I have only the greatest admiration for couples who, despite all the logistic and other technical difficulties, were determined to get married during the pandemic. Whenever I was one of the few invited to be present at a wedding physically, I always made it a point to attend. Looking for a venue, finding a priest willing to officiate the Sacrament of Matrimony and organizing a COVID-19-safe reception required real grit and determination. I would like to use this column to congratulate these brave souls and to share with them, together with many other young couples of today, some sound advice that can be found in what I consider the most complete spiritual guide to a blissful marriage ever written by the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. I am referring to the Apostolic Exhortation that was written in 2016 by Pope Francis entitled “On Love in the Family.” Through this message that I address to the recently married couples, I also would like to reach all those who have been called to the holy state of matrimony.
I am especially pleased to see millennials (those in their twenties and thirties) taking the plunge to respond courageously to the calling that they receive from God to tie the knot in marriage despite the increasing difficulties of raising a family during these times of uncertainties. Dealing with numerous graduates from the university where I have been teaching for more than 50 years, I have seen how couples now tend to marry at much later ages than during the generation of baby boomers or even Generation X (those born between 1965 to 1980). It is more common for males today to get married at the age of 30 or over and for females when they are in their late twenties. This may be a healthy trend since those deciding to marry may be more mature and financially stable than the former generation who married in their early twenties. There is, however, the danger that those who are called to matrimony by a divine vocation may become too calculating as they succumb to the more materialistic environment prevailing in our society.
For those with the Christian faith, there is the belief that it is God who calls a man and a woman to be united in marriage. I still remember the famous preacher in the 1960s and 1970s, Bishop Fulton Sheen, saying categorically that “It takes three to get married.” In fact, this was the title of a best-selling book that he wrote. According to him. In any marriage, there is a man and a woman and God in between them. He also was wont to stress that “Marriages are made in heaven.” In the Old Testament, in the very first book of Genesis, we read that God instituted marriage when He gave Eve to Adam as his spouse and gave them the command “to increase and multiply.” God could have created us human beings individually without the intermediation of a married couple becoming one flesh to procreate and educate children. He decided instead to depend on a man and a woman united in marriage to be His co-creators to bring ito existence the countless souls with which He wanted to populate Heaven. God in His love for us His creatures wanted to share His bliss with as many souls as possible. He never creates a human being for hell.. It is the individual human person who decides to go to hell by refusing to fulfil his purpose for his existence, which is to love God with all of his soul, mind, heart and strength.
Thus, we can truly speak of marriage as a divine vocation, a calling from God. Because of his desire to populate heaven, God calls the majority of human beings to this state in life. This calling is as serious as a calling to the priesthood or any other state of life requiring apostolic celibacy, such as those who are called to a religious order or congregation and in modern times to a secular institute or a Personal Prelature like Opus Dei (among whose members are some who are called to apostolic celibacy). I remember that in the generation of the baby boomers in the 1950s or 1960s, a “vocational crisis” used to refer to the difficulty faced by an individual to respond to a clear calling from God for him or her to embrace a life of apostolic celibacy, especially if the person has already a girlfriend or boyfriend. Today, there is an increasing number of individuals God called to the marriage state who, despite the attraction of romantic love, still hesitate to get marriage. This, too, can be referred to as a “vocational crisis.”
Pope Francis exposes the reason for this phenomenon. In “On Love in the Family”, he wrote (par. 40) “At the risks of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture present others with so many options that they are dissuaded from starting a family. In some countries, many young persons postpone a wedding for economic reasons, work or study. Some do so for other reasons, such as the influence of ideologies which devalue marriage and family, the desire to avoid the failures of other couples, the fear of something they consider too important and sacred, the social opportunities and economic benefits associated with simply living together, a purely emotional and romantic conception of love, the fear of losing their freedom and independence, and the rejection of something conceived as purely institutional and bureaucratic. We need to find the right language, arguments and forms of witness that can help us reach the hearts of young people, appealing to their capacity for generosity, commitment, love and even heroism, and in this way inviting them to take up the challenge of marriage with enthusiasm and courage.” With these astute observations of Pope Francis, the reader can better understand why at the beginning of this article I was all praises for couples who decided to get married during the most trying and uncertain times of the pandemic. They should really be considered heroic, as Pope Francis wrote.
As an economist concerned about the demographic suicide committed by so many countries in Europe and Asia that are suffering economically from rapid ageing because of very low fertility rates, often brought about by State-sponsored population control programs, I would also like to refer to what Pope Francis considers a human tragedy resulting from a distorted understanding of marriage and the marriage act. Not only do persons unwilling to respond to God’s call to marry frustrate God’s will to populate heaven with numerous souls, they also can cause the economic ruin of many developed or developing countries. As the Pope observes in the same Apostolic Exhortation (par. 42j), “the decline in population due to a mentality against having children and promoted by the world politics of reproductive health, creates not only a situation in which the relationship between generations is no longer ensured but also the danger that , over time, this decline will lead to economic impoverishment and a loss of hope in the future. The development of bio-technology has also had a major impact on the birth rate. Added to this are other factors such as ‘Industrialization, the sexual revolution, the fear of overpopulation and economic problems…Consumerism may also deter people from having children, simply so they can maintain a certain freedom and lifestyle.’”
From these words of Pope Francis, we can better understand the wisdom of those who framed the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines when they categorically stated that marriage is an inviolable institution. This means not only that the State should not legalise divorce or the dissolution of a valid marriage but it should also respect the purpose for which God instituted marriage itself, i.e. for the procreation and education of children. Thanks to a pro-marriage and pro-life Constitution, the Philippines is one of the few emerging markets in Asia that can still boast of a young and growing population that is the strongest engine of growth for long-term sustainable economic development. Thanks to a young and large population, the Philippines has a large domestic market which is the main engine of growth. It also can afford to send abroad millions of Filipino workers who remit their incomes that account for more than 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This young English-speaking labor force is also the source of 1.4 million workers for the BPO-IT sector that contributes also significantly both to income and employment. (To be continued).
Wedding Bells During the Pandemic (Part 2)
January 8, 2021
As already mentioned, those who took up the challenge of marriage during the pandemic showed both human courage and supernatural vision. With widespread unemployment and industries collapsing, starting a family will definitely not be a walk in the park. These couples, however, realized that they were not going to depend on their own human resources alone. They know, that precisely because they are responding to a divine call, they can count on superabundant graces from above. They are very aware of what Pope Francis wrote in “Love in the Family”: “The sacrament of marriage is not a social convention, an empty ritual or merely the outward sign of a commitment. The sacrament is a gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses, since their mutual belonging is a real representation, through the sacramental sign, of the same relationship between Christ and the Church. The married couple are therefore a permanent reminder for the Church of what took place on the cross; they are for one another and for their children witnesses of the salvation in which they share through the sacrament. Marriage is a vocation, in as much as it is a response to a specific call to experience conjugal love as an imperfect sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Consequently, the decision to marry and to have a family ought to be the fruit of a process of vocational discernment.”
The pleasure that God put in the marriage act is also viewed from a supernatural viewpoint by Christian couples. They realize what Pope Francis wrote about the conjugal act: “Sexual union, lovingly experienced and sanctified by the sacrament, is in turn a path of growth in the life of grace for the couple. It is the ’nuptial mystery.’ The meaning and value of their physical union is expressed in the words of consent in which they accepted and offered themselves each to the other, in order to share their lives completely. Those words give meaning to the sexual relationship and free it from ambiguity. More generally, the common life of husband and wife, the entire network of relations that they build with their children and the world around them, will be steeped in and strengthened by the grace of the sacrament. For the sacrament of marriage flows from the incarnation and the paschal mystery, whereby God showed the fullness of his love for humanity by becoming one with us. Neither of the spouses will be alone in facing whatever challenges may come their way. Both are called to respond to Gods’ gift with commitment, creativity, perseverance and daily effort. They can always invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit who consecrated their union, so that his grace may be felt in every new situation that they encounter.”
Needless to say, since grace works on nature, husband and wife must use all their talents, resources and human virtues to make a success of their marriage. The couple should also reflect on what Pope Francis reminded all baptized Christians about the “universal call to sanctity” in his other Apostolic Exhortation entitled “The Joy of the Gospel.” Each of them must strive for holiness in the ordinary circumstances of their lives which are now permeated through and through by their decision to marry. Together with their respective work, the duties of marriage and family life will be the stuff out of which they will win their eternal salvation. They have to know how to sanctify their marriage itself, sanctify themselves through their marriage and sanctify others by the example of their holy marriage. Couples sanctify their marriage by exerting all the human efforts necessary to make it successful: looking for the financial means to support themselves and the children that God will send them; acquiring the necessary knowledge and wisdom to be able to raise their children to become God-fearing and law-abiding adults; planning for their old age, etc. To sanctify their marriage, it has to be as humanly perfect as possible within their talents and resources.
Even more important is the sanctification of each of the partners in marriage through the daily realities of living together with one another and their children. Responding to the universal call to sanctity especially requires the cultivation of all the human and supernatural virtues that God demands of each of us, such as faith hope, charity, prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice plus many others. In the daily realities of marriage and family life will be found all the opportunities to cultivate these virtues with the all powerful help of the grace they received in the Sacrament of Matrimony and other Sacraments Christ left for our sanctification, such as Sacramental Confession and the Holy Eucharist. As in the sanctification of ordinary work, the battle to acquire these virtues will have to last till the end of their lives. Let me give special mention to the queen of all virtues, charity. Especially crucial to the success of a marriage and the upbringing of children is that aspect of charity that St. Paul considered is the first way to live the love of God and of neighbor.
In I Corinthians 13:4-7, St. Paul gave the highest priority to patience in defining what love is. His very first line in the Hymn to Love, is “Love is patient.” Let us read how Pope Francis comments on this passage: Patience “does not simply have to do with ‘enduring all things’, because we find that idea expressed at the end of the seventh verse. it refers ... to the quality of one who does not act on impulse and avoids giving offence. We find this quality in the God of the Covenant, who calls us to imitate him also within the life of the family. St. Paul’s texts using this word need to be read in the light of the Book of Wisdom which extols God’s restraint, as leaving open the possibility of repentance, yet insists on his power, as revealed in his acts of mercy. God’s ‘patience’, shown in his mercy towards sinners, is a sign of his real power…Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us. We encounter problems whenever we think that relationships or people ought to be perfect or when we put ourselves at the center and expect things to turn out our way. Then everything makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively. Unless we cultivate patience, we will always find excuses for responding angrily. We will end up incapable of living together, antisocial, unable to control our impulses, and our families will become battlegrounds….”
There are three phrases which Pope Francis advices marriage couples to use as frequently possible for them to cultivate the virtue of patience as a means of living charity, the queen of all virtues. These are “Please” or “May I”; “Thank you”; and “I am sorry.” I would suggest to newly married couples to actually look for every opportunity to utter these words in the daily circumstances of their lives. These words frequently on the lips of married couples will go a long way to kill one’s super ego, which is the greatest obstacle to love, peace and harmony within marriage and the family. The example of the parents using these phrases as frequently as circumstances allow will also be a great example to the children about how they can express their love to their parents and to one another. In fact, another very practical advice given to parents by both Pope Francis and St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, is never to quarrel in front of their children. If they must quarrel, let it be in the privacy of their bedroom and they should not go to bed before making up and saying “Sorry” to one another. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.