Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Church's Role in Current Marriage Trends III

The Church's Role in Current Marriage Trends II continued:

Anyone who is so "progressive" as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him; for whoever greets him shares in his evil works.

(II John 9-11)

"Do not receive him in your house." In the first-century when St. John the Evangelist wrote these words the Church was eager- like we are today -to welcome as many people as possible into the fold. However, if a person or a couple was not willing to "remain in the teaching of the Christ" they were not to be received in to the house; that is, the House of God. Submitting both their minds and will to the Gospel was an absolute. A failure to do so would merit exclusion. As such, the Church's mission to prepare souls for eternity was more firmly established.

To repeat, this principle was universally observed in the Catholic Church prior to the mid-twentieth century. In the early Church especially, a candidate wishing to become a member of the Mystical Body of Christ or a couple wishing to get their marriage blessed by the Church, had to believe the whole corpus of Christ's teachings. About the year 150 A.D., St. Justin Martyr wrote The Apology. In it he makes reference to the high standard required of one who wished to receive the Eucharist. He said, "We call this food the Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true…and is thereby living as Christ enjoined."

To live as Christ enjoined was proven by repentance and a virtuous life. The holy jealousy of the Bishops regarding the integrity of the Church, and the salvation of souls committed to their care, was given more clarity and detail at the Council of Nicea. Canon twelve reads as follows: "Those who by fear and tears and patience and good works prove that their conversion is real and not simulated, when they have completed the prescribed time among the hearers, may fittingly participate in the prayers after which it is at the discretion of the bishop to treat them with an even greater kindness."

Finally, we come to a writing from the same period which specifically addresses fornication, marriage and being admitted to the Sacraments. The Council of Elvira, a meeting of bishops in Spain, decreed that, "If it is determined that youths who have fornicated after having been baptized may, when they have done legitimate penance and when they have been married, be admitted to communion." (around 300 A.D.) Here, repentance from fornication and then entering into the lawful union of marriage (if the couple chose to get married) was the condition from which these "youths" could be admitted to communion.

To summarize: The best way the Fathers of the Church knew how to ensure the salvation of souls on the one hand, and the holiness of the Church on the other, was to make total fidelity to Christ the premier condition upon which he or she could enter the Church or remain in communion with her. By doing this, the Mystical Body of Christ was not only a showcase for individual virtues but it was also an assembly of married couples who were a living testimony of Christ's love for His Church. This is what made marriage so attractive in centuries past. Undoubtedly, it is what gives meaning and splendor to the sacrifices required for a happy, life-long marriage.

Those pastoral practices which served to make marriage esteemed by society as the holiest of unions in the past will once again reveal marriage as being superior to cohabitation and same-sex unions in our day.