pope’s insights help me to better understand the feelings I’ve experienced in these relationships. It was said in class (is it a direct quote from St JPII?) “The opposite of Love is use.” Most work relationships are, strictly speaking, use-based. Some more than others, of course. When employed by someone who values their relationship with you the experience is much better than when you are employed by someone who only values your body parts and your skills. Thus, the manager in a fast food chain only needs a certain number of hands to perform an exact number of tasks. Hands can be replaced by other hands. An industrial farmer needs only hands (and muscles) to do certain work. The persons involved are not important. A business owner, using his staff for their specific functions, firing and hiring “at will” while not invested in personal relationships is equally failing in love. It feels very insecure in this sort of job. And there are times now – working for a parish where I feel actual love – it’s possible that something happens that triggers an old fear. I realize what that is now. Of course, in our society, we don’t expect our “job” to provide us with “love”. But equally, we should not expect our personal relationships (friendship, marriage, etc) to feel like work.

  1. I.5 Nuptial Meaning of the Body

First, bodies are important. The Human is a Body-Spirit hybrid. Our Bodies express and reveal ourselves and our spirit is the form of our body. The fathers would suggest we are a physical body living in a spirit. It is our bodies that reveal to others who we are. They are the mode and matter of our communion with others as much as bread & wine is the matter of the Eucharist.

Each of us is made for union with another. That union is expressed in self-sacrifice and self-gift. The works of mercy express this, but the most intimate form of gift and sacrifice is the conjugal union. This peak of gift and love is the fullest expression of this mystery so all other expressions of love involving the human body are, as it were, sacramentals of this union. “Awareness of the nuptial meaning of the body … is the fundamental component of human existence in the world” (Theology of the Body). The entire life of a baptized person is engaged in acts reflecting the nuptial mystery.

  1. II.1 Mutual Use relationships

This is an interesting topic because of the number of couples cohabitating. They are, exactly, in a use-based relationship. Perhaps unknowingly they are already experiencing the insecurity and abuse arising in such a relationship. Blatant indicators of this might include objectification of the partner such as sexual comments, bragging about “good catch” etc. More subtle indicators might be jealousy or snarky, emotionally painful comments made toward each other. In class, I thought some of the comments made by “Guadalupe” to “Monty” came close to this subtle level of abuse: she seemed to be looking for a good provider, not a life partner. 

  1. II.2 Pornography

Matt Fradd’s The Porn Myth is amazing. It points out that the initial result is a lack of sexual interest in “real” people: you need to “work” on them. The people in magazines/websites are there for free. But then they become objects. Then, after a while, all people are objects – eventually including the viewer’s own self. It’s not just art: it’s the commodification of persons. Even without the added crime of human trafficking, the persons in the images are treated as far less than they really are – icons of God. Thus, it’s a form of blasphemy as well. Art unveils beauty – porn uncovers skin. How might I uncover this? I would listen for certain clues in the conversation. For example, in a men’s Faith sharing group at St Dominic’s a member shared his trouble with this issue. In response, another man mentioned that his wife had trouble because he was up at night watching YouTube videos one after another. I recognized that this was the searching function that many report in pornography addiction. Quietly I would then engage in conversation one on one to see if this was the issue. Perhaps the fiancee is “concerned with internet use” and that might also be a clue. I would ask if the couple are open to praying and talking about this and, hopefully, lead them to speaking with someone who was a bit more skilled such as a therapist or a spiritual director.

  1. II.3 Committing Adultery with the Spouse.

If one approaches one’s spouse without the proper reverence due the icon of God (Christ to his Church) then the sexual approach becomes one of lust rather than love. All human relationships can break in this way: it’s possible to make friends for the wrong reason, to be kind to someone just to get something back, etc. So, also, it is possible to draw near to one’s own spouse incorrectly. It’s possible to use one’s spouse in a sexual act rather than to make a full gift of one’s self in the nuptial union. The spousal union mediates the Love of God to the other person. As with any human relationship, it’s not really possible, because of human sin, for me to love my spouse as fully as God intends. Yet, if I just get out of the way,  God can love my spouse mediated through me. I might block this love unintentionally, but to willingly do so is to commit adultery in my heart. 

  1. III.2 Celibacy

Marriage is a sign in this world of the union of Christ and his Church. Every marriage is this sacramental sign of an eternal Mystery. The closest humans can come, in this world, to the experience of the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17:21-22, is the consummation of the marriage on the nuptial bed. Every human is called to this unity in Christ. “That they may be one,” Jesus asks his Father. “As you and I are one”.  We can not know this unity fully, yet, because of human sin. But we can live in the sacramental sign of it (marriage). On the other hand, celibacy is an eschatological sign, a mark of things yet to be. In haven there is no marriage bcause the unity of Christ with his Church is consumated. Each of us shall know as fully as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). The vocation to celibacy is offered as a sign of that union. As St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:32-33, “​​An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife.” The celibate man can move through the world as if it is passing away. The married man moves through this world as Christ, sacrificing himself for his bride.

  1. III.4 Language of the Body (as spoken to youth group)

The two shall become one flesh is not just poetry: not just a description of what happens. It is reality: what actually happens. Oxytocin is released in your brain. This causes a feeling of bonding and intimacy. God put this in your brain exactly to bond you with your spouse. Your body is programmed to engage in this committed intimacy. Doing something else with your body – with your hormones, with your emotions – is to introduce a lie into your relationships with others. Lies are no basis for love, no basis for growth. Furthermore, triggering this same response in others (these same hormones, that is) sets them up for a major collapse when you’re done playing with them. That misuse is also no basis for friendship or any other relationship. 

  1. IV.1 Car, cell phone, computer, or contraception?

Contraception saves us from being to mercy of our bodies. This in turn saves us from being obligated to control our bodies at all. When our bodies want something we have to choose between the consequences of giving in or not giving in to that desire. There are pills now that can help you overcome diet restrictions without them, for example, lactose might cause embarrassment at a dinner party. You can give in to your desire for ice cream! Of course, you might also gain weight. Contraception means that we can give in to our desires whenever we want without any consequences. That’s why it’s hard to give this up:  we have to face the consequences of not wanting to restrain our bodies.  Of course, the irony is that we don’t want to be subject to our bodies’ “end product” –  reproduction –  so we make ourselves more subject to our bodies’  hormonal cycles. They object because they want the freedom to enjoy the gift of human sexuality without the cost of the intended end. I do not believe they actually know what the church teaches on contraception. I mean they know that they’re not supposed to use it, but they’ve been told that their conscience can make that choice to agree or not. I don’t think they realize that it’s impossible to take the church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality as a standalone:  they are fully woven into the tapestry of Christian teaching on eschatology, sacraments, morality, salvation, and even World Peace (that is, solidarity). 

As with the Eucharist, better catechesis is needed.

  1.  IV.2 G-rated Homily bringing up Family Planning

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time (Years 1 & 2 have the same Gospel): Luke 12:54-59

“When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain–and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot–and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

The readings here are taking a turn towards the Apocalyptic readings of Christ the King and Advent. It would be useful to ask “Do we really even know how to read the signs…” and point out all the ways we avoid reading signs at all – not as “fortune telling” but even the way parents ignore the signs of bad behavior in their kids, or how we always hear interviews of “but he was such a nice guy” after a crime spree. Then ask, can we even read ourselves? Tell the story shared in class about how kids learn to track their emotions in journals, and how – eventually – this is linked to hormonal cycles. Do we even know ourselves well enough to do this? For a daily homily that might be enough to get folks thinking about their lives and applying the Gospel. Sadly this Gospel (nor the parallel in Matthew) is not found assigned to a Sunday. There might be more time to add. But in a daily homily, this pointing towards something could lead to interesting conversations after Mass.

  1.  V.2 Kreeft

The answer is in the middle of page 2. “…the heart of the error of the Sexual Revolution is the identifying of love with sex.” Kreeft’s offering that “nothing less than Jesus will do” reminds me of the Catholic Chaplain at NYU telling the campus Episcopal Peer Minister (me) in 1983, “They don’t need magic or astrology or sex. They need Jesus.” Kreeft continues, “Christianity centers on two equations: God is love, and love is (revealed in) Christ.” This gets to the heart of my comments above in #8: only the full preaching of the Gospel, without hedging and without fear of “what people may say” or “voting with their wallets” will do here. “Christ alone is the answer to the Sexual Revolution. Because nobody else gives us intimacy with God.” The entire article could (should?) be used to initiate a discussion of how sex needs to be included in catechesis not just as a morality issue but as an anthropological issue. For most of RCIA we talk about mystery, spiritual enthusiasm, majestic glory,  and ethereal liturgy,  but we relegate sex to a list of do’s and do nots. 

  1.  V.3 Healy

Christ’s total gift of himself to the Church in the Eucharist is the constant spousal union. Marriage is the primordial sacrament that revealed God’s plan for the world (in a union where all may be one as the Son and the Father are one). This revelation reaches its source and summit in the Eucharist where God and Man are made one in each human being as intimately as God became man in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This union is not something we do but rather something we receive from God. We are then to actively engage it (rather than passively just sit there). This becomes our evangelical action, drawing others into this union.

  1.  V.4 Growth in Holiness

This begins in shared prayer. This can be just a Hail Mary or an Our Father at the beginning, but it should grow into a family practice of bringing things before God. Not just prayer in the home, but prayer at Church. As a monk told me when I became Catholic, “Go to Mass all the dang time.” The couple (and soon, the kids) should be used to seeing a church as part of their daily life. I shared this advice with a friend in RCIA and he one day asked, “Are we spending too much time in Church?” I pointed out that there were 24 hours in a day and we were tithing the day, so it was ok. He and his wife are now Eucharistic Ministers, he’s an MC. He’s thinking of applying for the Deacon’s program. As the family grows, the tradition of prayer will take root and holiness will grow as fruit on the vine. The pray should take root in action: the family should begin to engage in the works of mercy. One of the most direct acts of evangelism in my youth with when my friend Barbara wanted to play after school. She was making Rosaries for missionaries to take overseas! She asked me (a Methodist 5th grader…) to help. Her parents watched, smiling. I have young couples who come to help me in the Outreach ministries at St Dominic’s. They will be raising their children in that faith solidly rooted in daily practice (outside of butincluding Mass). Their kids will be inviting neighbors over to make Rosaries. 

  1.  VI.1 Mallon

Mallon’s overlapping of “Welcome” and Marriage Prep in a model of overall evangelism was very exciting! I would tweak a couple of things in his welcoming process though. Here’s where I would make changes for St Dom’s:

A clear and visible welcome booth (YES!), a welcome packet and also a luncheon. But then I diverge: the lunch should be a chance for present members of the parish to witness to their faith and to invite others into that faith. This can include a discussion of the obligations of parish membership, but at that point, the new folks should be invited to consider things over. It’s not a done deal: we’re a bunch of religious nuts. I mean that in a good way! Do you want to join us? Then the new folks should be given some time. If they decide to commit, there should be an official welcome at that point. In one Episcopal congregation from my past, this commitment was made by having the mentor introduce the person to the parish at Sunday worship. They were welcomed and blessed by the pastor and then could participate fully in parish life.

His description of the marriage prep including Alpha is somewhat revolutionary. I would love it if everyone involved in marriage prep were as committed to the faith as they are to getting “the big day” to happen. Marriage cannot help save the souls of people who are not trying to get their souls saved. MAry-Rose took this point “home”!

  1.  VI.2 Verrett

The line items comparing the marriage process with the formation process of the traditional catechumenate are brilliant. It lays out clearly why this is needed and what it could look like. One thing I have heard at St D’s is that we can’t set up more “roadblocks” if we want people to get married. They will just go elsewhere. I’m not sure if this says anything about morality (we want them married because then they won’t be living in sin). The cynical voice inside of me says two things, one of which I shared in class. “This is about money” and “They won’t go elsewhere, because where else is as beautiful as this place?” If the beauty of the building is drawing them here, let’s use it to rope ‘em in! 

The idea of using other married couples to draw others to a relationship with Christ is good: it assumes that the other couples are, themselves, properly catechized. If the data on who believes the Church’s teachings are any indication, it may take a while to get the parish “up to” being the place described in this document. We sometimes have 3 weddings a weekend. That would mean a lot of couples acting as sponsors/mentors! But it is a person-to-person relationship, exactly, that draws others into a relationship with Christ and so it is likely that the relational process will not only draw the new couple to Christ but also the mentors will be better formed in their faith as well. 

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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