Saturday, October 15, 2005

Signs and Wonders: The Holy Sacraments in the Life of One Unholy Christian Man (IX)


1601 "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament."84

I. Marriage in God's Plan

1602 Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of "the wedding-feast of the Lamb."85 Scripture speaks throughout of marriage and its "mystery," its institution and the meaning God has given it, its origin and its end, its various realizations throughout the history of salvation, the difficulties arising from sin and its renewal "in the Lord" in the New Covenant of Christ and the Church.86

The beauty of this Sacrament is how radically it embodies the grace it conveys. In a sense, marriage takes the “incarnational principle” of Christianity to an extreme: God does not use “mere” bread or water of words to convey marital grace but in fact uses the willing bodies of two humans made in His own image! Every Christian marriage is therefore a vital, pulsing, mortal realization of the glory of God carried in jars of clay. Although virginity is inherently superior to marriage as a path of sanctification and theosis, marriage nonetheless illustrates two powerful realities, which many people in our day have a hard time seeing in consecrated chastity.

First, marriage sacramentally dramatizes the union of Christ with His Church – with all the sorrows of change, loss, infidelity and death which the Church knows, as well as all the joys of intimacy, wonder, fidelity and life which also thrive in the Church. Second, in marriage we have a living “window of flesh” into the Trinitarian mystery. For although individual men and women are each made in the image of God, Man and Woman express the image of God most completely in the life-giving union of Adam and Eve. Such Edenic union was and is modeled on the heavenly union of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as a life-giving communion of Love. How, then, can we see virginity, marriagelessness, as superior to marriage itself? Simply because consecrated virginity does in itself what marriage is meant for: the committed, spousal union of the soul with God. Marriage achieves by way of a partnership, wherein the husband helps the wife attain God’s bridal chamber and the wife helps her husband in the same way. Virginity does the same thing, but in a more radical, more direct fashion: in the virgin’s weakness God’s grace is made even stronger.

Marriage, then, is good news for the world. For in holy marriage, as St. Francis de Sales says, we see people “who live so calmly together in mutual respect, which cannot be had without great charity. [And we see] how these devout souls wed care of the exterior house to that of the interior, that is, the love of their earthly spouse with that of the heavenly Spouse” (*Introduction to the Devout Life*, I.18.2). Since few people experience the love and joy often “hidden” behind cloister walls, holy marriage is a channel of grace into the secular world. Marriage then is not just good news for the lonely and single but in fact is the Good News! Holy marriage is evangelism! And just as all the Lord’s commands and counsels carry within them the seeds of great fruit, so too the immense challenges of marriage – a lifelong cohabitation of sinners! – is not without special blessings. For, while marriage can help the world envision and encounter Trinitarian love alive in human love, the married must also keep in mind the Trinitarian basis of their vocation. They are never married “on their own” but in fact married into the family of God. This marriage not only can and must be renewed and deepened sacramentally in the Church’s worship but also can and must be fortified mystically in connubial intimacy, childrearing and family prayer.

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