Marriage - Who needs a piece of paper?
Most of us wouldn’t buy a car from someone who couldn’t supply us with a clear title. We wouldn’t just bring any infant home from the hospital without a birth certificate telling us the baby is ours and we wouldn’t buy a house without a warranty deed. There are things we can’t do without a license, such as driving, hunting or fishing.
What makes these pieces of paper so important? They provide legitimacy to the action or transaction and solidifies our rights if we are later questioned about it. Some papers confer rights for a fixed period of time and then expire, such as the licenses mentioned above. Other papers allow us to transfer our rights by surrendering the documents to someone else, such as a title or deed. Finally, some documents spell out things that will never change, such as who your mother is and when and where you were born.
For those of us married in the Church, there is another piece of paper that goes beyond a contract and that is a marriage license. A marriage license has no expiration date. The license surpasses the substance of a contract and represents a covenant, an agreement that does not just create a civil agreement, but a sacred bond. In a contract, there might be an exchange of goods or services; but in a covenant there is an exchange of persons, woman for man and man for woman as the two are united and become as one.
It reminds me of the riddle: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the chicken and the pig? Answer: The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. Without a marriage license, there is a couple that is involved, but not committed. They might produce little chicks, but would they give their lives for each other?Couples who live together before marriage often say that they are testing their compatibility before making a commitment, but statistics seem to indicate that in most cases this doesn’t increase the chance of success. According to Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., “within five years of a live-in relationship, while half of cohabiting couples marry, about 40 percent break up, and the rest continue to live together. Only 4 percent of cohabiting couples stay together for ten years.”
I can hear my reader’s arguments coming now. If having a marriage license is so important, why do 50 percent of marriages end in divorce? I believe it is because of a lack of commitment and failure to keep God in the marriage. The couple forgets about the “third party” to the covenant.
Remember I said that a covenant was a “sacred bond?” By sacred, I meant that God was a party to the marriage. The wedding ceremony often ends with these or similar words, “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Mark 10:9) The covenant is sealed by God himself. Couples forget that they have a responsibility that exceeds their responsibility to each other and they forget that “for God all things are possible.” (Matt 19:26)
If they keep God in the marriage then they’ll attend church services, they’ll pray together, they’ll bring their children up to know and love God, they’ll call on God for guidance and consolation in times of trial recognizing that while he doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be thorns in their marriage, he will give them the grace to smell the roses, if only they ask.
For those considering whether or not to get married, ask yourself, “Am I the chicken or the pig?” If you’re the pig, get the piece of paper!
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