Pope Francis calls three realities of creation a masterpiece; man, woman, and the family, which is the love between man and woman. To write a gloss, brotherly love is good, and even the love for a child is good, but it is the love between a man and a woman which results in a marriage that is a masterpiece.
However as Pope Francis points out, though young people rejoice in this masterpiece, many won’t even think about it. Many who do marry find it difficult to remain together, even when children are the “first victims” of divorce. Children who grow up in a broken home unconsciously expect a broken home to be the norm and expect nothing to last, a home in which “everything is provisional, it seems there is nothing definitive.” For them, marriage is no longer a sacred vow or a bond, but just a legal agreement.
For the Christian marriage is the masterpiece of love, a bond strengthened by baptism, so strong that only death can dissolve it. The water of natural marriage was turned into the wine of sacramental marriage, just as throughout the New Testament that which can sustain is transformed into that which brings joy. Marriage is a Christian witness “in favor of the whole community, of the entire society.” Marriage expresses faith in God, “a testimony of faith,” and expresses faith in permanence, and the moral equality of the members of that bond. For Francis, this expression is a “radical equality” when compared to the standards of the world.
In this generation, due to decades of divorce, there is disaffectedness with marriage. What do we expect if the world has abandoned the joys of the wine of perfected marriage for the water of fallen marriage? In fallen marriage man and woman do not love each other but instead seek to dominate the other. This began in old days with “the right of husbands to repudiate their wives, even with the most pretentious and humiliating motives,” and that continues today, with women joining men in the battle for dominance over the spouse. Pope Francis said that “the change that has happened in these last decades has to do with the emancipation of woman” but dismisses the change as machismo. Just as Adam blamed Eve for eating of the fruit of the tree, so is it too easy of an escape to blame women’s liberation for the destruction of marriage. Those seeds were laid long before, when men switched the wine of a marriage in God with the water of “pretentious and humiliating” divorce laws targeting women.
But this is not the space for recrimination. There is no returning to Eden, and there wasn’t even in the time of Jesus, but Cana is a fixed point for our fallen world. Returning to the reality of marriage requires fully renouncing unjust discrimination against women, fully affirming the complementarity of the two sexes, and, in baptism, then returning to a marriage in the Lord.
In reflection on Pope Francis’ comments, perhaps the formula of “’till death do you part” may be adapted to express the call of our age of broken marriage. Let children see your Christian witness so that divorce might not be taken for granted. Stay faithful in one marriage if you are called to that state. With these two points, in time the world will come back to the wine whose joys you now embrace. There is no quick fix to the marriage crisis, least of all in your lifetime, but you can still fix some small piece of that puzzle. In that masterpiece of love which is a family, in a marriage founded in Christian baptism, you can until death do your part.