November 10, 2010

Is marriage really forever?

By Anthony Buono *

Sunday’s Gospel reading (Lk 20:27-38) addressed marriage, though its purpose was to question the resurrection. However, it does give a married person some pause when heard. The Sadducees, who do not believe in the Resurrection, attempt to trip Jesus up. They outline the story of a woman who was married to seven brothers at one point in her life before dying herself, and they ask the question of whose wife will the woman be in the resurrection.

Jesus says that in Heaven, there is no marriage for human persons, and there is no need of it. For those who have happy marriages to someone they love deeply, this passage is sad. A great marriage is an amazing thing and those in one will not want it to end in Heaven. For those who are in unhappy marriages, this passage is a relief. The punch line is that earthly marriage ends at death. The contract, as it were, is for the duration of this life. It does not carry over into the next life.

And this makes sense because the purposes of earthly marriage are unnecessary in Heaven; namely, fidelity, permanence, and the begetting of children. These purposes are practical necessities pertaining to living out life in this world and for populating Heaven with persons. The only marriage happening in Heaven is the continuing marriage of the Lamb; Jesus and his Church (the people of God). The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the wedding ceremony, which we get to attend and partake in. Earthly marriage between a man and a woman is to be a symbol of that marriage. Therefore, two people enter into sacramental marriage and attempt to live their lives by the example of Christ and his Church.

Of course, it does not always work out that way. In fact, no one completely succeeds, though some do come close by God’s grace.

With such noble, yet temporary, purposes in front of adult human beings, you would think more marriages would remain intact, instead of ending in unnecessary divorce. And you would think more marriages would take place, instead of unnecessarily putting it off for whatever reason.

But it is more complicated today. There is so much more that must be considered if a single Catholic is going to take such a monumental step. Many of these considerations are legitimate, and should be weighed into the mix. Many others are not-so-legitimate, and are likely excuses to put marriage off or to maintain a list of personal preferences before being willing to commit. Those who put off getting married intentionally and for some of these not-so-legitimate reasons might consider this Gospel reading.

Is it possible that we fuss and analyze and ponder and think way too much? Is “discernment” just a nice way of saying we prefer to procrastinate or that we are too terrified to decide on marriage? It’s like we are making a decision that will go on for eternity. You marry in this life, and you do part in death.

Yet, we don’t put such due consideration into committing certain sins that actually can affect eternity. For example, a man will not consider a nice girl he is dating because he feels someone better will come along. Yet he is willing to engage in pornography or pre-marital sex with someone he would never marry. Or a woman might not consider the nice guy she is dating because she is insecure about his ability to provide financially, or perhaps he does not know enough about Theology of the Body as she would like, so decides to break it off. Yet she thinks nothing of the amount of gossiping or male-bashing she partakes in.

In both cases, the person probably made a mistake by passing up the nice girl or guy who would have made a suitable partner because they both feel there is plenty of time to get married, and that God is also concerned with everything on their ideal person list.

The question of “whose wife will she be in Heaven?” should make us all realize that life in this world is actually extremely short, and time is precious. And the purposes of marriage are primarily practical, not ideal. Those called to marriage are called to be a suitable partner and helpmate to another in order to help each other have a secure existence for themselves and for children who come along. They are to have children to glorify God and help society. They are to be faithful and endure to the end, for this is the key to refining themselves as a person destined to become a saint. It seems we are desperately trying to make a science out of finding and choosing a spouse, just as we are trying to now to make a science out of having perfect children who do not have defects or handicaps.

What are we saying here?  It seems we are saying that we do not want to suffer; that we don’t want our decision to marriage or have children to go against our wants and plans. We don’t trust ourselves to make the right choice, and we don’t trust God to help us in our marriage if our choice is not the greatest. So we simply choose to not make any choice.

I believe Jesus was showing more of His sense of humor when answering the question posed by the Sadducees. It’s not about who you choose but how you live. Why? Because who you choose in a way does not matter. He or she will be the major source of your refinement into a saint. How we think, what we say and how we act as we live with this person is what determines our making it to the resurrection.

No spousal choice is going to be ideal, because there are no ideal marriages. Every marriage has its problems. Therefore, no one should assume they can make a better choice than others have made, nor hold out for perfection when a suitable partner has come into their life. The better marriages are the ones where both persons knew who they were going in and what to expect from each other. But of course, one never really knows for certain what will happen once the marriage vows are made.

The best starting point is to realize that marriage in this world is for a very short time, so there is no need to approach the decision to marry like it is forever. As romantic a notion as it is, marriage is not forever.

Let’s rejoice in the Lord’s revelation that there is no marriage of persons to each other in Heaven. It makes the pursuit of marriage on earth more approachable and comforting. Get it right, and you will have great joys in this world as in the next. Get it wrong, and you will suffer for a time, and then your reward in Heaven awaits.

Maybe one of the lessons of the woman who married all seven brothers is that what matters most is not getting it right or getting it wrong, but getting into it and giving it your all. Who knows which man she loved the most, or thought was the most attractive, or made her feel the best, or she got along with the most. She was willing to be a married person for the practical needs in this life. May all of us called to marriage adopt the same attitude as we consider those we date.

Anthony Buono is the founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice.  Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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