Marriage is not a structure invented by man. It is not something that merely celebrates and seals a deep human emotion – although it does echo to the very core of our emotional and psychological needs. It is the “primordial sacrament”. It is the plan from “the beginning”.
Marriage is the union of a man and a woman in a lifelong bond that is a profound echo of Christ's bond with his Church. This is not a bond that can be broken by divorce and “remarriage”.
God's dealings with the human race were not – and are not – a series of human mistakes rectified by God with a sort of “tut tutting” at our irritating inability to fall in with his arrangements, and a sighing decision to make the necessary amendments. His plan was always – from “the beginning” - a nuptial plan. “In the beginning” he called all things into being by his spoken word. And from the beginning the Word was there. And in the fullness of time the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. The Eucharist was, in an important and literally crucial sense, part of it all from the beginning.
'Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family, become what you are.' (John-Paul II, Familiaris Consortio)
We are (grand)parents in a Dutch family. Our children began to go to school in the late 60s of the twentieth century. For us parents, the 1960s were very different from the 1940s when we went to school.
Most developed countries have set up systems of welfare that depend on population growth to sustain them. Unfortunately, we are destined for population contraction and an age of government austerity that could last for a generation. To put it simply, the Catholic Church is right about the importance of children and has been right in its warnings about the welfare state. The next generation will reap the whirlwind.
It is difficult to find a clearly articulated case in Catholic social teaching for modern-style welfare states involving huge government intervention in the lives of families combined with enormous transfers totalling around a quarter of national income. Certainly, Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical, Rerum novarum, was pretty clear, at one point arguing that the government should come to the aid of families only as a last resort: “True, if a family finds itself in exceeding distress, utterly deprived of the counsel of friends, and without any prospect of extricating itself, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid...”. Pope Leo then went on to praise the independent welfare associations which developed quickly in the late nineteenth century. These were especially common in Britain. By 1910, there were seven million members of registered friendly societies alone in the UK.
The Church has to form the consciousness of her young people in what is the true and the beautiful in their loving. What she teaches must echo the music of the most inner and sincere depths of their own souls — “everyone who is of the truth, listens to my voice” — is the witness of the crucified King of Truth. (John 18:37.) The Church must “get it right” concerning the use and seeking of erotic pleasure not only in marriage, but in the formative friendships of puberty, and through the teens to the early twenties. Indeed, if the Church can get it right for the years before marriage, then the truth of her teaching for life in marriage will inevitably follow. Abstract arguments from Natural Law even when they are true, and in fact they are true, will be dismissed impatiently unless they can be related to, and reflected in a living law found within the mind and heart.
Psalm 8 is a beautiful reflection on God’s creation and it asks an important question:
When I see the heavens, the works of your hands,
the moon and the stars which you arranged,
what is man that you should keep him in mind,
mortal man that you care for him?
What is man? To start with, we are animals. We are continuous with the rest of the physical creation. We have eyes and ears and muscles which are clearly like those of kangaroos and pandas; we are made of cells just like slugs and bananas; we are made of protons, neutrons and electrons just like washing machines and planets.