‘Humanae Vitae’ as a guide for a holy marriage: Part III
By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Formation in Discipleship
For the third part of this series, let me begin with a review. In the first column, I wrote about Pope Blessed Paul VI’s explanation that Catholic marriage is to be total, not something that is merely one part of a person’s life, but the center of life for the husband and wife. In the second column, I wrote about his explanation that Catholic marriage, if it is to be total, must be faithful and exclusive. Married couples are to – with their behavior, emotions and attention – be centered on loving their spouse and their family. Other things are not to be more important than the marriage no matter how much you love your job, your parents and siblings, your hobbies or whatever else interests you in life. They all have a place, but nothing is to be more central to life than your spouse and your children.
This brings me to the next part of Pope Blessed Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae” that I want to highlight. The Holy Father wrote that married couples are to freely take on the responsibilities of living this total, faithful and exclusive commitment to a sacramental marriage. In paragraph 9, he writes that married couples are to, “... freely and in full awareness assume the duty of the marriage bond.”
Without a doubt, the Church teaches that the Sacrament of Matrimony, given to us by Jesus, calls us to a holy duty of love. You are to love your spouse by making your life a gift to your spouse, and they, in return, make their life a gift to you as well. When a couple exchanges their consent on the wedding day, they are pledging to each other, before God, that they will take on the duty of being a Christian spouse – without conditions or reservations, and with a commitment to living God’s plan for married life.
The Church, in her wisdom, recognizes that not all people who appear before the Church to get married, really do so with freedom and full awareness. This is why the Church grants annulments. Some couples never enter into a sacramental marriage because, on the day of – and often leading up to their wedding day – one or both people did not enter marriage with a total, faithful, exclusive, and free commitment.
I know someone who thought he had met the woman of his dreams. They seemed so right for each other from the start in so many ways. They married, had children, but all along the way something was not right. Over time, their relationship deteriorated, and they decided to divorce. I do not have space to go into all the details which led to this decision. In the end it was sad for the couple and for their children and at first something the spouses could not even explain. “How did we get to this point?”, my friend would ask. When he pursued an annulment, the answer emerged. In the process of the ex-couple and some of their friends and relatives providing recollections of what their dating and engagement was like, all began to understand that she never freely and fully committed to living the sacrament of marriage. Again, not enough room for details, but from the beginning she never freely committed to living the sacrament of marriage.
I suspect that many couples who have been married for a number of years will say that they did not completely understand the duty of marriage referred to by Pope Paul VI. But, at the time of their wedding, both freely committed to God that they would seek to grow in their understanding. At the time of their marriage, these couples entered the sacrament with a 20-some-year-old understanding of total, faithful, exclusive and free and then through prayer, the practice of the faith, and living marriage in a total, faithful, exclusive and free manner, these couples grew into deeper communion with God as they lived their sacramental marriage.
Pope Blessed Paul VI begins his teaching in “Humanae Vitae” by describing these key elements of marriage: total, faithful, exclusive and free and with the next column, I will comment on one more. For now, keep in mind that these elements are not independent, they are all mutually related and are all part of the holy duty of sacramental marriage.