Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Marriage and Religious Life part 1

This past weekend, we had the privilege of welcoming seven men on a come and see visit in order to discern a possible call to religious life.  I found it to be both surprising and humorous that the gospel passage for that Sunday (the 27th Sunday in ordinary time), the last day of the visit, was from Mark 10:2-16 where Jesus affirms the indissolubility and dignity of marriage!  However, after I stopped chuckling to myself and began to dig in and prepare for the homily, I realized that this was a gift from the Lord offering these young men, and indeed all of us, an opportunity to understand both the vocation to marriage and the vocation to religious life more deeply.  Over these next four weeks, I would like to reflect on both of these vocations in the light of the readings from last Sunday and recent Church teaching.  My hope is that these reflections will highlight both the fundamental differences and the complementarity between these two vocations and, therefore, aid some readers in their personal discernment.  We’ll begin this week with marriage.
In last Sunday’s first reading from Genesis 2:18-24, we read “the Lord God said:  ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a suitable partner for him” (Gen 2:18).  Immediately this tells us something important about man (mankind; ourselves), namely, that he is incomplete without another.  Man is made for communion.  Marriage is a communion of persons and it is in the context of this communion that he experiences the happiness he was created for! That is why later on in the same reading, Adam, upon seeing Eve for the first time, cries out with joy:  “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  Adam’s first words weren’t, “Wow you’re gorgeous” or “would you like to go out to dinner sometime?”  Instead, he responded to Eve’s presence with the intensity of a poetic, star-crossed lover because in her he saw his own completion, the meaning of his existence.  A modern translation of Adam’s exclamation might be “I will give my very life for you!” or “You are everything to me; I will never love another the way I love you” (Fr. Robert Barron, Magnificat, October 2012, p. 99). 
In marriage, Christ elevates this natural intensity of love to a sacrament!  And He does so because this awesome sacrament reveals something even greater than the natural intensity and happiness of human love.  It actually reveals to us the love of Christ for His Church.
This is the teaching of St. Paul in Ephesians 5:21-32.  In this passage St. Paul begins by exhorting wives to be subject to their husbands because the husband is head of the wife AS Christ is head of his bride, the Church (Eph 5:23).  But, he also exhorts husbands to love their wives AS “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her…” (Eph 5:25).  Thus, he concludes that the mysterious, one-flesh union of husband and wife points to the greater mystery of the one-flesh union between Christ and His Church.
The Church teaches that authentic, married love is free, faithful, total and fruitful.  This is because these are the very characteristics of Christ’s love for His bride.  Jesus, the bridegroom of the Church, freely and totally gives Himself to the Church in faithful and fruitful love.  Therefore both He in the gospel and the Church in her magisterial teaching affirm the indissolubility and dignity of the sacrament of marriage because it is an image of His marriage to the Church.  If Jesus or the Church allowed divorce, that would be akin to saying that Jesus could divorce the Church; that He could come down from the cross.
The ultimate purpose of the sacrament of marriage is to reveal to us this awesome love of Jesus for His Church.  That is why marriage and sexual love in the context of marriage are held in the highest honor by the Church.  This is the core of Blessed John Paul II’s teaching in the Theology of the Body.
This concludes our brief reflection on the sacrament of marriage.  I hope this offers you an opportunity this week to ponder more deeply this beautiful vocation.  Stay tuned for next week when we will discuss.