I’m standing in front of, say, a dozen masked high-school juniors, and there’s another half-dozen or so watching the live stream from home. It’s Catholic education, pandemic-style, and I’m a guest speaker in Mrs. Meyers’ Sacraments class — actually, all her afternoon classes, and this is the last.
“So, why do people get married?” It’s an appropriate opener since I’m there to talk about the Sacrament of Matrimony. “And, look, I know this is a Catholic religion class, but don’t get all pious on me. Why does anybody get married, Catholic and non-Catholic?”
A hand eventually goes up. “Love” — the expected first response. Yes, and next? “Commitment,” and then, “companionship” or “partnership.” Also, good answers. Eventually, a wise guy chimes in: “Tax benefits,” he grins. Actually, another good answer, which I duly affirm with an indulgent smile. Then, a pause. Someone ventures, “Kids?” You bet — the “supreme gift of marriage” (Gaudium et spes 50), to be sure. I click up a photo on the screen behind me. “Here’s my seven ‘supreme gifts,’ but it’s also an image of my whole marriage.” I note that, while my wife and I aren’t in the photo, we’re still very much represented in our offspring. “Kids incarnate married love, you see. As a priest-friend of mine says, children are the embodiment of the ‘two become one’ idea from Genesis and Jesus.”
As that notion settles in, there’s another awkward pause. “What else?” I ask.
Nobody wants to say it out loud — it’s a Catholic religion class, after all, and I’m a guest speaker. “C’mon, you guys. What’s directly connected with ‘Love’ and ‘Kids?’ Just say it.” Most the time, it’s one of the students watching anonymously from home that eventually finds the courage. “Sex!” rings out, loud and clear.
“Right!” I respond. “It’s not the main reason people get married — especially these days when too many people have sex without getting married — but it’s certainly part of what’s good about marriage. And God made sex to be good, in part, because it leads to more kids.”
After that quick review of the natural goods of marriage, I bring them back to the task at hand. “All right, given all that, why did Christ raise Matrimony to the dignity of a sacrament?” Not every major life choice is associated with a sacrament — there’s no special liturgy, for example, for a new job or cross-country move. Marriage is different, of course — a holy crux, a “your life will never be the same” moment, and so the Church marks it with ceremony and ritual and public celebration.
But ultimately, it’s a sacrament because you’ll need supernatural help to accomplish it! It’s hard, hard work, and I urge the students to ignore the rom-coms and TV shows and carefully-crafted social media posts that would have them think otherwise.
Read more at National Catholic Register