Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Our Love Is Here to Stay: For Most Catholics Marriage Is Their Path to Holiness, Says This Expert. the Church Could-And Should-Do More to Help Them on Their Way

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Our Love Is Here to Stay: For Most Catholics Marriage Is Their Path to Holiness, Says This Expert. the Church Could-And Should-Do More to Help Them on Their Way

Article excerpt

If you ask Mary Jo Pedersen the secret to a good marriage, she just might point you to a dentist. How they think about teeth, she says, is how the rest of us should think about marriage: "You get one set of teeth, that's it. They are of great value. If you don't take care of them, you can lose them, and it's going to cost you a lot of money and a lot of pain, so you go to the dentist and you get preventive care."

As a national leader in Catholic family ministry and faith formation, Pedersen has encouraged preventive care for marriage through workshops, publications, and retreats. She recently retired after 25 years on the staff of the Family Life Office of the Archdiocese of Omaha, and she's also served as an adviser to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Marriage and Family as they put together their forthcoming pastoral letter on marriage.

While communicating to couples the importance of ongoing marriage education and enrichment can be a challenge, Pedersen embraces it. "Marriage is life's most important work, ultimately. It's also a key investment in your health, your finances, your spiritual welfare. When you buy a new car, you take it in for an oil change every six months. Do you take your marriage in for a checkup every six months?"

Pedersen and her husband, Dave, have been married for 38 years and have three grown children.

How does the Catholic Church view marriage?

The church has a very positive vision of marriage as a happy, healthy, and holy life choice.

Today marriage is being questioned in all sorts of ways. Cohabitation is up; over a third of cohabiting couples have children in their homes, so they are moving ahead without marriage. In the past marriage gave women financial security; it offered the freedom to have sex and a place to have babies. Now people choose to have all those things without marriage.

The social sciences agree that marriage is really good for you. For men it equals giving up a pack of cigarettes a day in terms of health and life expectancy. Married couples live longer, are wealthier, and have more satisfying sex lives than those who are single, divorced, or cohabiting. Children do better when parents are married.

But what is truly unique about the church's view of marriage is that it is ultimately a pathway to salvation. Since the Second Vatican Council, the church has emphasized that in Baptism God calls everyone to holiness through different paths. God calls some people to marriage, a call that is equal in dignity to the call to the priesthood, to consecrated life, or to single life.

What value does the church's teaching on marriage offer couples?

What's lacking in our culture is a meaning system for marriage. What's the goal? If you looked at the secular world, you'd say the goal would be to have one of those vans with rear doors that open on both sides, a nice home, an investment portfolio, and the acceptance of your community. But people find that that runs out pretty fast, especially when you find out that the person you married is not perfect.

Catholic teachings on marriage function like three legs of a stool. The first leg is that marriage is a call to holiness. The church says the goal of being married is to help you develop as a whole person in the image of Christ and to give and nurture life in cooperation with God. In marriage the call to holiness involves forging a common life, an "us" who can give life to the world.

The second leg is the idea that marriage is not simply a legal contract but also a covenant. A covenant is a solemn promise to one's spouse and to God to be faithful into an unknown future. It assures us that God is always with us in this grand enterprise that is married life.

The church calls people who make this covenant to two things: The first is to love faithfully and exclusively. And to love not simply in the secular sense, which is, "I'm attracted to you, you're my preference," but to love in the spiritual sense, which is, "I see good in you and I wish good for you. …

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