Before there were countries, before there were churches, before there were colleges or universities, there were families. Before there were languages or cultures, human beings bound themselves in relationships based on kinship and blood. From the beginning, the family has been the place where the young are born and raised, where individuals share responsibilities and resources and where the sick and elderly are taken care of.
And at the root of families is the sacred institution of marriage. Men and women, out of love for one another, unite in an unbreakable bond from which children are born and raised. The yearning that a man has for a woman and a woman for a man comes from our human nature. God placed it in us from the very beginning. We were not created to be alone. We were created for companionship, intimacy and partnership. The fullest and most beautiful expression of that desire is the institution of marriage.
From marriage and the family arose other structures of communal life - tribes, nations and churches. These other institutions came about not to replace the family but to strengthen it - to protect it in time of war, to provide education and to ensure sufficient jobs. Throughout the history of civilization it has been clear that the stronger the family was, the stronger the society would be.
No government and no church created the institutions of marriage and family. They have been with us from the beginning. Just so, no government or church can change the definition of marriage. Under normal circumstances, no government or church can claim to have more of a say in how a child is raised than parents and family members do. And because governments and churches are made up of families, undermining marriage and families damages society as a whole. It would be like sawing off the branch that you are sitting on.
Jesus makes it very clear to us just how important marriage is. His first miracle took place at a wedding feast. He often described Himself as a “bridegroom” who was sent to consummate the union of God with His people. When Jesus speaks of marriage, it is always in reference to how we as human beings were created. When He instructs the Pharisees in today’s gospel, He makes it clear that, “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” And He teaches them that marriage did not come from Moses but from God Himself. The result is that no one has the right to end a lawful marriage - not even the couple themselves. As He tells us, “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
From the beginning, then, marriage was meant to be a permanent union of a man and a woman. The permanence of marriage is a sign of God’s faithful love for His people. Just as a man and a woman love each other for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, so God perseveres in His love for us no matter what.
God put this desire to live a faithful, life-long love in each of our hearts. We know the truth of Jesus’ teaching instinctively because it is written into our very nature. Whenever we see couples who are celebrating forty, fifty or even sixty years of marriage, we cannot help but rejoice with them. We see that faithfulness in marriage is a beautiful thing and we naturally desire it for ourselves.
The permanence of marriage is not only a good for the couple themselves, it is good because it is necessary for the raising of healthy, happy children. It is clear from our personal experience and from scientific research, that children thrive when they are raised by their biological fathers and mothers. Each child has a right to be conceived in love and raised by his or her biological parents. To intentionally take a child away from his or her parents is a grave injustice. Sadly, this happens frequently in our culture through reproductive technologies such as surrogate motherhood, in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination.
Children are a precious gift of God. They give us much joy and hope for the future. All married couples should embrace children and be generous in giving them life. There are many reasons couples may choose to limit the number of children they have. However, before making a decision to stop having children, a couple should go to God in prayer and ask if there are any other young lives that our Heavenly Father would like them to bring into the world. Through prayer, we may find that our reasons for not having children are not as serious as we think. We may discover that whatever we think we may be able to afford or achieve by not having children pales in comparison to the joy and happiness a baby would bring into our lives.
As followers of Christ and as good citizens, we are called to promote and defend marriage as the most basic institution of our Church and our society. By our own honest efforts to live as good and holy husbands and wives and to raise our children in the values of our faith, we do much to build up a more just and peaceful world. By welcoming children, we witness to the value of each human life no matter how weak, how vulnerable or how unproductive it may be. More than ever in human history, our world needs such a witness.
It is true that many times we fail. Not every marriage lives up to what God calls it to be. Many fathers and mothers fail to be good examples to their children. As a Church, we have to not only support traditional marriages, but we have to reach out to help those whose marriages are struggling or have failed. We have to stand beside single parents and those who are suffering because of circumstances beyond their control or choices they made in the past. No matter where we may find ourselves, we can all find a place in the family of the Church. In it we have a faithful father who is God, a loving brother who is Jesus and many children all longing for the ultimate wedding feast - the Kingdom of Heaven.