By Fr. George Adimike
It is common knowledge that our civilisation is in crisis. The question remains: what kind? Remarkably, there is arguably a parity of those who consider it as the crisis of truth; the others, of love. Many as well see it as the crisis of faith. For the purpose of this piece, the principle of ‘both … and’ applies. It involves the whole question of the truth and identity of man, which includes faith, hope and love. Adequate awareness of the truth and meaning of man’s existence settles most of the crisis. As one of the fitting context for his life, marriage figures centrally in the truth about man and woman. It is not good for humans to be alone. Human physiology reveals graphically and powerfully that we are meant for communion. Hence, human sexuality is a spiritual faculty that drives humans to the bond that parses the meaning of their existence. God created man for ‘marriage’, which he realises historically through the marriage bond of the family and eschatologically, through the marriage with the Lamb in the Trinitarian communion with God, which our Christian existence anticipates.
While marriage is a natural vocation of the human person, with supernatural meaning and consequence, not all humans respond to it naturally. Celibates respond to this vocation supernaturally in immediate anticipation of the everlasting marriage with God on the last day. They fulfil this vocation of marriage differently. However, for all who respond to it naturally, marriage is a curative stitch that is both timely and saving. It contextualises man’s self-renunciation to engage with the other for betterment and wholeness. Marriage, as the oldest institution, foundational of human society, reins in our concupiscible appetite, domesticates love and structures life within a stable ambience for the good of the couples and their children. Family is, therefore, the primary institution for the human flourishing, which at the same time, bridles our excesses and channels our various gifts for the good of society. It is an everlasting ecology of love.
Since love involves both unity and distinction, it takes the mutual self-renunciation of the couple to form a family; that is to say, a bond of love and synergy for a self-realisation that constitutes ecology for development. It takes this renunciation and self-sacrifice, in other words, death to one’s ego to realise micro-salvation, which funds macro-salvation. In marriage, death yields life because marriage rescues one from an isolated ‘I’ to a relational ‘we’ that becomes the new ‘I’. For this new ‘I’ to exist, there is a renunciation, a surrender, a death, a letting go of the old identity into the new existence of life and fecundity through love in the mode of the wheat-grain metaphor (Jn 12: 24-25). There is life in dying to self; the little deaths to one’s egos, pleasures and ambitions unleash transformative power and liberating energy for human flourishing and national development. The death to the ‘old isolated selves’ lets the new couple begin a new life of marriage in which the new we-existence overflows into the larger society as an instrument for its growth, development and transformation. The ethos of death in marriage, which is necessary for a new family, entails a transformation of the narcissistic tendencies in us into altruistic living for others such that it transforms one’s mode of operation from domination to co-operation, communion and new life.
Like several other important things in life, many marriages suffer challenges that constrain their flourishing. Sadly, the institution of marriage bears the brunt of the devil’s darts resulting in the obfuscation of its raison d’être. Often, its expression is in deficit.
Fundamentally, the evil one plagiarises love and marriage to such a ridiculous level that the family becomes the new battleground for the clash of civilisations, ideological wars and the battle of light against darkness. As such, many families experience various degrees of impact, constituting the new serpents in the garden of married love and towers of Babel in their families. Since the plagiarism of the sacrament is the devil’s pastime― confusion and obscurity of the right order and distortion of values―the plagiariser-in-chief turns mutual self-gift of marriage into mutual egoism in which two selfish individuals struggle to use the partner to satisfy his/her needs.
As a result, marriage, the mysterious sacred commerce and union, submits to norm of utility and degenerates to context for domination. Due to a deficiency of love, marriage loses its capacity for longanimity and defaults from the rubric of mutuality. Married love is such that without the grammar of love, it becomes exploitative instead of complementary; thus, the mutual exchange of gifts, especially of self, degenerates to mutual profiteering or grabbing of gifts. In this way, ‘irreconcilable differences,’ as it is often termed, easily gets a hold on the family, which occasionally leads to divorce.
Marriage as a sacred institution is a gift to be cultivated in order to be an actual ecology of love where unity is nurtured, distinction appreciated, and both are preserved. To achieve its aim, marriage has to norm itself with the ethos of ‘gift’ for the couple to integrate their various gifts in an exodic journey of discovery and self-donation to each other – growth in the harmony of love as given (eros) and love as gift (agape); thus, cultivating an everlasting ecology of love, the family.
You can reach Fr. George Adimike on email@example.com