Whatever you think ‘marriage’ means, one thing is clear: we need to change our language.
When people think of marriage and the commitment we make to each other too often it is thought of in the terms of ‘no’: ‘no, I will not leave you’, ‘no, I will not be unfaithful’, no, we will not use contraception’. Marriage, and sexual morality more generally, has the problem of a ‘no’ framing.
Framing success in marriage simply by what we will not do is inadequate. It is hardly inspiring and therefore unsurprising our youth wonder “why bother?” and “what is so special about marriage?”.
The essence of our marriage vows is a resounding ‘yes’.
It’s ‘yes’ to unconditional love.
It’s ‘yes’ to a crazy, exciting, and in human terms, impossible commitment… to love to our fullest for the rest of our lives.
Nuptial generosity is an open-ended vow. It is uncapped. It is constrained only by our unwillingness to be outrageously generous towards each other.
Easy to do? Hardly!
Inspiring to witness? Absolutely!
Pope Francis said in Amoris Laetitia:
“We need to find the right language, arguments and forms of witness that can help us reach the hearts of young people, appealing to their capacity for generosity, commitment, love and even heroism, and in this way inviting them to take up the challenge of marriage with enthusiasm and courage” (AL 40).
The ‘yes’ of marriage is the new language we need. Its shear extravagance is compelling. I say ‘yes’ to you to the point that we will create new life between us; a new person who is a biological witness to our ‘yes’. It’s outrageous, ridiculous!
Too often tiredness, stress, selfishness, preoccupation or self-importance displaces our nuptial generosity towards the other. And that is a betrayal of the vows we made on our wedding day; a promise made to give ourselves ‘freely and wholeheartedly’ to each other.
Any time we withhold ourselves from each other, we are failing to live up to our vows.
Perhaps our biggest shortcoming as a Church community is not that we fail to effectively transmit sexual values to the next generation, it’s that we have failed to live the value of nuptial generosity.
For without nuptial generosity, without a joyful ‘yes’ to nuptial union within marriage, the ‘no’ to sex outside marriage just doesn’t make sense.
In other words, it’s by our lived witness that we speak the truth most effectively. We can say the words eloquently, but unless we walk the talk, then few will take notice, yet alone be moved to follow.
So herein lies the challenge. For we married couples, the ‘right language’ the Pope is calling for is ‘living our yes’. It’s easy to say, but hard to do and this is the real crisis in marriage. More often we are couples living the ‘no’ rather than the ‘yes’; living faithfully by the rules but not to the fullness of the vision. Aiming for the low bar, not the high bar.
St Francis of Assisi sent his disciples out to the world saying:
“Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words”.
Truly words do matter, but words cannot effectively transmit the full vision of marriage. It has to be witnessed. It has to been seen and felt as the radical generosity of our unrestrained ‘yes’ to each other.
When we as Catholic couples live our ‘yes’ to the fullness of joy within God’s plan, we won’t need to preach the ‘no’ to sex outside marriage. It will be self-evident and irresistibly attractive!