There is an understandable and maybe even laudable instinct in the Church which sees society’s values slipping away to make the remaining points of agreement into redoubts and say, “See? Don’t we agree with this?” Thus, in the ’90s,”Okay, we may not agree about contraception, or divorce, or abortion, but at least we agree homosexual acts are wrong?” Until…we didn’t.
Today we’re having a similar problem with marriage. The orthodox Christian view of indissoluble marriage in many ways can seem “exalted” in comparison to secular society. And secular society certainly makes lots of noises about valorizing marriage. Thus, “You agree marriage is awesome, we agree marriage is awesome. Ain’t marriage awesome???”
But the problem is that this is an inversion of the Biblical theology of marriage. The root is Protestant. In his urge to torch his own vows, Luther built an exalted theology of marriage as the summit of Christian life (completely ignoring Paul, #solascriptura). The Protestant communities, separated from the apostolic Church, lost the great gift of the Holy Spirit of celibate life and the theology of celibacy.
If marriage is a vale of milk and honey, then when the milk and honey runs out, the marriage loses its reason for being. If marriage is a vale of milk and honey, then not offering it to everyone is tantamount to sadism.
Here is a proposal for a theology of vocation: vocation is a call to creation in self-giving, because God is Creator in self-giving. Creation is kenosis—God, who is the sheer act of Being itself, embraces the Universe with its imperfection in his existence. God is Creator and continuously creating the Universe and gathering the Universe to Him and God is total self-giving, even into the intimacy of the life of the Trinity.
And Biblical Revelation teaches us that the supreme act of creative self-giving is the Cross.
We see, then, how we are invited to take up our Cross and follow Christ.
Marriage is a Cross. Marriage is a vocation to creation in total self-giving. To say that marriage is a Cross is to say that it is part of God’s design and that many graces flow from it and even that it is joyous. But it is also to say that it sucks sometimes and that it demands a total gift of self.
If we see vocation as a call to creative self-giving, we see that marriage and celibacy are two sides of the same coin.
Marriage is creative in the obvious way, and it is a total giving of self. Celibacy is also a total giving of self, and it is a giving of self that frees towards creativity, as any priest or religious will tell you. And like the Cross, in our vocation we create through sacrifice.
Marriage is a Cross. And the Church should say so. The rest of the edifice doesn’t stay into place otherwise.