14 January 2013

Why not live marriage before marriage?

[[Hi Sister, I have a question about something you said about the Church not allowing people to live vocations they are not formed in or prepared for. You said the Church requires people to be living the life they are preparing to commit to before she admits them to vows. I see that is true with religious life, consecrated virgins, hermits, and things like that, but what about marriage? Why is it the Church does not require a period of formation and living the life BEFORE marrying two people (sic)?]]

Now that is an interesting question! I should have seen it coming! The basic reason is that in order to live married life (or married love!) one must BE married. One cannot live married life UNLESS one is married. There is no way to form two individual persons in the married life because they are not yet the Sacramental reality the Sacrament of matrimony makes them. Even with religious life we recognize that all the preparation in the world does not replace what happens with  a vowed commitment. In that act one truly BECOMES a religious no matter how long they have been living the rhythms of the life before this. (Vows are performative realities and this means things come to be in the very pronouncing of these vows which were not real before this. With public vows the person actually gives themselves wholly to the life and a whole slew of rights, obligations, and legal relationships come to be as well in the profession of the vows.) With marriage the situation is even more clear. We can teach people about relationships, about life skills, about the Gospel which should inform and guide their lives together, etc but we cannot make them able to live marriage (nor ask them to practice it) unless they have already married and received the graces attached to the very act of marrying one another (the Church, by the way, does not marry them nor call them to marriage). They must already have become one flesh called to expressing this truth at every point of their lives to actually do so.

I suppose I see marriage (and especially married love) as a reality two people learn to live together (and only together) with the specific graces God provides them in the Sacrament and in their married love for one another. Of course a piece of this is that these two people are called to married or sexual love and they cannot live out such a call apart from marriage. To try to do so trivializes the reality of sexual or married love (merely having sex is not sexual love in the sense I am using it; it is instead an usurpation of something proper to married (sexual) love) and opens the persons to a sinful use of this gift as well. But you are correct that this is one vocation the Church does not require one already be living the life of before admitting to definitive commitment, mainly because it would be impossible to do so. Even so, she DOES require some formation. Thus there are Cana or pre-marriage classes. It may not seem like enough to prepare for such a weighty vocation, but it is the best we can do since marriage is a vocation to love in a way only made possible BY marriage itself. Another way of saying this is that the couple cannot live or love as those who HAVE given themselves wholly to another (and to God through this marriage) until they have actually done so.

I hope this is helpful.