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“Ask a Priest: Since Marriage Isn’t Eternal, Is It Worthwhile?”
Q: I am only 18, and my Catholic foundation is admittedly rocky on this subject. I have been feeling a deeper calling to my faith as of late, but cannot get over one matter that has consumed my thoughts for nearly a month: marriage. And not just marriage. But the irrational feeling that my future wife would die young. This was triggered when I read that earthly spouses will not have a similar relationship in heaven, which makes me feel that marriage is empty and somewhat pointless in the end. I always wanted to get married, but now I don’t know what to think. I have wondered if this is a calling to the religious life. If you could offer any thoughts or resources that could be useful I would greatly appreciate it. – N.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It is good to remember that marriage (between Christians) is a sacrament, which means that it points to something beyond itself. It is also a special conduit for God’s graces.
Marriage is an icon — an image if you will — of the love that unites the three Persons of the Trinity. It is also the means by which spouses cooperate with God in raising up new human life in the world.
True, marriage doesn’t last into heaven. But that is because no one will need it in heaven: There we will encounter the ultimate object of our love, God.
This doesn’t mean marriage doesn’t have any value. It is a foretaste of the love that awaits us in heaven.
If marriage didn’t have value because it doesn’t last for eternity, then nothing in this world really has value. But that seems to go against our intuitions. Things in this world are important. The way we choose to live is important. Our decisions have ramifications for our eternal destiny.
A better way of thinking might be this: We are pilgrims in this world, and we should make choices with an eye toward eternity. We should choose things that help us reach our ultimate end, which is union with God.
One of the great helps, for the vast majority of people, is marriage. It helps people get over their selfishness. It demands sacrificial love of spouses for each other and for their children. And a loving marriage gives a stable environment within which to raise children, as well as a great witness to the wider community.
Moreover, it is God’s chosen way of bringing new human life into the world. Remember his first command to the first couple: “Be fertile and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). You could read more about marriage in the Catechism, starting at No. 1601.
All of this is to say that marriage is by no means insignificant. It is a bedrock of any healthy society.
Now, returning to your particular situation: You mention about an “irrational feeling” that your future wife would die young.
True, there are no guarantees in marriage. Marriage requires faith in a loving God and his providence. It also demands that we go beyond the limits of our at-times narrow way of thinking.
Marriage is something of a leap of faith, for it calls people to venture into the unknown.
As such, it can make people vulnerable — hence we use the term “falling in love.” When we are falling, we feel helpless. That is part of the thrill of love. A person opens himself to another person who will accept and love him in return.
We all need to make a leap of faith sometime, whether we are called to marriage or priestly or religious life or even a path such as the military. At some point, we realize that unless we make a commitment to someone or something outside of ourselves, we will remain self-centered and become stagnant.
Perhaps it is worth taking some of this to prayer and asking the Holy Spirit for enlightenment. What is the basis of your fears? Are you afraid to be vulnerable? to have trust in God? to give of yourself to others?
Remember Jesus’ words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24).
Perhaps you might find our “Be Not Afraid“ online retreat guide useful. I hope some of this helps.
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In Luke 20:36 Jesus states one of the reasons for not marrying and being given in marriage is because the righteous resurrected can’t die anymore but will be like the angels in heaven. God creating sexual relationships before humans sinned and could die contradicts death being a condition for marriage and sex. Only legal customs of marriage were invented after humanity sinned, so thats all Jesus could be refering to, not the union of a man and woman in an intimate sexual relationship. The Greek words used for marrying and being given in marriage, gamousin and gamizontai, refer to two different acts of a legal institution of marriage. This was not needed with the first couple, Adam and Eve, so says nothing about the actual married state. At the beginning God said for us to be fruitful and multiply, with no indication it was to ever stop. He created marriage and sexual passion for spouses and being alone was the one thing God said during the creation account that is not good. God can’t change his mind about the ideal state for males and females if he is the same forever. If simply being more aware of God’s presence and love makes marriage unnecessary, than God would have had no reason to create gender and sex to fulfil a different kind of intimate desire to begin with, because God and Adam had exactly that kind of relationship we’ll have with him in the renewed creation, before Eve was made. If simply being part of God’s image is all the justification needed to have gender, then sperm, egg cells, breasts and wombs will be unused, and God doesn’t make things for no use. The female figure is designed the way it is to fit babies during birth. keeping a libido is justified.
Angels did have sex and marry as written in genesis 6:1-2, but Jesus said the heirs of eternal life would be like the angels in heaven, where the angels who reproduced were not. But sons of God only ever refers to righteous angels, so if the sons of God were attracted to human women before they left heaven to marry them, and the heirs of eternal life will be like them, he’s not teaching that sexual desire will be eliminated forever. Jesus appeals to the conditions at the beginning of creation for why divorce is not acceptible to him in Matthew 19:4-6 and 8, so the initial conditions are God’s ideal. What also was part of the conditions before humanity sinned was marriage, sexual relationships and no death. Being alone was the only thing during creation that he specifically said is not good, so it’s not irrelevant to him how he originally made everything.
If people interpret Jesus answer to the sadducees as claiming no one will be married anymore, then we can’t be married to Jesus after the last resurrection either. The description is given of God as a husband to his people in parts of the old testament, like Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. That wasn’t meant to sever marriages of male and female couples anymore than being described as Jesus bride is in Revelation. Marriage of male and female couples and sexual passion is the most joyful and pleasurable of God’s creation, yet so many Christians have claimed that that’s the only thing he will not restore, but we get to keep food which is bland by comparison. The ideal of eternal paradise for Christians who are prudes is hell to most other people, including other Christians. Just because some people manage to not care if they can continue having a sinless sexually intimate relationship with someone for eternity, doesn’t make it fair to teach that those who do much prefer to keep feelings of sexual attraction and being in love with someone, what many people love most about our existence, should somehow not care.