Personal Reflections on Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan" (Part 2)

William E. May
© 2010 Culture of Life Foundation
Reproduced with Permission
Culture of Life Foundation


Here I intend to present the Bishops' teaching in Part Two of the Pastoral Letter, which they call "Marriage in the Order of the New Creation: The Sacrament of Marriage," from the perspective of a husband, father, and grandfather. I want to do so because I have now been married more than fifty-one years to a wonderful, loving wife, and God has blessed us with seven loving children, four boys and three girls. Six of them are now married to great daughters- and sons-in-law whom God has blessed with fifteen children and in doing so has blessed us with fifteen grandchildren, ten girls and five boys ranging in age from twenty to seven months. I think this puts me into a position to appreciate the message our Bishops want to communicate in this fine document.

Marriage damaged by original sin, is redeemed by Christ who makes Christian marriage a sacrament of grace

As a result of original sin concupiscence entered the human heart and, as it were, threw a monkey-wrench into God's original plan for marriage as a communion of self-giving love between husband and wife, one open to the great gift of human life. Their relationship was marked by domination and lust and their God-given privilege to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth was burdened by a woman's pain in childbirth and a man's toilsome work. The man blamed his wife for the trouble he was in (how true even today) and began to look on her not as a person equal in dignity but as a servant meant to satisfy his desires. Marriage needed a "re-creation."

Jesus "re-created" it. His first miracle was changing water into the best kind of wine at the wedding feast of Cana, where his Mother's advice to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:4), is good advice for Christian spouses. Jesus heals us from sin and "raises" us to a new kind of life, the life he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit he sends to us in baptism we share in his death and resurrection and become, with him, children of God, members of the divine family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christ thus also restores marriage to its original purity of self-giving enduring love between husband and wife who literally become "one flesh" when they give themselves to one another in the marital act, through which they cooperate with God in procreating new human life.

The Old Testament symbolized God's relationship with his chosen people by likening it to the love-giving, life-giving, faithful union of a husband with his bride (see, for example, Hosea 1-3) The New Testament similarly symbolizes our Lord's relationship with the Church by likening it to the union of Christ with his bride the Church. This helps us see that from the beginning the Creator meant marriage to be the visible embodiment of Christ's own love for the Church, a self-giving love modeled on Godes inner life and love (see Eph 5.28-32). As an "efficacious" sign of the covenant of Christ and the Church, marriage signifies and makes present to baptized spouses the love of Christ for his bride, the Church. His self-giving love for the Church was expressed fully by his death on the cross, and Christian spouses are called to give each other this kind of love (Eph 5: 25-27). Christ abides in the married couple and gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to bear one anotheres burdens. Jesus is our Simon of Cyrene.

Marriage images the life of the Trinity and the family to which it gives rise is a "domestic church"

Through the Sacrament of Matrimony, married love shares in Trinitarian love. The mystery of the Trinity shows us that to be in the image and likeness of God means living in a communion of love. To be created in the image and likeness of this Triune God means that human beings image the communal life of the Trinity, and this is true in a special way in marriage. The Trinitarian image in marriage and family life is shown in the communion of the spouses and in the children to whom they give life as ministers of God himself. Like the communion among the Persons of the Trinity, marriage is a communion of love between persons, husband and wife, who are equal in their dignity and whose love embraces all the members of the family. In a way analogous to the relations among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who unites the three persons as one God, the inter-relationship of the husband and wife makes them one as a married couple. Moreover, like Trinitarian love, marital love is fruitful, for its crowning gift is that of children made in the image of the Triune God.

As man, Jesus came to know the will of his heavenly Father within his own family, from his life with Mary and Joseph. The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is the model and source of inspiration for all Christian families. The communion of persons formed by the married couple and their family is a kind of microcosm of the Church; it can truly be called the "domestic church." As the Church is a community of faith, hope, and love, so the Christian family, as the domestic church, is called to be a community of faith, hope, and love. Fathers and mothers have the responsibility to foster foundational Christian virtues in their children, to evangelize and exercise the priesthood of the faithful by participating actively in the sacramental life of the Church, preeminently in the Eucharist.

Marriage a vocation demanding growth in virtues toward holiness

All persons, including husbands and wives, have a God-given primary and common vocation to love, and in Baptism, God calls all the faithful to grow in love. As a specific vocation marriage requires preparation. This begins in infancy, continues through adolescence, and must be perfected during the period of engagement, a period that the man and the woman must recognize involves a "journey in the faith," a time to deepen their lives as Christ's disciples and friends and to think much more about marriage than about the "wedding" preparations (the cake, the gowns, etc.). Once married, husbands and wives are summoned to "Become What You Are!," as John Paul II said in Familiaris Consortio. That is, they are to love one another with Christ's love-giving, life-giving, sanctifying love; and they can give this kind of love because Christ's will enables them to do so if they ask him for his help.

The vocation of marriage demands living the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity or love. It also demands growth in the moral virtues which are rooted in the theological virtues, especially in love, virtues such as prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Chastity and gratitude are two particular virtues spouses must nurture. Marital chastity protects their loving, bodily communion and opens their hearts to the gift of new human persons as they cooperate with God in the great work of "pro-creation." Marital gratitude leads spouses to rejoice in the gift God has given them by giving them to each other in marriage. Indeed, husbands and wives might well end each day by telling one another, "How happy I am that I married you."

In this way husbands and wives fulfill their vocation to help make each other truly saints!

Marriage and the Eucharist

In the Eucharist, Catholic married couples meet the One who is the source of their marriage. As Pope Benedict XVI says: "the imagery of marriage between God and Israel is now realized in a way previously inconceivable: it had meant standing in God's presence, but now it becomes union with God through sharing in Jesus' self-gift, sharing in his body and blood" (see God is Love, no. 13).

Marriage Fulfilled in the Kingdom of God

The Bishops end by saying: "Just as Christ once proclaimed the greatness of marriage by his presence at the wedding feast in Cana, so now, at the heavenly wedding banquet, marriage and all the blessings of the Holy Spirit, given to us by the Father through Christ, his Son, will find their ultimate consummation because we will be in perfect union with God." To this I say "Amen."

Part 1: Click here