I found it a little ridiculous that the media made such a huge deal about the couples Pope Francis married more than a month ago. They pointed out that some of the couples had been cohabitating; one already had a child. They declared that Pope Francis is so much more open, and this is an additional sign of change (for the better, they would argue). They hinted that similar couples might have been booted out before, shunned, and denied the power and fulfillment of marriage.
Marriage to them is merely a choice, I suspect, to enter into a visible contract. What they don't understand about marriage makes all the difference in their interpretation.
The Catholic Church has a very definitive idea of marriage. It is, like rebirth in baptism, one of the Sacraments instituted by Christ:
Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatsoever? He said in reply, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate." Matthew 19:3-6
Therefore we don't just say it is a great institution. We don't simply point out that it creates the most beneficial situation in which to raise children. We assert that it is a Sacrament, a visible sign of inward grace, that this man and woman are now entwined in their journey towards God and will receive blessing and strength from Him as long as they seek Him together. The couple confer the marriage Sacrament on each other as they stand before God and profess their commitment to the good of each other and of any children with whom they may be blessed. It is a beautiful thing infused with the love of the Almighty God and representative of it. Therefore, it is far more than an expensive ceremony that trumpets to the world, We're finally getting hitched!
It is far more than common law. (People who live together and have sexual relations are not married in the eyes of God. That is not their intention in entering into a sexual relationship.) It is a much deeper understanding than the simple legal agreement before the state that offers a break in taxes, a sharing in health benefits and the shared custody of children. It is more even than the wonderful celebration of marriage in some Christian churches.
My understanding of marriage in this extraordinarily elevated way came as I studied the Catholic Church, and then I realized why they held it in such high esteem. Marriage is vital in the plan of salvation, since a family is the first church - the domestic church - and has the power to grow God's kingdom through love, and I began to reflect more on the fact that Jesus' first miracle was at a wedding feast in Cana and that he referenced marriage celebrations often in his parables about the Kingdom of God.
A simple wedding Mass without flowers, ribbons, or bells holds more power and meaning than the most lavish civil ceremony in the most exotic location, because Christ is truly present and blesses it. The couple commits to far more than a shared life. They commit to a shared life in Christ for not only their mutual benefit but for the good of their children and of the community.
For a world that cannot accept Jesus, it is no wonder that marriage has lost its luster, its meaning. After all, in the words of Pontius Pilate, what is truth? Or in the perspective of this modern, brave world, what is sin anyway? What is grace? And who needs it? (Everyone!)
As for us poor, traditionalist Catholics? None of us come to marriage as saints! If that were a requirement, to be pure, none could get married in the Church. However, and I will talk about this Sacrament another time through the lens of my own experience, I have no doubt those couples were encouraged to go to Confession before the Mass. The marrying of those 20 couples was a removal of obstacles to grace. It was not an approval of disorder, confusion and selfishness. It was good. It was merciful.
It was a Sacrament, an efficacious sign of grace instituted by Christ Himself.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1601 "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament."
Thanks be to God!