Husband & Wife Articles


A ‘Grand Vision’

More than rules, the Church offers truth and freedom

By Mark Latkovic

In this column, we want to discuss the Church’s “grand vision” of marriage. Christian marriage can be described as both a human reality and a saving mystery. It existed as a human good in the Garden of Eden before the sin of our first parents and well before Christ elevated it to the dignity of a sacrament.

The Latkovic family at home.

Australian Bishop Anthony Fischer has noted that marriage, in the eyes of the Church, is “the free commitment of a woman and a man to unite as wife and husband exclusively and for life; it is orientated to the mutual fulfillment [i.e., the good] of the spouses, to family life, to the building up of the community (both social and ecclesial), and to the salvation of all concerned” [=human reality]. Moreover, the bishop reminds us, the marriage of baptized persons is held to be a grace-giving sacrament, “imaging Christ’s relationship to his people, confirming the unity and permanence of marriage, and participating in and preparing the couple for heavenly communion” [=saving mystery].

Within this sacramental and covenantal context, Bishop Fischer calls our attention to the various responsibilities Christian spouses have: “to love, honor and serve each other, to share decision-making appropriately, to be faithful companions for the whole of life, to guard their own and each other’s vocations, and to engage in chaste sexual acts, enjoying and subordinating sexual pleasure to communion, cooperating lovingly, and abstaining when there is a reason to abstain.”

The sacrament of marriage is a vocation to family life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches: “The Christian family is a communion of persons [=human reality], a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit [=saving mystery]” (2205). Hence, Christian spouses should cooperate with God to bring children into the world responsibly, raise and educate them lovingly and in the ways of the faith, and bring Christian principles to bear on every aspect of raising their children, for example, in helping them to discern their personal vocations.

The Christian family is at the heart of the “culture of faith,” the “civilization of love,” and the “culture of life” – with marriage the “rock” on which it is built.

As we have noted in previous columns, this “grand vision” of marriage is obscured today and made difficult to live out by a culture of secularism. No Christian family has been untouched by this culture’s distorted view of marriage, sexuality, and the human person. The evidence is all around us in the widespread personal and social problems resulting from so many failed marriages and broken homes.

How then can Catholics both evangelize the culture and overcome its destructive impact on marriage and family life? How can we rise to meet these challenges and counteract these threats?

First, we must realize the absolute necessity of rooting our efforts in the Christian faith.

Blessed John Paul II said in a 1980 homily that since our culture doesn’t support the faith as in the past, each person “must…decide consciously to want to be practicing Christians, and to have the courage to distinguish ourselves, if necessary, from our environment. The premise for such a decided testimony of Christian life is to perceive and grasp faith as a precious chance of life.”

In Veritatis Splendor, John Paul noted, as did the Fathers of Vatican II, the separation of faith from morality in today’s climate of “growing secularism.” The pope warned that this separation leads to a situation where the faith of Christians is “weakened and loses its character as a new and original criterion for thinking and acting in personal, family and social life” (VS 88). These words imply that all of our major commitments, such as marriage, must be consciously made and lived out in accord with faith.

To live out our faith, however, we need the help and guidance of the community of faith, that is, the Church. It’s not enough to follow Jesus solo. We do in fact need the Church. As moral theologian William May notes, Catholics today “by and large, are not aware of the truth that the Church herself is integral to their identity…as baptized persons.” And thus her teaching is not something foreign imposed on the conscience of a Catholic. It is rather, May continues, “a ‘reminder’ to Catholics of who they are [i.e., “children of God”] and what they are called to be [i.e., saints].”

In our final column next week, we will give some specific practical tips on how to live a good and holy marriage and family life in today’s secular climate.

Mark Latkovic, Ph.D., is Professor of Moral and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich.