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  • Writer's pictureDiscerning Marriage

What is marriage, anyway?

When discerning marriage, it's important to start with what marriage actually is. The sacrament of matrimony has a richness and depth that exceeds even our wildest dreams. It is certainly more meaningful than how the secular American culture sees it. Here at Discerning Marriage, we want to help break open God’s design of this rich Sacrament so you can use this knowledge and formation in your discernment to help you determine if God is calling you to marriage.

Marriage exists for the perfection of the spouses and the children who are entrusted to their care. At its core, marriage is a unique and special kind of friendship that has four distinct characteristics. The marital love between spouses is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. These particular characteristics are fleshed out by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae (which just had its 50th anniversary in July 2018!). This love reflects the elements of the love that Christ has for his Church. We will break these down in four separate posts, but here is an overview of each one in the words of the late pontiff:

FREE: This love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment. (Humanae Vitae, 9)

TOTAL: It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself. (Humanae Vitae, 9)

FAITHFUL: Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death. This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage. Though this fidelity of husband and wife sometimes presents difficulties, no one has the right to assert that it is impossible; it is, on the contrary, always honorable and meritorious. The example of countless married couples proves not only that fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage, but also that it is the source of profound and enduring happiness. (Humanae Vitae, 9)

FRUITFUL: Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. ‘Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents' welfare.’ (Humanae Vitae, 9)

P.S. In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI used the phrase total to describe the second characteristic, so we're using it, too...but a way to make these qualities of marriage easy to remember is to call it the 4Fs: Free/Full/Faithful/Fruitful...we like the ring that has to it. ;)

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