Monday, September 22, 2014

Marriage: God First, Spouse Second, Children Third

The world is filled with talk of marriage lately. Around this time next year the Church will take on the topic during the World Meeting of Families, the definition of marriage is being challenged all around us, and the nuclear family is being attacked by the secularized world. The topic of marriage is important enough to warrant participation by Pope Francis himself.

In a recent post, 12 Thoughts On Marriage As We Approach Our 40th Marriage Anniversary, I ponder the things my husband and I have learned about the Sacrament of Matrimony. Yet, to my surprise, I met a bit of conflict concerning my order of priorities.

One of my twelve points reads:

2: Children come third, after God (#1) and spouse (#2).

God’s nature definitely created an unbreakable bond when it came to offspring. The instinct of protection and nurture is a formidable force. This ensures the safety of the little ones and the furthering of the human race. As strong as these impulses are, a worthy spouse will never let children displace the primary earthly spot given to spouse.
According to the instructions my husband and I received before our wedding and Catholic sources to which I've referred, this should be a no-brainer. Imagine my surprise when I receivd quite a bit of push-back on this order of priorities.  After a few spirited exchanges, I further deepened my reasoning. To read the comments of others go to the combox here.

In this post I will share my response to those who advocate for children coming before spouse. After you've read these thoughts, you may want to kindly weigh in as well in the combox. I'd love to know your thoughts. The following are mine:

Children come third, after God (#1) and spouse (#2)

Although the Bible doesn’t specifically lay out an order of relationship priorities, there do appear to be some general principles that might be helpful in understanding what I’m attempting to share. Obviously, there is no disagreement with the fact that God comes first.

In direct relationship to this, however, comes the instruction for a married man to love his wife as Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25). Similarly, the wife is to submit to her husband ‘as to the Lord’. (Ephesians 5:22). This appears to support the perspective that spouses are second only to God. Since they are ‘one flesh’, this should be a two-way street.

Further, under the heading “The marriage bond” the CCC states:

1639 The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself.[141] From their covenant arises "an institution, confirmed by the divine law, . . . even in the eyes of society."[142] The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God's covenant with man: "Authentic married love is caught up into divine love."[143]

As a logical conclusion, this places the fruits of this divine love (the children) as the next natural priority. In this context we find the institution of the Domestic Church.

1666 The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is rightly called "the domestic church," a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.

marriage, matrimonyWhat makes for well adjusted children is that their parents take the covenant to which they have sworn seriously and place it high on their priority list. Without a stable marriage, children suffer from maladjusted lives or even divorce. Further, while Holy Matrimony is one of the seven sacraments, having children is not - it is gift of that sacramental covenant. Marriage is the institution that brings godly children, children aren't the institution that bring a godly marriage.

I must admit that some may be thinking of this in different terms. Naturally, the physical needs of children (whether infant or disabled) must be dealt with on a practical, earthly priority scale. A grown man or woman can certainly deal with their own physical needs – food, shelter, etc. That really isn’t the point I was attempting to make. But even in this instance, care must be taken as to the soundness of the marriage. After all, the natural product of a good marriage is healthy, happy children who are given all they need whether it be spiritual, mental, or physical. Further, when the children mature and go their own way, the covenant that was first established between husband and wife remains.

God bless all marriages and families. As the family goes, so goes society. May we ever preserve our godly relationships!