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What Marriages Means to Me-- A Catholic

alec vanderboom

There's a Marriage March in Washington DC on March 26, the same day the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about an important marriage case. I found myself afraid to put that "like" on Facebook. It was uncomfortable to come out as "pro-life" when I switched my mindset after becoming a Catholic. Now there is another mental hurdle I face in becoming vocally "pro-marriage" because in our culture that often means you are seen as "anti-gay."

For full disclosure, I was in a long-term gay relationship while attending Law School in 1997. When I was a Law Student, I studied the Supreme Court case law and I wanted our marriage laws to change. At the time, I thought it was this cause was the civil rights issue of my generation.

Now I find myself on the total opposite side of the issue. I'm a Catholic. I am married. I am thankful for my marriage every day. I am humbled by my new Faith. It is right. It is true. I'm writing this rambling blog post because I'm trying to solidify where I am on this deep issue of my heart.

To be Catholic and to be married, means that there is a "formula" there is a test for what "marriage" means. It's a sacrament. It's a holy spot of union between two unique and flawed people. There are rules for how marriage goes--and when you follow them and you humbly ask for God's blessing, marriage is a delight. It becomes an ever blooming garden.

Here are the pre-conditions for a holy marriage in the Roman Catholic Church

--one man and one woman
--faithful for life
--open to life
--and if you are baptized in Christ, you need to get married in a Christian Church
--and you need to be "free to marry" (i.e. no previous marriages, or a valid Catholic annulment)

Right now there are a lot of heterosexual unions that people called "marriages" that don't count as sacramental marriages within the Roman Catholic Church. If you're in a "open relationship" where it's okay to have affairs as long as you tell your spouse, that's not marriage. If you get married and intend never to have kids together, that's not marriage. If you are two Catholics and you elope in Las Vegas. That's not marriage.

Divorce is bad in the Catholic church. We live in a culture of 'no-fault' divorce. While we're discussing my sinful past, I'll also say that for four years I worked as a Divorce Attorney. While waiting for a pre-Divorce hearing on a bench inside a courthouse, I once watched an angry wife jump on the back of her husband and rip out his his hair. She was someone else's client, but her behavior still rattled me. I sat there in my prim Anne Taylor suit and turned my fresh engagement ring around and around my finger. I said quietly "I hope that is never Jon and me."

When you live in a world where divorce is "okay", where divorce hits the 50% mark, and there are no social "rules" for marriages (either starting or ending) it becomes a frightening prospect to get engaged. People tell you bland things like "Oh we just grew apart! We need different things! He doesn't make me happy anymore!" Marriage feels like a risky decision full of potential future heartbreak.

I was not Catholic when I married a Catholic man and when I first got a detailed look inside the Roman Catholic church. I was blown away by the Roman Catholic stance on marriage. I was humbled. I was reassured and encouraged. Ultimately, it was probably my experiences in pre-cana that caused me to convert to Catholicism a short nine months after my marriage.

I got married at age 26 by my Protestant pastor who knew me since I was sixteen years old. He cared for me. He knew my family. He was very warm and supportive of me and my marriage. We met three times for "counseling" before the wedding. We talked about "marriage" for maybe 30 minutes. The rest of every session was about who stands where during the marriage ceremony.

My husband walked into a new Catholic Church in the city where he started attending Graduate School and he was treated like a prince. He hadn't been regularly to Mass in years. He did not know the Deacon or the priest. Yet, my husband was taken under the wing and given great spiritual advice about marriage. We met together and did the "scrutiny" questions with the Deacon. We went to a pre-cana retreat. We filed specific paperwork with the Bishop to get permission to wed in at a Methodist Church. Through out all the details, the Deacon kept reassuring me "I'm sorry this is so formal Abby, but Jon only gets one shot at this! We want to do everything possible to make sure your marriage works!"

I thought "Damn Straight!"

As a human being growing up in America, I watched marriages fall apart all the time. I was reassured that if Jon had an big affair with his secretary (like my uncle did to my favorite aunt), that there was one place where he faced a consequence for squelching on his marriage vow to me. His Church! The priest was not going to allow my husband to have Communion if he ran off with another woman after our marriage.  The Deacons words were reassuring. I stopped minding the strict rules that we're so foreign to my Protestant mind. It started to feel like other people really cared about my marriage and wanted it to succeed.

I guess what I would tell myself as a Law Student in 1997--when I don't know which would seem crazier that I was now a serious Catholic in 2013 or the Mother of 5 biological children--is that Heterosexual couples have really screwed up the Institution of Marriage.

Heterosexual couples divorce freely. We use contraception and have abortions. We suffer from domestic violence abuse and drug addictions. We've also got the clean addictions like "workaholism" that are just as destructive to family life, even though they are socially sanctioned.

So the sins against marriage are easy to see and are all over the place.

But hidden inside all of this mess of sin (which is created by people) is a master plan of grace designed by God.

Everyone of us has seen a marriage work for more than 50 years and become more beautiful with time. Maybe it was your grandparents. Maybe it was just a passing glance at an old lady and an old man holding hands in a park. A marriage that lasts happily until "death do us part" is a beautiful, reassuring thing.

When a man and a woman can get together-- and be naked. Not just naked in their bodies, but naked in emotional and spiritual intimacy--it is beyond beautiful. It is a holy sacrament of God. It is healing.

So that's where I am now in 2013. I'm with Him. Christ says marriage means "this" set of criteria. In my daily experiences I see all of types of spiritual and physical things coming together to make a beautiful life, one I never expected to have.

I thank God for my marriage.

I hope that in the next couple of weeks we are still in a culture that its okay to talk publicly about the beauty and dignity of a special heterosexual union called "the holy vocation of marriage."