4. What has gone wrong with marriage today?
"Our age is one marked by a great crisis, which appears above all as a profound crisis of truth. A crisis of truth means a crisis of concepts. Do the words "love," "freedom," "sincere gift" and even "person" and "rights of the person" really convey their essential meaning?" (John Paul II, Letter to Families, 13). As we have been seeing, the crisis of fundamental concepts extends today also and very specially to sexual identity, to the relation between the sexes, to marriage, and to the family.
When the meaning of fundamentals is not clear, then everything of real human importance is plunged into confusion. Everything becomes relative or subjective. In Veritatis splendor, John Paul speaks of "the most dangerous crisis which can afflict man: the confusion between good and evil" (93) - which is also the confusion between truth and falsehood, between right and wrong, and ultimately between what is truly human and humanizing and what is inhuman and dehumanizing .
Our subject is marriage and the family. Marriage is clearly in crisis in our modern world. In the present chapter we want to examine more particularly the reasons why.
What is wrong with marriage today? If, as seems obvious, marriage is one of the most natural things in human society, if the tendency towards marriage is one of the most natural things in man and woman, it seems hard to suppose that in any normal state of affairs it is natural for marriage to go so wrong. If marriage is going wrong so often today, perhaps we are not in a normal state of affairs about marriage. Could it not be that, rather than marriage going wrong for man, it is man who has gone wrong about marriage? Is it not possible that the fault does not lie with marriage but with modern man and woman, and specifically with his or her approach to marriage?
I think so, and I see at least three major points where the contemporary approach to marriage has gone wrong:
a) the tendency to "deify" human love; to expect from human love what any believer knows that only God can give;
b) the tendency to expect to receive a lot of love, without having to give as much - or more - love to one's spouse, to one's children.
c) the tendency to see opposition (or at best an accidental connection) between the two ends of marriage, the good of the spouses and procreation, instead of seeing them as complementary to one another .
Let us examine each one of these points a little more closely.
What only God can give
Our main hope is the hope of happiness. We are made for happiness and must necessarily seek it. But we are only going to find frustration if we look for happiness where it is not to be found...; or look for unlimited happiness where only limited happiness can be found...; or look for happiness where it can be found but not in the way in which it can be found there.
Happiness can be found in marriage, but not unlimited happiness; to ask perfect happiness of marriage is to ask too much. Nevertheless, the human person is made with a capacity and thirst for unlimited happiness. And that is why it has been so well said that "woman promises to man what only God can give". Any believer knows that the perfect happiness we seek can only be found in God. We also know that such perfect happiness is not possible in any real or lasting way here on earth. It can only be found in heaven. But the unbeliever, or the half-believer, forgets this. And when man begins to forget God and to lose the hope of eternal life, his heart centres on earthly things and tries to satisfy its thirst for happiness in them. It cannot. Not even in marriage which of all human things promises most happiness and should be capable of giving it. But it cannot give enough.
The person who remembers this will look for happiness in marriage, but will not look for perfect happiness, for he knows that is to look for what it cannot give. The person who forgets God will tend to "deify" human love, and to do so is to practically guarantee the failure of human love. Love is fundamental in marriage, but love can be both misunderstood and over-rated. If one expects too much from love and marriage, one is bound to be disappointed. If one puts too much pressure on a beam, it breaks. If one asks too much of marriage, it collapses. So many modern divorces have their explanation right here.
Marriage: getting or giving?
We have already stressed the idea of self-giving as being at the heart of married love. The person who is not prepared to give of himself, the best of himself, is not prepared for marriage, and will not find the happiness that marriage can provide. We have already seen how this means learning to give oneself to one's spouse, defects and all; and how both spouses must learn to give themselves to their children, the love-fruit of that mutual self-gift so uniquely represented by their conjugal union.
The less this firm disposition to give is present, the less happiness will be forthcoming from marriage. "How much must I give?", "how much will I have to give?"... Once these calculations are allowed to enter, love has embarked on a deadend. Calculation and love do not go, or will not survive, together. Happiness cannot be bought nor is it the result of calculations. Can I afford the amount of generosity that married happiness will call for? That is something you cannot work out by calculation; you can only try.
At the very start of married life, the calculated analysis ("Am I getting as much as I am giving?") is less likely to be consciously present although it is almost certain to arise later on, and if not consciously resisted, can eat away the heart of married love. Today, however, there is another type of calculated approach to marriage that can be consciously present in each spouse and in fact be shared by both. It also involves a deliberate restriction in spousal self-giving and so can take on the form of a consented threat to their married happiness.
Children: "optional extras" in marriage?
Here is another main reason why marriage so often goes wrong for modern man: his tendency to think that the enjoyment of sexual love is the main purpose, or even the whole and all-sufficient purpose, of marriage, at the same time as the possibility of children - of one or two children - can be reduced to a mere factor which most couples may well want as part of their self-fulfilment, though other couples, with equal legitimacy, will perhaps prefer one or two cars or one or two homes...
For many people today children are to marriage what accessories are to motor-cars: "optional extras". Count them in if you like them or can afford them. If not, the marriage - like the car - can work perfectly well without them. To this the Christian mind flatly says No . The deliberate debarring of children, in whole or in part, is almost certain to make any marriage work badly. This is a truth - a rule or law of life - which is in fact implicit in the Church's teaching about the ends of marriage and the relationship between them.
Since contemporary man has little evidence for thinking that modern philosophies of marriage are correct, he might do well to re-examine the Church's teaching - that "marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children"  - and her claim that this teaching represents the really natural view of marriage. It might help if we pointed out, to begin with, that most of those who think the Church is wrong in this teaching have not properly understood what in fact the Church is teaching. We referred earlier to how easily people can confuse and even oppose the subjective and the objective ends of marriage. Now we must stress how important it is that they not only keep them distinct but also learn to harmonize them.
The main motive most people have for marrying is undoubtedly love: "Why do I want to marry this person, rather than anyone else? Because I'm in love with him or her." That is clear. If having children enters, as a motive for marrying, it normally enters as a secondary motive, and in certain cases today it may not even enter at all.
Now, with this order of motives for marrying - first, love; secondarily (if at all), children - many people may conclude that a successful or happy marriage is dependent on the same factors and in the same order; in other words, that happiness in marriage depends mainly or even exclusively upon their mutual love and secondarily or not at all on having children. Is there any evidence to show that this conclusion is correct?
The Church and human happiness
People are not wrong to marry for love. People are not wrong to hope for happiness from marriage. But people may be wrong if they stake all their hopes for married happiness on just one factor - mutual love - when nature has designed that happiness to result from the delicate and exacting interplay of two factors: love (which, we repeat, means dedication, self-giving) and children. In other words, people may be wrong or go wrong because they have not understood how marriage is meant to work, because they have not grasped the way marriage is meant to fulfil its possibilities, including its possibility of happiness.
This is where the Church's teaching can set them right. The Church is fully conscious that the truth she is upholding - in her constant magisterium about marriage - is the truth entrusted to her by Christ; and therefore that it is not in her power to alter or fail to proclaim this truth. At the same time, however, she is equally conscious that her view of marriage takes all of its natural elements into account, including that promise of happiness which it seems to offer to man. When she joins her children together in matrimony, the Church is the first to rejoice at their love and happiness. The Divine Master is always a willing guest if he is invited to the marriage feast; with his presence he wishes to confirm the joy of Cana. But it is to him that a young couple must look if they want the wine of their present happiness to grow richer and flow more abundantly, and never to run out or sour into vinegar . When our Lord speaks to them - in Scripture, teaching that they are now "one flesh" and "shall not be separated", that they should "increase and multiply"; or through his church, (again in words of Vatican II) that "marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children"  - he also has their happiness in mind: not only their eternal happiness (though that is what essentially matters) but also that relative but very real happiness here on earth that they can attain and he wants them to attain.
Married love is meant to become family love
Perhaps we can put it this way. It seems evidently a part of the natural order that man and woman should see a promise of happiness in marriage. Now if, as the Church teaches, having children, precisely as the result of the love-union of the spouses, is also part of the natural order, then - unless nature is lying or at least inconsistent - happiness in marriage is likely to depend on having and rearing children as much as on the mutual love between husband and wife and its expressions. It undoubtedly depends on both factors, but the teaching of the Church would seem to suggest that, in the long run, children - born of generous love - have a decisive influence in determining the outcome of a happy marriage.
Now if someone objects that this is absurd, being tantamount to saying that something physiological (procreation) is more important than something spiritual (love), I would answer that it is tantamount to saying no such thing. It is to say something quite different: which is that love in marriage, which is certainly wider than mere physical love, is wider also than mere married love; in other words, love in marriage is not meant to remain (and is not likely to survive if it does remain) just the love of two people for each other. It is meant to broaden, to spread out, to include more. Married love is really designed to become family love. The love of husband and wife is meant to grow and, in growing, to extend to and embrace others, who will be precisely the fruit of that love. "Fecundity is the fruit and the sign of conjugal love, the living testimony of the full reciprocal selfgiving of the spouses" (John Paul II: Familiaris consortio, 28); "True mutual love transcends the community of husband and wife, and reaches out to its natural fruit, the children" (St. Josemaría Escrivá, Conversations, no. 94). And this brings us to the third point of our considerations.
An age that does not see children as a natural consequence of married love, may be on its way towards seeing them as its natural enemy. That is why I have suggested that a third main reason why so many marriages do not work out today is the growing modern tendency not only to put mutual love before children, but to see actual opposition between these two aspects of marriage instead of seeing them as complementary.
Under the influence of birth-control thinking and propaganda many people today have fallen into the idea that human happiness in marriage depends essentially on love, and much less so, if at all, on paternity. I wonder how many are aware that this idea can be just the first in a series of steps by which a person may be carried forward - much farther than he or she had originally anticipated or wanted - by a philosophy which has its own powerful momentum and direction.
Let us analyze a little deeper this first step in the birth-control philosophy, and see how it easily leads people on - down a path of calculation, rather than up one of love.
The first principle of this modern "philosophy" of marriage, then, is that love is the essential and all sufficient constituent of married happiness, and children, therefore, are to be regarded as a possible help - but also as a possible hindrance - to that love. For children make demands, and there is being popularized today a concept of love that does not want to have demands made of it. With this mentality, when love is thought of above all in terms of personal satisfaction (and not of rising towards an ideal, or of self-giving, with all this implies of struggle and sacrifice), then a vague hankering after paternity may not be enough to outweigh the "disadvantages" of children. This is becoming especially true in the case of women among whom there is a growing tendency to feel that the burdens of pregnancy and child-rearing are just too high a price to pay for the possible satisfactions that may derive from them.
Happiness is the result of a generous dedication to someone or something worthwhile. It is the result of giving oneself without counting the cost. Happiness is not something that can be purchased for money, or obtained through calculation. Yet the whole of this modern philosophy of marriage is becoming replete with calculations, practically all of them cold, and many of them quite selfish and quite mistaken.
The first calculation is, as we have seen, that two people suffice to make each other happy. The second calculation is that a certain number of children - one or two - may be a help to that happiness; or may equally be a hindrance... The third calculation - which is beginning to have the force of a dogma for many today - is that more than a certain number of children (two or three at a maximum) will certainly run counter to married love and happiness. Now, evidently, once one concludes that a particular number of children - four, for instance - is bound to be inimical to love, one can easily end up regarding any number - even one - as an enemy. This is simply the logic of contraceptive marriage.
Once two people have begun to believe that they are "made for one another", they may end up believing that they are not made for anyone else, and have no need for anyone else; that anyone else - even their child, and even especially their child - may be a rival to their love. One or other, or both, may anticipate - and refuse to accept - the possibility of the child's absorbing part of the love which their partner has hitherto given exclusively to them. It is of course a fact that most husbands and wives, on becoming parents, feel a certain jealousy when they sense themselves no longer the exclusive object of their partner's affections. It is natural to experience some passing motions of jealousy in this sense, just as it is natural to overcome them. What is not natural, when one has anticipated this new possible polarization or broadening out of one's partner's love, is to want to avoid having the child that will cause it. This is simply possessiveness and selfish grasping: the very antithesis of love.
Sexual love and procreation are joined in God's plans, to form a strong natural support for marriage and happiness. Man can certainly set apart what God has joined together. But this unnatural separation may leave married love without support. And marriage without its natural support logically collapses.
Those who believe that the birth-control philosophy favors marriage and love would do well therefore to look to its possible ultimate consequences. These have been well parodied in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, that satire of a soulless future society which now looks much less impossible and remote than when Huxley conceived it before World War II. That liberated vision of planned things to come - love and sex identified (or rather, love smothered and lost in uncontrolled animal instinct); marriage excluded and abolished ("everyone belongs to everyone else"): children (repopulating) reduced to laboratory processes, in the safe and exclusive hands of the State - is just the fantastic (but ultimate) projection of the birth-control philosophy.
When the Church teaches that married love is ordered to procreation, it would be a crass error to interpret this ordering of mutual love to procreation as if it implied a slighting attitude on the Church's part towards love. The Church is not opposing one aspect of marriage to another. It is modern man who is doing that. The Church sees the intimate harmony between all the natural aspects of marriage - its objective purposes as well as its subjective motives. To indicate that one thing is ordained to another is to give the key to its true nature. And so the Church, in teaching that mutual love in marriage is ordered to procreation, far from slighting human love, is giving us the key to nature's plan for the fulfilment, within marriage, of the great expectations of human love.
Love's greatest project - children
Nature has designed married love to be fruitful (Humanae vitae, 9). Fruitfulness, in other words, is natural to love. It is something that love naturally longs for, so much so that love feels frustrated if it cannot bear fruit.
Love always inspires; it dreams of great things even when it is unrequited. Requited love - love that has been answered by love - no longer just dreams of great things; it yearns with the ambition and feels the strength to carry them out.
Love enables a young couple to find a thrill of happiness in situations where those not in love experience no more than boredom and routine. To thrill them, it is enough that they can do or choose something - almost anything - together, and that what they do or choose represents the fruit of a loving decision: the meeting point of two wills in love. As they await their wedding-day, an engaged couple work happily on so many projects - minor and even trivial projects, in themselves - that will help to make up their new life together. They enthusiastically plan and choose the apartment they are going to live in, the type of furniture they will have, the very colour of carpets or curtains...
Is it possible, then, for them not to thrill together with enthusiasm at the major project that nature has reserved for them, a project that will be uniquely theirs and exclusive to their union; a project that will be no mere choice of something material - like a car or a video - but a genuine creation on their part (with God's collaboration) of living beings, their own children...? Other couples may live in houses identical to theirs, or may choose the same model car or television set, or much more expensive ones... No one but they can have their children.
How could a couple not look on the project of their children as the greatest and most precious of all their projects, since they can see that it alone - among them all - is the direct fruit of their most intimate married union, fruit of the union not only of their wills but also of their bodies? And as they reflect on all of this, is it possible that they should fail to understand the greatness and sacredness of God's plan for marriage?
"The only true Christian marriage is that of two persons - normally two young persons, on the threshold of life and possessed of all the vitality of youth - who surrender themselves to one another, so as to undertake the greatest enterprise of their mutual perfectioning and the enterprise of the family whose summit is the child, in whom the parents meet each other anew, in whom they find their continuity and who, in the unity of its being, expresses their union" . "The spouses who love one another, love everything that brings them together and unites them. They hold nothing in common so much as their own child. They may share their fortune and unite their possessions in one; they may be united by the most heartfelt understanding. Nevertheless, nothing is so common to them and nothing unites them as their child... A united couple continue to love one another in their child. In him they discover not only themselves, but their very union, the oneness that they have made it their lifetask to achieve. Each of them recognizes his beloved in the child in whom he sees a new being that owes him everything and that he also loves with a love that is inseparable from his partner's love which has equally been the source of this new life. And so, in fatherhood and motherhood, a marriage finds its perfect flourishing. The child uniquely expresses the enrichment of being that husband and wife seek in their union" .
That is why a young couple in love - if they understand love as meaning something more than the mere gratification of instinct - are not satisfied with a barren union. If children are the natural fruit of married love, the married love that does not bear that fruit - when it can do so - frustrates itself and may soon wither and die. Its danger is self-suffocation, for it must try to survive in a closed and unnatural atmosphere where it has deprived itself of the breath of life.
If nature has designed married love to be fruitful, we can say that it has also designed that growth in love will normally be in function of growth in fruitfulness. The couple that expects their love to grow while at the same time they neglect or frustrate its fruitfulness are denaturalizing their marriage. They have not understood the way that marriage can normally give happiness and are not likely to find the happiness that their marriage could have given them. Their love, without the protection and strength it is meant to draw from children, can easily give way before the pressures of life.
Every marriage passes through a crisis
I do not think it is hard to follow nature's plan which has designed children to be not only the fruit but also the safeguard of mutual love between the spouses, and the mainstay of their married happiness.
Each marriage comes to a critical period, a turning point towards a fuller and more definitive good, or towards bad. That moment can come quite early on - as soon as easy romance fades, which may often be no more than a year or two after marriage. If a couple does not negotiate that critical moment properly, their marriage will begin to go downhill. Mutual understanding and respect will lessen; rows will become more frequent. They will have begun the gradual process of drifting apart that can end in final estrangement ten or fifteen years later.
I would say that a double need must be satisfied if a marriage is to survive this period of crisis. When that testing time arrives, each spouse needs, in the first place, a major motive to help them to be loyal to the other person despite his or her defects, a motive sufficient to keep them working at the task of learning to love the other person.
And each one needs, in the second place, a powerful motive to improve personally: to become a less self-centred, a more lovable person. It is easy to see in children nature's special way of providing both motives.
How to keep loving when love becomes difficult
The first point - the need to keep loving when the discovery of mutual defects starts making marital love difficult - was mentioned in our last chapter. But our present context can help us go deeper into the matter.
In Heaven, God and the saints love without effort. But earth is not Heaven. Love on earth is seldom easy; and if it is easy for a time, the easiness does not tend to last. It is true that there must indeed be a great depth of goodness in each human person, for God loves each of us with an immense love and God only loves what is good. But we are not God, and at times we find it hard to discover the good points in other people. In fact we often seem to have a greater facility for seeing people's defects than their virtues. This specially happens when two people share life as closely and constantly as in marriage. And it happens above all if, in their shared life, they have remained alone. Two people constantly face to face are going to discover far more defects in each other than two people who are looking together at their children.
When little difficulties in getting on begin to crop up, the thought of their children - if there are children - should easily and naturally arise as a main motive in determining husband or wife to be faithful to their marriage vows. "For better or for worse", they promised years ago... It will clearly be worse, for the children, if their parents don't learn to get along. "For richer or for poorer"...; the children will clearly be poorer if they live in a disunited or a broken home. Can any stronger motives exist for a couple than the responsibility and love they have towards their children - to encourage and push and compel them to be faithful, whatever the cost, whatever their feelings, whatever the state of their nerves, whatever efforts, however extraordinary, they may have to make? It may certainly be tough on them to make those efforts, but a moment's reflection should tell them that if they are not prepared to make them, it is going to be much tougher on their children.
There is the first motive, and nature's way of supplying it. "For our children's sake, we must learn to get along. And therefore I will fight with all my strength to keep loving my partner. And, with God's grace, I will succeed".
Learning to be a more lovable person, through sacrifice
The husband or wife who reacts so is already improving as a person. And this brings us directly to the second point. If love is to survive in marriage each spouse must learn to love the other, with his or her defects. But if love is not just to survive, but to grow, then each spouse must be able discover virtues - new virtues or increased virtues - in the other.
If love is to grow in marriage, the other person must appear as more and more lovable. And he (or she) will not unless he is improving, unless he is actually turning into a better person.
On the natural level, generosity and self-giving are what make a person better and more lovable. And it is selfishness that kills love both in the selfish person himself as well as in those who have contact with him or her.
The person in love needs to be able to sacrifice himself for the loved one, if he himself is to become more lovable. The person incapable of sacrifice is incapable of giving or receiving (or retaining) much love.
It is good that each spouse sacrifices himself for the other. But it is doubtful, on a natural level, if any husband or wife can, alone, inspire their partner indefinitely to generosity and self-sacrifice.
We have said that the person in love needs to be able to sacrifice himself for the loved one, if he himself is to become more lovable. We should add that the loved one, in nature's plan for marriage, includes children. Children can and do draw from parents a degree of sacrifice to which neither parent, alone, could probably inspire the other. "A man most easily rises above himself for the sake of his children. Parental love is the most naturally disinterested kind of love" . In this way, as they sacrifice themselves for their children, each parent actually improves and becomes - in their spouse's eyes also - truly a more lovable person. "For the sake of their children, spouses rise above themselves, and above a limited view of their own happiness. Moral stature is only acquired if one rises above oneself. Children, above all, are what spur a couple on to moral greatness" .
Marriage has need of sacrifice
On the other hand, if a couple leave untapped the capacity for sacrifice stored in their paternal or maternal instincts, they are likely to end up, at best, as half-developed persons, half-lovable persons. And that may not be good enough for the survival of their marriage.
The fact is that sacrifice is a positive need for married life. In particular all the sacrifice that children demand of their parents from their earliest years is a major factor designed by nature to mature and develop and unite the parents. It is good that the husband and wife sacrifice themselves for each other. But it is even better that both together make sacrifices for their children. Shared sacrifice is one of the best bonds of love.
When love is left without support...
It seems to me that one of the most obvious, frequent and saddest mistakes of many young couples today embarking on marriage is the decision to postpone having any children for a number of years - two or three or five - after getting married. The result is that precisely in that moment when romance starts to fade, when their love begins to run into difficulties and needs support, the main support which nature had thought of (had "planned", I would say) for that moment - their children - does not exist.
Shared selfishness is no basis for happiness
I know that many young couples want to enjoy themselves for a number of years. They feel too young for settling down to family life, and prefer to combine what they consider the advantages of married life with the continued attractions of the social life to which they have become accustomed. Can this be seriously regarded as a natural approach to marriage? Does it not look too much to what marriage offers in the way of enjoyment and too little to what it implies in the way of commitment, and indeed of adventure? May there not be as much of shared selfishness as of shared love in such an approach? When all is said and done, "to have a good time together" is not much of an ideal for two people to share, and is certainly not capable of holding them together, in love, for a lifetime.
At times one gets the impression that many young couples today are planning for a marriage where the need for sacrifice will be reduced to a minimum and, if possible, absolutely eliminated. The saddest thing about this is that a couple who want a marriage without sacrifice, want a marriage where they will eventually lose respect for one another.
When is one mature enough to start a family?
Other couples argue that a few years of married live together will help them mature more and so be better prepared for starting and rearing a family. But what, it may be asked, is there in such a shared life together - with its minimum of burdens - that is really maturing them? The moment when a couple is best prepared for starting a family is the moment when they have married. The romance that still accompanies those early years of married life will help them face up more readily and cheerfully to the sacrifices that children demand. This romantic and more idealistic love is actually designed by nature to facilitate the process by which a couple matures in sacrifice. Later on, it will not be so easy and may not work. If they leave having their first children for later on - when romantic love perhaps no longer accompanies them - the dedication and sacrifice children require may prove too much, precisely because they have not matured enough.
If two young people in love don't want to start a family, they would be wise not to try to start a marriage. It's too likely to fail. One might compare it to starting a car, while leaving its generator belt somehow stuck and motionless. The car may run all right for a while, but in the end its motor is bound to seize up...
The most experienced family planner
It would be a funny world if nature were not in fact the best and wisest Family Planner. She is certainly the planner with the longest experience. The results of modern - artificial and anti-natural - family planning are beginning to be abundantly clear: more and more crumbling marriages, more and more broken homes, more and more isolated people... Those young couples who are tempted to trust the demographers or the politicians or the sociologists, rather than nature, those who are tempted to bend to social pressures or to the simple desire for an easy life rather than heed their instincts of paternity, would do well to ask themselves if they really believe - on the evidence - that modern family planning seems to be making for happier marriages, or whether the plan of nature is not more farseeing and more likely to provide the support for a strong and lasting married life and married love.
Self-enrichment in marriage
Those who maintain that the main purpose of marriage is the enrichment of the spouses' personalities, their self-fulfilment as they complement one another through their mutual love, should also be prepared to say what in fact personal fulfilment implies. Their meaning, presumably, is that marriage is meant to make a fuller human person of each spouse: to make a fuller man or a fuller woman, of husband or wife. But it would help if they went on to say in what this fuller humanity consists: in a greater capacity of understanding? a greater spirit of sacrifice or self-giving? a more developed self-control?... Or (I am assuming that they would not maintain it consists in a greater dependence on physical sex) would they suggest that it consists in a greater concern precisely with self, accompanied by a growing indifference towards others?...
Pope Paul VI's words are worth reflecting on in this connection. A married love that is fully human, he insists, is "a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose dynamism ensures that not only does it endure through the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also that it grows, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfilment" .
We would return to the suggestion with which we began: that it is not marriage that has gone wrong for modern man, it is modern man who has gone wrong about marriage. He has abused it, and it no longer works in his service.
For long some people were crying, "We have the right to be happy in marriage without being dictated to by the Church". If the cry is echoed today, it is with a hollow tone, for the very people who pay least heed to the teachings of the Church are those who are finding least happiness in marriage.
There is dictation today - and dictatorial pressure - about marriage. But it is not coming from the Church. It is coming from the State, from the social planners, from the economic experts, or from the philosophers of a pervasive hedonism or an aimless libertarianism.
It is no wonder if these man-imposed plans for marriage end in failure, for marriage is not man's idea, but God's; and it can work - and give happiness - only if it is lived according to God's plans.
People have indeed the right to expect happiness from marriage, but only from the type of marriage that nature instituted, and only when it is lived, with God's grace, in accordance with its natural design and its natural laws. Not to respect that design or those laws is to denaturalize what was made to help man towards his happiness and salvation, and to turn it - sooner or later - into a source of his misery and frustration.
Marriage is in crisis, and seems to be in decline in many modern societies. Nevertheless, one meets with so many exceptions, so many cases of happy marriages that are happy homes, because the parents have not frustrated the noble instincts of parenthood that nature has given them. They have, on the contrary, fulfilled those instincts, and fulfilled them generously, in the conviction that "a truly noble married love aspires, with a courageous heart, to the glory of fruitfulness. But there is no glory in a strained and calculated fruitfulness. Glory lies in an abundant fruitfulness, in the longing for that abundance. If it feels the need for reasons, it is not in order to have children, but in order to limit their number" .
The number is constantly growing of married couples who have understood the greatness of the divine plan in which God, by calling them to marriage, has given them a share. And so, strengthened by grace, they have been able to face up to the sacrifices - sacrifices of love - that love itself needs for its very survival.