15th January 2017 – the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany
There was a marriage made in Cana of Galilee: and the mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was called, and His Disciples to the marriage.
It is no small passing thing that Our Blessed Lord chose the Marriage at Cana to perform His first public miracle, at which St. John tells us, "He manifested His glory, and His Disciples believed in Him" (St. John 2:11). It is, given the current attacks on marriage, an opportune time to teach about the great and holy Sacrament of Matrimony.
First, let us speak of marriage in its natural sense: when God created man he gave him a counterpart. Man and woman complemented one another: not completed one another, for man was made in perfection (cf. Genesis 1:26-27, Ezekiel 28:12-15).
This state of union was so blessed by God that He commanded them to be fruitful and multiply in order to become masters of the world (cf. Genesis 1:28). So, marriage was given to man by God to complement and to bring forth children, that is, create society.
As we learned last week, Holy Family Sunday, the family is a natural society formed for the good of mankind. The coming together of one man and one woman for their exclusive mutual benefit is a noble and wholly good thing for the propagation of human society, for it prevents distraction, selfishness and misuse of the conjugal act. When a husband and wife come together it must be respectful and thoughtful and in mutual consent – the actual definition of marital love – and elevated to a higher purpose. We understand this in its natural sense using the human faculty of reason.
Aristotle teaches us in his Ethics that reason must be used for correct behavior: 'The good, whatever it is, is the good for man and, therefore, can be ascertained only by discovering what man is," that is, by understanding what man’s nature is.
So, understanding what the proper nature of marriage is becomes necessary to make a well-ordered use of marriage. Therefore, the nature (that is, the proper manner of acting) of natural marriage is to build up human society, and to give an heroic example to that same human society of marriage’s proper and well-ordered use.
Now, let us proceed to speaking of marriage in its supernatural sense. A thing, in this case marriage, is perfected when it is moved by grace. When Our Lord upholds marriage as not only natural but supernatural through His explicit teaching on its indissolubility (cf. St. Matthew 19:3-10, St. Mark 10:2-12), He lends His grace to its confection.
Natural marriage is not done away with, rather, it is elevated; as St. Thomas teaches: "Grace does not destroy nature, it perfects it" (Summa Theologica Part I, 1:8). Those who now enter into a Sacramental Marriage, which is only possible in the Catholic Church, are called to a more perfect union, not only one man and one woman alone, but with God and with His grace.
Marriage is now called to an higher operation, that is, its nature is now perfected. St. Thomas calls this "nature cooperating with grace" (natura cum gratia cooperans). The operation of a supernatural marriage is to create a supernatural society: which is a society that imitates the Perfect Society and Family: the Most Holy Trinity.
To do so, a husband and wife, united in the Sacrament of Matrimony, come together with the express purpose of bringing forth new life (children). Children must be a reflection and a product of their perfect love, not the motivation for love – which would be disordered. All creation came into being because of the perfect love between the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity: God being the agent or primary mover of all created matter. Simply put, God does not love man because He made him, rather, He made him because He loves him.
If a husband and wife come together with the sole purpose of physical gratification and close themselves off to the creation of life through contraception, they engage in selfish, sinful and disordered behavior; completely contrary to the purpose of marriage. They would be guilty of the purposeful misuse of their conjugal gift.
This sin is doubled when a man and woman come together outside of marriage, again, without the possibility of bringing forth life: there is no love, not even for each other, simply self-gratification and the misuse of a natural act with a disordered intention. This is why St. Paul, echoing the Savior, teaches: "Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10).
So, let us rejoice that God so loves us that He has blessed us with such a good and holy thing as marriage: All of human society and life comes from God’s gift of marriage: it is truly the foundation for our continued natural existence. Let us protect and defend marriage, for it is a precious gift from God that gives grace and facilitates eternal life.