Fr. Alan Phillip, C.P.
I would like to speak about the spiritually of marriage. It is obviously a risk for me to talk about it, since I am not married. However, as a priest I have performed about 800 weddings, participated in numerous wedding anniversaries, counseled many couples before, during and after marriage, handled many annulment cases.
Also, funerals. It is amazing what you learn about marriage when speaking with a widow or widower at a wake or after the burial. Most importantly I have a strong memory of my parent's happy marriage. And since the majority of people are sooner or later called to marriage, I dare to speak about it today.
I would like to begin with a question. Why do you think God established marriage in the first place? Why did Christ institute the sacrament of Marriage?
A first answer could be. Well, God designed marriage for the procreation of children. "Be fruitful and multiply," God told Adam and Eve. Raise a family. That is how the human race would continue on. A very good first reason for marriage.
Secondly, companionship. Before creating Eve, God made the first moral statement in the bible. He said, "It is not good for the man to be alone." So, over the centuries men and women have fallen in love, and joined together in marriage in order to share life, to support each other in good times and in bad, to be with each other in sickness and in health, until death. Marriage is designed as an antidote against loneliness.
Thirdly, sexual union. The strong human drive for sex needs a setting that is moral, lawful, and safe. God designed sex to be a true expression of faithful love, not a temporary release of passion. The justification of sex is lifelong commitment, not passing romance. Unfortunately, much of TV, movies, and magazines have trivialized and made into entertainment what is truly profound, the intimacy of husband and wife.
Procreation of children, companionship, moral sex. so far so good. But what has that got to do with a spiritual journey?
So consider, fourthly, these words of Jesus. He said, "Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and die, it remains just a grain of wheat. But once it dies, it then can grow for and become a prosperous plant." He was talking about selfishness. Death to self. Death to life with ourselves as the center. Death of a life with the focus of me-first. Death to "gimme, gimme, gimme." Jesus is telling us that sacrifice leads to growth. Does marriage - and family life -- demand sacrifice? Obviously. In fact, marriage is a long journey out of oneself. Ah, the beginning of spirituality. As St. Augustine said, "Show me a person in love and I will show you a person on the way to God."
Journey out of oneself. If you ask engaged persons why they want to get married, they might answer, "Because I want to be happy." Guess what? It won't work. No human person can live up the expectations we have of someone who will make us happy. Even a millionaire can't do it. If on the other hand, the engaged person says, "I want to get married so I can make my beloved happy for the rest of his or her life." Ah, that might work. Focus is off the self and on to the other. Their happiness, their health, their well-being. Marriage guarantees no one happiness. It guarantees a lifetime of opportunity to give a lot of happiness.
Fifthly, Jesus said, "When two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst." In the sacrament of marriage, two people are gathered together, joined together in God's name. Jesus is there in their midst, in their hearts, in their home. Together husband and wife become a dwelling place of God. St Augustine tells us, "Those who are full of love are full of God." Two persons in marriage become one living temple of God.
If God dwells in a temple, God dwells there with his wisdom, his courage, his healing power, his transforming love. As a living temple of God, the vocation of a married couple is to bring God into the lives of others, to be an authentic Christ-bearer.
Sixthly, we profess belief in the Trinity, three Persons, one God. In marriage, we have two persons, one being. Two persons complimenting and fulfilling one another and becoming one reality. As the song says, "One hand, one heart." Indeed, one body, one soul, one will, choosing each other and together choosing God. When two become one, they put aside their former life. They are now new wine in new wineskins. A new creation, a new being is formed by God. And the world is newly enriched.
Seventhly, who does God love? Everybody. God's love is universal. No boundaries. So how did God make us? For a human person, to love deeply in one direction enables us to love deeply in all directions. That's the plan. Universal love. The deep love between husband and wife is meant to spread out and extend - to children, to the larger family, to parish community, esp. to the poor and needy. How do others come to know what God is like? When others see the love of husband and wife, expressed by constant patience, understanding, forgiveness, encouragement, and humor, others come to understand something of what God is like. Married couples, by their total, unconditional, infinite, complete, absolute, and forever love, are called upon to preach by example who God is. That is central to their vocation.
Finally, in our first reading today, the Lord says to his people, "I will espouse you to me forever." "I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord." God takes the initiative, calling us to his heart. Husband and wife love God by loving each other. They serve God by serving each other. It is in this loving and serving each other that they taste intimacy with God. Union with God. That is the goal. In short, to be in a "state of love" is to be in the "state of grace," which is to be in a "state of prayer," -- whether we are conscious of it or not. When human intimacy leads to divine intimacy, a couple begins to realize why God brought them together in the first place.
Not everyone is called to marriage. But the witness of love between husband and wife can inspire all of us to be continually open to intimacy with God. And, with the apostles, we rejoice each day because the bridegroom, Jesus, is living in our midst, dwelling in our hearts.