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Polish noblewoman Catherine Jagiellon was the wife of Prince John Waza of Sweden. Prince John was imprisoned for life by his brother King Eric. Upon hearing of her husband's imprisonment, Catherine immediately hurried to Stockholm.
"Your Highness, put me in prison with my husband," she pleaded. The king replied, "But don't you know your husband will never see daylight again?"
"I know, Your Highness," acknowledged Catherine. "But whether he's innocent or guilty, John Waza will forever be my husband."
The king, looking on her with pity, said, "It seems to me, dear lady, that from the moment your husband began his deserved sentence, your obligations to him ended."
Catherine took the ring from her finger. Handing it to the king, she asked, "Would Your Highness please read the inscription?"
The king read "mors sola," which means "death alone."
Catherine spent the next 17 years in prison with her husband — until the death of King Eric, after which she and Prince John were set free.
The permanency of holy matrimony is in stark contrast to our current throwaway culture — where marriage is considered just as disposable as the wrapper on your fast-food burger. Nearly 50% of all marriages end in divorce, and there are a number of factors contributing to the failure of these marriages. Not least among those factors is the culture of "me."
We've become a very selfish, self-centered people. Sure, we are all about other people — especially our families, as long as the things they need or want don't conflict with our desires.
The problem comes when the needs of our spouse conflict with what we want. Princess Catherine obviously had a good and healthy view of the selfless love needed in marriage. But that can come only through the sacramental graces of holy matrimony. This sacrament, instituted by Christ, creates a lifelong union between a baptized man and a baptized woman for the purpose of fulfilling their responsibilities to God and each other.
God instituted natural marriage in the Garden of Eden when He created Adam and Eve. Before the coming of Christ, marriage was a sacred contract but not a supernatural sacrament. Jesus raised matrimony to the level of a sacrament. Christ then taught, in Matthew 19:6, the indissolubility of marriage, which requires supernatural help called grace.
Thanks to the indissoluble marriage bond, being married is the longest job I've ever had!
In Ephesians 5:22–23, St. Paul compares Christian marriage to the permanent union between Christ and His Church. He stresses its importance, reinforcing the sacramental character of matrimony.
Other early Christian writers refer to Christian marriage as something supernatural that confers grace upon those who receive it. At the marriage feast at Cana, Christ worked His first public miracle on behalf of a married couple, thus manifesting the holiness of the married state. In the marriage covenant, God has made a natural relationship into a means of grace for Christians.
People lose sight of what marriage is really for or what it's all about. True marriage has two key purposes — unity and procreation. By unity, we mean that the bond of the sacrament of matrimony lasts until death and the man and woman are to live together as one (Matthew 19:5–6). By procreation, we mean the begetting and rearing of children in the fear and love of God. In short, the twofold purpose of marriage is the giving of love and the giving of life.
There's yet another dimension to Christian marriage. As a natural extension of the giving of love, God gives spouses all the graces necessary to help one another grow in holiness, thus obeying Christ's command for us to become holy (Matthew 5:48). Just as children produced within a matrimonial bond are a manifestation of marital love, so too is the positive response to God's graces by parents helping their children become holy.
Matrimony is the most unique of all the seven sacraments in the sense of administration. In the other six sacraments, the minister is a third party. In matrimony, however, the ministers of the sacrament are the bride and groom themselves. Each confers the sacrament on the other, in the presence of a priest or deacon, who is there as the Church's witness to verify that a permanent bond is made.
The topic of matrimony can easily fill a book, and there are a number of very good Catholic works available on the theology of it (check out Ignatius Press). So there's no way we can cover anything beyond the bare bones of the sacrament here. But there are two other things I do want to touch on.
It must be understood that one cannot validly enter into marriage with the intention of not having children because procreation is one of the primary purposes of marriage. This doesn't mean Catholic couples are obliged to have as many children as possible, but it does mean they're to act in a responsible manner in bringing children into the world and in rearing them in the Christian faith.
Included in this responsibility is the recognition that the procreation of children is one of the fundamental purposes of marriage. This means that abortion and artificial birth control are forbidden by God and the Church.
The use of artificial contraception goes back to the culture of "me." We'll cover this topic extensively in other articles but, for now, I'd just like to point out that we may never avoid having children for selfish reasons. For example, you may have the choice between having a baby or getting a new truck. Guess which one wins? You may have a choice between a fancier house in a ritzy neighborhood or having another baby. Guess which one wins?
There are very sure means of natural family planning endorsed by the Church, but these may only be used for the right reasons. Yes, we'll be talking about them over time. But so-called pro-life Catholics who use artificial contraceptives or avoid children for superficial reasons are living a life of hypocrisy. Even worse, chemical contraceptives are proven to be abortifacients as well.
The last thing I want to comment on is something that's very much in the news today. The homosexual lobby has been successfully pushing the false idea that homosexual couples can be married.
But it's disordered for two people of the same sex to be "married," just as it's disordered for two people of the same sex to think it's OK to have an inherently sterile conjugal relationship.
I can and do sympathize with people who suffer from the disorder of same-sex attraction, as I've worked with several over the years who eventually converted to Catholicism and lived chastely. But the point is, the same-sex marriage movement threatens mankind's very existence on earth. And if you'd like to see how God views such relationships, read the 19th chapter of Genesis.