A sacramental marriage is between two people who are baptized and believe that Jesus is their Saviour and the Lord of their lives. The husband and wife are a sacramental sign in the world by their unity in Christ Jesus. What is a sacramental sign? It is a pointer to the presence and action of Jesus in the world. So a Christian husband and wife, who strive everyday to live in unity and love, through the power of the Holy Spirit, witness Jesus' presence and love, to their children and the society in which thy live.
There may be many people of other faiths or who are agnostics and seem to be morally much better than Christians. A Catholic who marries such a person will not have a sacramental marriage, although the marriage is indeed valid and holy in God's sight. If you do not believe in Christ as your saviour and do not invite him to be Lord of all the areas of your life, you will not need him, depend on his grace or channel his presence, love and life to your spouse and children. You may be a morally good person, with higher moral standards and behaviour than many Christians. But you cannot represent or make Christ present to others, if you do not believe in him.
Many of the disciples, whom Jesus chose, were sinners. The Pharisees and scribes may have been morally better, more self righteous and more observant of the laws. But they were not disciples of Jesus. The repentant sinners who depended on God's grace everyday to be Jesus' hands and voice to others were disciples. So Catholic spouses also depend on the grace and strength that comes from God everyday, to love their spouse and children.
In every marriage, there is a period of romance and expectation at the beginning and especially during courtship. But it is only when a couple starts living together as husband and wife, that they face the reality of how they interact and respond to each other and to the varying situations of life, together. After a period of time, when the novelty of living as husband and wife, wears off, they begin to take each other for granted They become involved in their careers or in parenting and get their primary satisfaction from such as these, instead of from each other. They become married singles, who sleep in the same bed, eat at the same table, wear each other's wedding rings, but are often two individuals who use each other and forget the small courtesies and sacrifices they made for each other in the time of romance or expectation.
When a couple share the same faith, that goes deeper than religious observances of laws, they receive from the Holy Spirit, the grace to love, understand, forgive, heal and bring out the Jesus in each other. The Spirit makes their hands the loving, healing hands of Jesus to each other. He makes their voices the life-giving voice of Jesus to each other. Now their union is not based on feelings alone but on the mature belief that God has chosen, called and empowered them to love one another as husband and wife in the way that Jesus loves and saves his bride-Church.
Every couple has to face trials, difficulties and stresses in their marriage. The sacramental couple, does not depend on their own cleverness, cunning, maturity, experience or managerial skills to effectively face these difficulties. I do not discount the importance of such skills for a harmonious interpersonal relationship. But what is very often needed is humility to die to one's ego, to self-righteousness, to pride, to exaggerated superiority, to one-up-man-ship, to winning in the competitive world in which we live. This humility is a grace that the Holy Spirit gives to those who sincerely and humbly ask for it in Jesus' name.
A Catholic husband and wife in a sacramental marriage, will certainly have to face the cross in their lives. But Jesus who calls them to represent him in the world will enable them to transform the cross from a symbol of disgrace to one of salvation. Instead of being bowled over by suffering, they will receive grace and strength, one day at a time, to bear witness to Jesus by their faith and love which will sustain them.
Today we come across many non-sacramental marriages. Our youth may indeed find that the non-Christian is so much more mature, moral and attractive than the Christians he/she meets. But as the marriage relationship loses the flush of romance, so many of these couples find they lack the inner resources that a shared faith brings believing and practising Catholic couples, to sustain them.
It is very important then that our youth are made aware of this before they fall in love and choose to enter into a non-sacramental marriage. Those who enter into a sacramental marriage, also need to be strong in their faith in Jesus, if they want to open their lives to the power and action of the Holy Spirit in their lives and relationship.
When our children prepare for Confirmation, this needs to be adequately explained to them and understood, well before they fall in love and decide to get married to a person of another faith or to a Catholic whose faith is weak and shallow.
Parents too should give primary importance to a strong faith in the spouse they select for their child, instead of considering caste, colour, money and such qualities as the only ones that matter. Sharing the same faith and values, helps a couple to remain united in love, until death do them part.