“God Himself is the author of matrimony…” — Gaudium et spes (Vatican II)
Sound bites notwithstanding, Pope Francis is a “son of the Church.”
In a message to Polish bishops on their ad limina visit to Rome on February 7, Pope Francis offered some reflections on marriage. I can’t find an English translation of the entire message. An article from the Catholic News Service summarizes the message here.
“Marriage today is often considered a form of emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will,” he said. “Unfortunately this vision also influences the mentality of Christians, causing them to resort easily to divorce or de facto separation.”
In this one brief quote, the Holy Father packs a lot of content. First, he’s very correct about the prevailing view of secular culture that marriage is largely about the emotional satisfaction and happiness of two adults. This view has become a basis for no-fault divorce, is tied to justifications for artificial contraception and abortion, avoids the importance of marital stability in connection with the good of children, and permits marriage redefinition to include aberrant relationships like “same-sex marriage” and polygamy.
For Catholics, the “matrimonial covenant” between baptized persons is a sacrament, “by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring…” (CCC 1601).
Also, “The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes.” These differences, the Church teaches, should not cause us to forget the common and permanent characteristics of marriage. (CCC 1603).
The “common” and “permanent” characteristics of marriage are given by God and not subject to change at will. Specifically, marriage is one man and one woman becoming one flesh for the good of each other and their offspring for their natural lives.
Within this framework, where the Church is not free to depart from the nature of marriage, there are pastoral steps, steps to changing aspects of Church law, aimed at pouring out mercy upon people who find themselves in irregular marital situations, “so that they do not feel excluded from the mercy of God, the fraternal love of other Christians and the church’s solicitude for their salvation,” and help such persons keep the “faith and raise their children in the fullness of the Christian experience.”
Stay tuned, Pope Francis says, for this October’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family.