Overwhelming love of God made believable in lives of married
April 18, 2019
During the Easter season we are especially conscious that God has intervened in human history in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the risen Jesus, we are offered freedom from the limitations imposed by the effects of sin, including the ultimate limitation, death. In the blood of Christ, God has established a new covenant relationship with us. When we enter this new covenant at the invitation of Jesus, a new life is given to us. It is the beginning, the foretaste, of a life that will never end.
Jesus invites his disciples to experience the new covenant in practical ways. By our participation in the Mass, in times of personal prayer and when we show mercy to others, we live out our identity as daughters and sons of God. To those who are living as disciples of the new covenant, Jesus often reveals a bigger life plan, beyond the day-to-day experience.
Many are called by the Lord to the sacrament of marriage. The faithful marriage of man and woman has been part of God’s design from the beginning. Now in the new covenant, marriage has taken on even greater significance.
Marriage has been raised by the risen Christ to the dignity of a sacrament. This means, first of all, that by their chaste love, husbands and wives lead each other to a deeper love for Christ. They experience life in the risen Christ now, and they prepare each other to experience the life of the Trinity for all eternity.
The sacrament of marriage also is a living sign for us of the divine love offered to us in the new covenant. Spouses commit themselves to a faithful, fruitful relationship of body, heart and spirit. They promise to love each other in good times and bad, in sickness and health. No couple can do this perfectly every day. But by cooperating with the grace of the sacrament and doing their best, they mirror for the world God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. So the rest of us depend on couples who commit to the sacrament of marriage for a clear sign that God has committed himself to us in Christ.
The church is sometimes spoken of as the "bride" of Christ. The book of Revelation describes the culmination of salvation history as a great wedding celebration of the risen, glorious Jesus and his spouse, that is, all who have accepted life in the new covenant. This is certainly poetic language, but it describes an essential truth. God has married us, his holy people, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This union, which we experience in the church, is meant for our living fully here in freedom and as preparation for eternal life.
The union of husband and wife in marriage is a living sacrament of this life-giving truth. This is why Catholics learn to hold marriage between a man and a woman as sacred. This is why it is impossible to redefine marriage to suit human purposes. The chaste marriage of husband and wife is so closely tied to God’s own saving action in the new covenant.
Every year in the fall I have the pleasure of celebrating Mass with couples marking significant anniversaries of marriage. These days it is not unusual to honor couples married 70 or more years. We always welcome dozens married 60 years and more. Usually, the couples were young at the time of the wedding. Good medical care makes it possible for some to survive the illnesses and injuries that once were fatal.
These long-married couples speak of the grace that has made such a long union possible. (They speak often of the importance of humor, which is a special type of grace.) This is a sign of God’s favor to them in marriage. We honor and recognize them, because their sacramental union is a sign of God’s favor to us.
During the coming weeks of spring and summer, couples in our families and parishes will celebrate the beginning of marriage. Their experience is different in many practical ways from the experience of couples 70 years ago. Many of their hopes for life in Christ and life with one another are the same. They will make the same promises that couples married in Christ have always made: to take each other freely and wholeheartedly; to love and honor each other for life; and to welcome children, as God sends them, to be raised in the community of the church.
It is essential for the integrity and fruitfulness of their marriages that these couples take these promises seriously year by year. And it is important for us to support them in their commitment. If they have strong, enduring marriages, it will be good for them and for their children. It will be better for our church and our community.
Couples who come to the church for marriage are offered some preparation for living the sacrament. At its best, this proximate preparation is always limited. It is expected that couples entering marriage in the new covenant will be disciples of Jesus. So formation in discipleship from an early age will always be the best marriage preparation.
During these Easter weeks, we are overwhelmed again by the love and faithfulness of God in the crucified and risen Jesus. We give thanks for the married couples who make that love and faithfulness believable in our time.