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Marriage as a cornerstone of culture and Christian life

“The stone which the builders rejected,” says Psalm 118, “has become the cornerstone.”

The cornerstone is Jesus Christ. He who was rejected by men is the cornerstone of all things—the foundation upon which our faith, and our lives, rest.

We experience Christ most especially through the sacraments. And so the sacramental life becomes the cornerstone of true peace and of the presence of goodness in our lives. In a unique, unrepeatable and important way, each of the sacraments becomes the cornerstone to a life lived in peace and goodness and in justice. And because the sacraments are the cornerstones of our lives, they are the cornerstones of Christian community—of Christian culture.

Marriage, one of the seven sacraments, is a cornerstone on which our Christian culture can rest.  And like Christ, today marriage has become a stone rejected. Its trivialization and its redefinition mean that the importance of marriage has been forgotten. But Christ too, was forgotten. From a place of being forgotten, abandoned and crucified, Christ ushered in our redemption. And through the sacrament of marriage, like the other sacraments, Christ can redeem the world.

Last week, I wrote that stable communities need marriage—that marriage offers something important to the well-being of civil societies. This is true. Marriage offers something unique and important to all of us—even those of us who, like me, are unmarried and have chosen in the Lord celibacy. If we understand the essential properties and goods of marriage, we will understand what it is that marriage has to offer.

Chastity is important. Sexual intimacy should be reserved to marriage of a man and a woman.  Sexual acts outside of marriage do not fulfill the purpose, dignity or truth of the sexual act. The world misunderstands this precisely because the world misunderstands what marriage is really about.

The Church’s canon law teaches that marriage has two essential properties: unity and indissolubility. In a plastic culture, unity and indissolubility are signs of contradiction. I was talking with a woman recently whose husband was unfaithful. Despite the infidelity, she remained in the marriage. Her friends and family encouraged her to leave. They told her to give up on her philandering husband.

The woman remained committed. And through her commitment, her husband was converted to Christ. The witness of her marriage was a witness to the love of God.

A friend of mine is a very good golfer. He tells me that the clubhouse locker room is a place where men complain about their marriages and criticize their wives. Long ago, my friend decided never to criticize his wife. Instead, without being showy or obvious, he finds ways to praise her. My friend tells me that the witness of his unity with his wife is transforming. That when other men are struggling they seek him out for counsel.

St. Augustine says that God “loved us even when we practiced enmity toward him and committed wickedness.” Love that is indissoluble and committed is a sign of God’s enduring and patient love for us. A sign the world desperately needs.

The goods of marriage, too, are essential elements to building Christian culture. Marriage is for the procreation and education of children.

Children need and deserve stable families. Marriage is ordered to that good. Without marriage, children are too often fatherless, motherless or hopeless. When a parent dies tragically, the family is changed forever by the loss of the mother or father. Marriage provides children with a model of life-giving, self-giving love.

But marriage is also for the good of the spouses themselves—especially their eternal good, their salvation.

The job of every husband is to help his wife become a saint. The job of every wife is to help her husband go to heaven. We are a world in desperate need of sanctity. How fortunate are married men and women who are blessed with one person dedicated to helping them know Jesus Christ. If married men and women became saints together, the world would be transformed.

Dear brothers and sisters, I pray you are living your marriage with an understanding of the goods and properties of marriage. Dear brothers, I pray you are helping your wives become saints. Dear sisters, I pray you are helping your husbands become saints. And parents, I pray you are giving your children a model of the Father’s love—stable, patient and present. And I pray that you, dear brothers and sisters, are living your marriages as signs of contradiction—as signs of the living love of Jesus Christ for the world and for his bride the Church.

Marriage, like Christ itself, has been rejected in our world. I pray, by your witness, that it will become again the cornerstone.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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