Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth issued a Pastoral Letter on Christian Marriage to coincide with World Marriage Day, 9 February 2003. The following extracts from the Pastoral Letter are published with Archbishop Hickey's approval.
This day is an opportunity to reaffirm the good news of Christian marriage against a background of widespread marriage breakdown and cynicism about marriage itself. What the Church teaches about marriage it does with the full authority of Christ himself. The Church's teaching is an affirmation of human relationships, human sexuality and the joy of children.
The original plan of God for marriage was gradually eroded by local customs, unjust practices, false ideas and human frailty which Jesus referred to as "hardness of heart". On his own authority, Jesus rejected divorce and restored the unity and indissolubility of marriage. It was to be again "one flesh" under God that must not be "put asunder".
The Catechism of the Catholic Church captures this vision sublimely: "By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, Jesus himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to 'receive' the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ" (CCC 1615).
Is Jesus asking for the impossible when he insists on marriage for life? Not only is it possible, but it is a source of great joy and fulfilment of those who draw on the strength and graces of the Sacrament of Marriage.
Marriage is a true Sacrament, that is, a sign of the covenantal love of Christ and the Church. As a Sacrament of the New Covenant, the marriage of two baptised people is a source of grace which the spouses confer upon each other.
* As the covenant between Christ and the Church is unbreakable so the graced marriage of two baptised spouses is also indissoluble. Their marriage requires the exchange of promises made freely and willingly by both parties without reservation, and openness to children.
* Christian marriage is exclusive, that is, the love of husband and wife is so unique that they cannot love another in the same way. Adultery is a most serious sin of infidelity that causes enormous damage to marital trust and intimacy.
* Marriage is to be open to children, the fruit of the love between husband and wife. If serious reasons exist, couples may use natural methods of family planning that respect the integrity of the marriage act. They may not use contraceptives, neither chemical nor barrier methods, as they frustrate the marriage act and its natural outcome. Moreover, many contraceptives do not prevent conception. They prevent the implantation of a fertilised ovum, and hence destroy human life.
* Spouses may confidently rely on the grace of the Sacrament to enable them to remain faithful to each other for life, to face whatever difficulties may arise and to welcome and love the children that may be born to them.
Grace of Sacraments
Human beings are not perfect. Personal faults and failings are fully exposed in the intimacy of married life. Nor is change easy, or forgiveness. Husbands and wives are called to accept the demands of love, to be patient with each other, to respect one another, abandon criticism, look for the good not the faults, discuss serious matters with love, be prepared to make adjustments, forgive and be reconciled.
This is not easy, and outside help may be necessary at times.
Let them remember the spiritual help that is already available, the presence of Christ in their marriage through the grace of the Sacraments, and the power and consolation of prayer.
Those whose marriages have broken down are still very much part of the life of the Church and may certainly receive Holy Communion. Only when a subsequent irregular marriage or relationship is involved is there a barrier to full Eucharistic participation. Even when they are at a distance from the Sacraments, we should not judge them harshly. We do not understand them or their situation the way God does.
The fidelity and self-sacrifice of married couples is a powerful witness to priests of the lived reality of a lifelong commitment. In the courage of parents, priests find strength to remain fully committed to the care of their flock. A priest's commitment to his promises of ordination is strengthened when he sees the commitment of couples to their marriage vows.
The Church remains firm in its resolve to uphold the Christian view of marriage at a time when marriage is under pressure, when sexuality is separated from marriage, and when "de facto" unions are preferred by many to marriage because of the risks involved in making a permanent commitment.
Catholic young people are asked to reject the temptation to live together just because others are doing it. "De facto" unions are generally very unstable because the commitment to one another is often conditional and tentative. Statistics show that those who live together before marriage have a far higher marriage breakdown rate later.
Let young people heed the Church's call to be chaste before marriage and be faithful within marriage. Experimentation and promiscuity before marriage is not only seriously sinful, it is the worst possible preparation for fidelity within marriage.
Preparation for marriage begins in the family with one's own parents setting the solid values that flow from committed love. The teaching of the Catholic Church on human sexuality must be known and heeded in a world where the teachings are widely rejected in favour of sexual licence which causes so much personal and social damage.
Recent Popes have made it clear that marriage and family life are not simply on the receiving end of the Church's ministry. They have a special role to play in the Church and in the World. They are Christ's special ambassadors of love in a confused world. They hold society together because their family unit is the foundation and the binding element of society itself.