The Pope calls us to rediscover the permanent, indissoluble and divine bond of love at the base of any marriage, and to guard against idealizing marriage as if it will be perfect.
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“Marriage according to Christian Revelation is not a ceremony or a social event, it is neither a formality nor an abstract ideal” but rather a “permanent […] bond of love,”Pope Francis stated in a speech on January 27, 2023. In an audience with officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the Holy See’s court of appeal which notably deals with marriage nullity cases, the Pontiff underlined the “strong need to rediscover the meaning and value” of this sacrament.
According to him, the crises affecting many families today come from a “practical ignorance – personal and collective – regarding marriage.”
“We might ask ourselves: How is it possible for there to be such an encompassing union between a man and a woman, a union that is faithful and everlasting, from which a new family is born? How is this possible, taking into account the limits and fragility of human beings?”
Keeping in mind the questions we may have, the Pope went on to answer them by underlining that marriage is based on a divine love and that even a union with many failures can be part of God’s plan for our lives.
An indissoluble bond based on divine love
The Argentine Pontiff underlines that the spouses decide freely whether to give life to their union by marrying, but then it is “only the Holy Spirit” that can make that man and woman a “single existence.”
He explains that Christ “comes into the lives of married Christians through the sacrament of matrimony,” and thus explains that “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Matthew, 19:6)
The bond that is the “permanent reality of marriage” needs to be rediscovered, the Pontiff insists. He acknowledges we may see this type of link as “an external imposition, a burden, a “tether.”
In reality though this “bond of love” is “a divine gift that is the source of true freedom and which preserves matrimonial life.”
Francis recognizes that we may see “this beautiful vision” as “utopian” as it does not take into account human frailty and the volatility of feelings. However the Pope underlines that it is not any kind of love that is at the base of an indissoluble matrimonial bond. Conjugal love is not just “sentimental” or for “selfish satisfactions.”
“Matrimonial love is inseparable from marriage itself, in which human love, fragile and limited, meets with divine love, always faithful and merciful,” the Pope explains. Matrimonial love “is a gift entrusted to [the spouses’] freedom, with its limits and its lapses, so that the love between husband and wife needs continual purification and maturation, mutual understanding and forgiveness. […] Hidden crises are not resolved in concealment, but in mutual forgiveness.”
Even an imperfect marriage is good and part of God’s plan
Having explained the strong divine bond that should be at the base of any marriage, and should help men and women overcome their difficulties, the Pope also emphasizes that it is not about thinking things will be perfect.
“Marriage should not be idealized, as though it exists only where there are no problems. God’s plan, being placed in our hands, is always imperfectly realized,” he explained, underlining that this is especially true within families.
“The Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes. Living in a family makes it hard for us to feign or lie; we cannot hide behind a mask. If that authenticity is inspired by love, then the Lord reigns there, with his joy and his peace,” the Pontiff explains, citing his apostolic exhortation published in 2016, Amoris laetita.
Lastly the Pope exhorts that marriage is “a good of extraordinary value for all: for spouses themselves, for their children, for all the families with whom they enter into relationships, for the entire Church, for all humanity. It is a good that is diffusive, that attracts young people to joyfully respond to the vocation of marriage, that continually comforts and revives spouses, that bears many and various fruits in ecclesial communion and civil society.”
“In the Christian economy of salvation, marriage constitutes first and foremost the way to the holiness of the spouses themselves, a holiness lived out in the daily routine of life,” the Pontiff explains.
The Church needs to remind couples of what their sacrament means
Due to the importance of marriage, the Pope also calls on the Church to support married couples before and after the sacrament, to help them “deepen their love but also to overcome problems and difficulties.”
“A fundamental resource for facing and overcoming crises is to renew awareness of the gift received in the sacrament of marriage, an irrevocable gift, a source of grace on which we can always count. […] Thus fragility, which always remains and also accompanies conjugal life, will not lead to rupture, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit,” the Pope concludes.