Life as a couple – does it have anything to do with society and with the Church? Some people say: It has nothing to do with anyone but me, no one has any right to say anything about my marriage… There is some truth in this, at least in part. Marriage is first and essentially the union of a man and a woman who say yes to one another, who build a covenant together. Christ meant just this when he said: Man leaves his father and his mother and attaches himself to his wife. And they become one body.
But it is also true that all marriages have social consequences. They need to be acknowledged by society in order to function better: it is society which gives their surname to the children, and which, in certain circumstances, has the right to raise them.
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In most cases, it is impossible for a couple and for a family not to have this social status, that assures its legal recognition, protects its rights and facilitates its relations with the rest of society. Besides, are not the couple and the family the basic unit of society?
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It is, therefore, necessary to find a balance between the proper autonomy of the couple in the midst of all the social pressures working against their intimacy, happines and fidelity, and the necessity of social and legal recognition, which entails certain obligations.
Couples have, therefore, a true right to a social status that is not always what the state imposes at any given moment in history. There are numerous countries where marriage in church is legally valid. On the contrary, in France, for instance, the law does not regard religious marriage as legally binding. Furthermore, a religious marriage is against the law if it is not first preceded by a civil marriage before the mayor of the city or town or by his assistant.
Despite these limits, civil marriage (without a religious marriage) brings something to the couple, insofar as it is a commitment made not only by the couple themselves, but also with respect to others.
Marriage in the Church
Following Christ’s command, the Church asks baptized Catholics to marry in the Church, to say yes to each other freely and definitively. Religious marriage is called a sacrament. This means that by their yes, the man and the woman receive a special gift of God (a grace received in faith) that changes their hearts and gives them a greater capacity to love each other: the capacity to receive the other every day like a gift and to love each other faithfully beyond their individual limits. It is thus that, day after day, a community of life and love can be built.
The gift of God, in this sacrament, is a real hope for the couple. The first miracle that Jesus performed at Cana, as we are told in the Gospel (John 2:1-11), at Cana, was to renew joy in marriage. Just when the shortage of wine threatened to end the celebration too soon, Jesus changed the water into wine. This is what he proposes to us in the Sacrament of Marriage: to transform the water of our human marriage – with all its realities – into wine, the wine of the Wedding of the Lamb, so that our love endures to eternity.
I am always surprised, says God, to hear people say: We are married!
As if your common sense is not telling you, at last, to get married over again every day that I create
Eight years ago, I met Linda. Nothing normal could have brought us together. She was 21 years old, German and had just finished high school. She was a nanny in a growing family. I was an architect. We met the first time after I was invited to the home of this family. We noticed each other again at a meeting for builders and then Linda left for Germany.
Eight weeks later, after having a very regular correspondance, I waited for Linda at the railway station. Our emotions were expressed in our embrace and we found in each other a profound peace, as if we had finally reached our goal.
I was against marriage, both civil and religious, because I believed that, in order for a relationship to be true, it should be free to end at any time. In other words, It is so easy to separate that if we do not, it is because we do not want to. This way of thinking puts freedom in first place, but also daily commitment, renewed personally. I felt that I could not have sincerity in a relationship without a daily re-commitment made real by the existence of the relationship rather than some formula. On her side, Linda had received a Christian education. She held to her faith and would have preferred that our relationship didn’t immediately begin on a physical level.
A year and a half after meeting, (we already had a five-month-old baby), Linda began to ask me, with insistence, to get married civilly. This generated long discussions and fits of anger. As soon as she started on the subject of marriage, I became enraged. These conventions? Why do we need them? And for whom?
Linda held on to the idea of a civil marriage because it had the value of a commitment and because living together was not morally acceptable for her. It was also an important exterior sign to mark a step forward in our life and to open the way for the next step which she desired all the more: a religious marriage.
For my part, I had already made a commitment long before, when we decided to have a child, but aware of how important it was for Linda that we be married, and of her need to turn a page on the past, I accepted a civil marriage.
Twelve days later, when the bands were announced, I had a strong desire to wear my wedding ring!
The question of a religious marriage hadn’t come up yet. Linda kept this desire deep in her heart without expressing it, even timidly, but she brought it to her prayer.
In 1990, during a trip to Germany, Linda was given a book by Father Tardif, Jesus Has Made Me His Witness. She discovered the power of the love of God. This renewed her faith totally.
This was another occasion of friction between us until the moment when I agreed to read the book. In it I discovered a living religion and the love of God. I went to a prayer group. This experience deeply touched my life. God was living. He loved me. He was acting in my life. So in January 1991, we received the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Since then, both of us have experienced a new joy and also have become aware how much Jesus helps us to live our love daily.
Here is an example: in the case of a disagreement with Linda, it often happens that the tone of our voices gets louder. Each of us, being sure of his position, sure that he is right, wants to get the upper hand over the other. This results in offensive, wounding remarks. Each one waits for the other to take back the harsh words, to apologize and then withdraw so that the victory can be complete. Now I understand that the real victory is in forgiveness! In prayer I find the strength to ask Linda for forgiveness. This has nothing to do with the false defeats that leave pride intact. Nor is it about being a poor victim who sacrifices himself. On the contrary, it is a feeling of strength and well-being that flows through me and beyond me.
It is not necessary to explain that what follows is a deep reconciliation and that love reclaims its rights.