Love and Life in the Divine Plan
By Theresa Notare
November 25, 2009
During their 2009 Fall assembly, the U. S. Catholic bishops approved their new pastoral letter, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan. The letter represents a summary of Church teaching on marriage. It is the centerpiece of a wider effort initiated in 2004 called The National Pastoral Marriage Initiative (see www.usccb.org/laity/marriage/npim.shtml). The pastoral initiative represents a renewed effort in the Church to strengthen marriage. It is a multi-pronged work that includes a website called “ForYourMarriage.org.” The website features popular articles and resources to help married couples in their life’s journey.
The bishops have a deep concern for marriage and the family. After all, marriage affects everyone—it is the “little Church” where its members learn about loving God, each other, and their neighbors. Marriage and the family are the building blocks of society!
On a personal level, the Church must assist married couples to live their sacrament fully. The Church also bears the responsibility to prepare engaged couples for this special vocation. On a social scale, the Church has always defended marriage against those forces that would tear it apart. In today’s world this is especially urgent.
Strengthening marriage is an urgent priority in today’s world. Most of us can list the multitude of forces that tear at the fabric of marriage. We know that many people have an inadequate understanding of the nature of commitment causing many to wonder if life-long commitment can be attained. This fear is understandable when we consider the effects of generations of no-fault divorce. The irresponsible practice of one spouse opting out of a marriage for any reason has poked holes in marital permanence. With the increase in acceptance of couples living together without the benefit of marriage, society has also fostered a “test-drive” mentality regarding romantic relationships. If it ultimately doesn’t “feel” right, one can get out of the driver’s seat!
Lost in our day is a sense of delaying our own personal satisfaction. As a society, we almost frantically grasp for whatever we think will make us happy. The idea of “self-sacrifice” for the love of someone else often stands in the shadows. It is, of course, not wrong to want various things—like to develop our individual talents and attain our goals—but when one is married, “we” must be considered before “me.”
Also forgotten in our day is the fact that the sexual relationship is wired for bonding and procreation. Sex is not only about personal fulfillment. Rather, sex is about moving out of the self to love the other person—loving that person so much that the gift of a child is the fruit. Life-long love, marital love, is the best environment for man and woman because it nourishes each of them and cares for the well-being of children.
The bishops’ pastoral letter is an invitation to Catholics and to all people of good will to rediscover the true meaning of marriage—something that is based not only on individual satisfaction and personal fulfillment but also on God’s desire for the good of His people.
Theresa Notare, PhD, is the Assistant Director of the Natural Family Planning Program, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. The U.S. Catholic Bishops’ new document, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan can be found at: www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/nfp/cathteach.shtml. For resources that can strengthen marriage see www.foryourmarriage.org.