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THE QUEST FOR HOLINESS
THE ROLE OF CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE IN ATTAINING HOLINESS
A VIEW ON FAMILY PLANNING AND ABSTENTION


 

by:

 

DOM BASILIO MAGNO




I. THE QUEST FOR HOLINESS

 

"Many are called but few are chosen."



A. 
SALVATION: All want it, many work for it, few attain it. 

"The only placid and sure tranquility for man, the only solid and perpetual security, is to be rescued from the storm of this troublesome world and to rest in the settled anchorage of SALVATION" (St. Cyprian).

God became man. "To give His people knowledge of salvation" (Lk. 1:77), "to offer salvation to all men" (Ti. 2:11). This is the goal of our salvation" (1 Pt. 1:9). And since Christ, Himself, prophesied that few will enter it, St. Paul admonishes us, to "work with anxious concern to achieve our salvation" (Phil 2:1-2)

"What must I do to have eternal life?" (Mt. 19-16) The young man asked Christ.


B.  BE HOLY, "without which no one can see God" (Heb. 12:14)

Salvation is a gift to those who live holy lives. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness. . . " (Mt. 5:6). This holiness is no ordinary goodness. "Unless your holiness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will NOT ENTER the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:20). "It is God's will, not only that you be holy, but that you grow in holiness" (1 Thes. 4:3-7).

Where can we learn the way to holiness that leads to salvation? St. Paul says: "From Scriptures you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation… and it can be used for teaching people to be holy" (2 Tim. 3:15-16)

Let us all live lives of holiness "without which no one can see the Lord" and be fearful of St. Peter's words: "It would be better for him never to have learned the way to holiness than to know it and afterwards abandon the holy rule that was entrusted to him." (2 Pt. 2:21).


C. A LIFE OF HOLINESS.

There are things which are good in themselves and, therefore, must be sought for their own sake, like wisdom and holiness. And there are things which are indifferent but may be used as helps to attain good, like food, drink and marriage (St. Augustine).

Holiness is given by God to those who obey the commands of Christ. As a result holy people "receive not so much a portion from the Lord as to receive the Lord Himself, as their portion" (St. Gregory the Great.)

And the commands of Christ are meant to subdue the passions of the flesh, making us no longer subject to anything unlawful even in the imagination of the heart springing from the corruption thereof (St. Gregory the Great), thus making us pure in heart worthy to see God: "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God."

1.   HOLINESS through red martyrdom

In their desire to deny themselves to please God, some have shed their blood. "He who loses his life for My sake will save it" (Mt. 16:25). This way to holiness is exemplified by Christ Himself, by the apostles and the martyrs.

Tertullian describes them as "those who have fought the good fight, where their manager is the living God, their trainer the Holy Spirit, their crown eternity, their prize the angelic life, their citizenship in heaven."

Red Martyrdom requires "immense moral courage in suffering, combined with unshaken virtue and mildness of demeanor… thus making the blood of martyrs the seed of the Church" (St. Cyprian).

"A Christian suffering martyrdom is a spectacle to the Lord, a sublime and great exhibition of fealty and devotion by His soldier. Such death is previous in the sight of the Lord" (St. Cyprian).

2.   HOLINESS through white martyrdom

       There is a way to holiness that is essentially identical with the above but does not necessitate the shedding of blood. The Blessed Virgin Mary exemplifies this way of life and its is more commonly called "life of virginity."

This life is referred to as "the happy life" by St. Augustine and the "Angelic Life" by St. John Chrysostom, "because such Christians exhibit on earth the conduct of angels in heaven." This way of life is made in heaven and brought down to earth for imitation."

They give up much for the sake of the kingdom. . . even many good things, such as marriage, ". . . who marry not nor are given to marriage" (Mk. 12:25). For them marriage is good but ". . . it is better not to marry" (Mt. 19:10). "For he who is unmarried thinks about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. That he may be holy in the body and soul" (1 Cor. 7:32). Thus they are described as physical and spiritual virgins. Spiritual virginity is essential to holiness; while physical virginity is just an aid and can be dispense with if marriage becomes more helpful.

 

II. MARRIAGE, AN AID TO HOLINESS  

 

The sacrament of marriage is  Great Mystery. . . so that St. John Chrysostom condemned its profanation on the stage when it is made fun of and mocked to elicit laughter. He called such shows the workshop of the devil that has subverted many a family.

"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh" (Mt. 19:5). Now, why should a woman leave those who gave life and brought her up, those who gave her countless blessings, those who are familiar to her, and be joined so intimately with a total stranger she came to know only recently, who bears no relation to her and yet she must honor above her family? To know the answer is to pierce through the great mystery of marriage which concerns Christ and His Church.

Every Christian marriage worthy of its name must reflect this mystery, but sadly this is rare even among Catholics. The Sacrament of Marriage is a visible sign bearing witness to invisible realities, namely the mystery concerning Christ and His Church. Yet most marriages bear witness to nothing spiritual, to nothing mysterious, to no invisible realities. Without bearing witness to this great mystery, marriage becomes a meaningless burden.

God is the author of marriage. The union of husband and wife which reflects the Oneness of Christ's virginal church, is from God; "so divorce is from the devil" (St. Augustine). Christ came to Cana to sanctify and improve on the worldly institution of marriage and to sanction the bonds of concord. Tertullian defines Christian marriage as the "union of believers having one hope, one desire, one course of life, one service of God, in common one with the other." True Christian marriage, where art thou?

 

THE GOOD OF MARRIAGE.

No one goes to heaven just by marrying. For many, though, marriage is a GREAT HELP to holiness. But this must be embraced within the context of the evangelical life.  

1.   Marrying to win a crown.

The Patriarchs of the Old Testament married for the noblest motive, i.e. for a spiritual reason, the hope that they would give birth to the virgin child, the Messiah. In the New Testament, the noblest reason for marrying is likewise to give birth to a virgin totally consecrated to the service of God. Obviously, to do so it is not enough just to give birth to a child; the child must be bought up "in the discipline of the Lord." Such virgin- child becomes the CROWN of a truly Christian marriage.

In the early Church, children who loved their parents worked hard to be virgins so that their parents would have a crown. Thus St. Gregory encouraged his sister to be a holy virgin to assure their parents' marriage a crown; he could not be the crown being a married man.

Parents, on the other hand, welcomed having children for every child becomes an occasion for a crown. They are mindful of Christ's words, "He who welcomes this little one welcomes Me and he who rejects them rejects Me." Regulation of birth in any of its forms, therefore, is a rejection of Christ in the little ones.

Thus parents attain salvation by welcoming the little ones; they gain an added crown if these little ones are bought up to be holy.  

2.   Marrying for the maintenance of chastity through the control of the passions.

This is an inferior but acceptable spiritual motive for marrying-- to weaken the uncontrollable passions so one may observe fidelity in chastity. Through marriage, concupiscence is brought under a lawful bond and behaviour does not become loose or disgraceful but chaste. "Marriage," St. Augustine states, "becomes the mutual service of sustaining each other's weakness for the avoidance of illicit intercourse. It is rendering service one to another that they may not fall into damnable seductions through the temptations of Satan."

It is through chastity that each wins over the other to God; it is through chastity that children, brought forth carnally, are nourished spiritually. The fidelity of chastity brought about by tempering of the passions brings love and happiness to the Christian family.

Marriage is NOT a solution for all problems; it is the medicine for a very specific spiritual problem, - - - uncontrollable passion that leads to unchastity, ". . . if they cannot control their sexual urges, they should get married, since it is better to be married than to burn" (1 Cor. 7:9). For the unchaste "Sex is always a danger" (1 Cor.7:1).

Youthful incontinence, i.e. the desire for pleasure for its own sake, which is bad, is transformed by marriage into the honorable task of begetting children. For such, to choose is better than indulging in fornication.

The unchaste is allowed, within marriage, to render the debt even without the purpose of procreation. The demand, under the ardor of concupiscence, may even be intemperate and incontinent, i.e. over and above one's needs, as long as the purpose is to protect each other from adultery or fornication. This would still be within the scope of Christian marriage as long as their behaviour does not detract from their prayer time and does not generate into unnatural practices.  

 

FIDELITY IN MARRIAGE

Render the conjugal debt always. St. Paul says, "Do not refuse each other" (1 Cor. 7:5). This is fidelity, to render the marriage debt every time there is need for the avoidance of impurity, whether one is fertile or not. This fidelity also consists in refusing to have intercourse with anyone else except with one's spouse. And also, if there is a need to separate for spiritual reasons, fidelity demands that they remain chaste.

Rendering the conjugal debt means one cannot abstain without the consent of the other. And consent to abstain is only given". . . in order to pray" (1 Cor. 7:5). And even while abstaining in order to pray, if the passions are aroused, fidelity demands that spouses "must come together immediately in case Satan should take advantage of your weakness and tempt you" (1 Cor. 7:5)

This fidelity includes, St. Augustine states, that they do nothing to avoid having children nor act in any evil way so that they will not be born.

For a true Christian marriage, there must be fidelity to God, shown by a life of virtue and fidelity to one another.

 

ABSTENTION

From the two spiritual goals of marriage, we can conclude that family planning, including abstention, go against the spiritual goals of marriage and, therefore, are harmful to the spiritual life of both spouses. Abstention, St. Paul reminds us, is for virginity and for prayer; never for the regulation of birth. Abstention goes against the command of Christ "to welcome children," i.e. against charity and against fidelity "to render the debt," fertile or not. Abstention can ruin a Christian marriage.

Abstention is too difficult for ordinary laymen. In abstaining to regulate birth one must give up the marital act for an extended period of time. For couples who marry precisely because they cannot control themselves, this is next to impossible. For them to try it would expose them to impure thoughts and desires, masturbation and even adultery, thereby, defeating the very purpose of marriage. To abstain that long without spiritual harm one must live like the ancient monks.

WHY DOES THE CHURCH TEACH ABSTENTION if it is spiritually harmful? The church is not teaching it; she is merely tolerating a lesser moral evil to avoid a greater evil. In tolerating abstention she is trying to prevent abortion. Jesus Christ described the Jewish nation in the same way, that Moses gave in to their evil demands like divorce because of their hard-heartedness, but these were not so in the beginning (Mt. 19:8).

Today, Holy Mother the Church is dealing with delinquent children who want to come home at 2:00 a.m. She is begging them to come home at 12:00 midnight when she really prefers them to be back at 6:00 p.m.

TO REGULATE BIRTH remains an evil because it is an act that cannot be ordered to God. However, if an act is evil, a good intention can diminish its evilness. And a good intention is when your aim is the spiritual good of the spouse in view of the ultimate end.

 

GOD ALONE IS THE AUTHOR OF LIFE

Not all who marry to have a crown are granted a crown; not all who marry to welcome children do have children. Not all who abstain succeed in regulating birth. Because after everything has been said the ultimate truth is that God alone decides on the conception or non- conception of life, ""for God can raise up children to Abraham from these very stones." Man has absolutely no part in that decision. Our Blessed Mother, who knew no man, had a child simply because God willed it; and Elizabeth had a child in her old age simply because God willed it. That's why many who want children do not have them because God does not will it.  

3.   Marrying for Companionship and Friendship in Old Age.

One day spouses will no longer be able to have children or keep their grown- up children; and there will be no passions to control. Friendship and companionship between them is their harbor of peace and tranquility. This must be developed early in marriage because this is the best atmosphere in rearing children. And this is what will sustain them in old age.

Sad are they who sacrifice their marriage for temporary, fleeting pleasures. In their old age they end up with no passions, no children, no companion and no friend.

 

CONCLUSION

Why is it that though the doctrine on Family Planning is so simple and clear many are ignorant of it? Because man loves to continue believing that he has a say in the initiation and maintenance of life; the parents, the doctors, the scientists, etc. Like Adam and Eve, they like to be like God.

But then we are living in the end times when "the Rebel will deceive those who are bound for damnation because they would not grasp the love of the truth which could have saved them. The reason why God is sending a power to delude them and make them believe what is untrue is to condemn all who refused to believe in the truth and choose wickedness instead" (2 Thes. 2:9- 12).

The above advice is meant ONLY for those who are seeking for the true doctrine on marriage and family planning. For those who are not seeking the truth, this teaching is a burden and a source of annoyance. As for us, our humble prayer is that this essay "bring salvation to ourselves and to those who read it" (1 Tim 4:16). And may we hear from Christ the words He addressed to Zacchaeus and his family. "Today, salvation has come to this house" (Lk. 19:9).

 

 

(updated 01-03-02)

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