Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Notes from a Marriage
Here are the notes from this morning's talk on Relevant Radio. You can catch the rebroadcast this p.m. If this seems sketchy, there is a good reason -- it is. It is just a thinking through. If you want clarification, just note in the comments box.

In each period of the Church’s life, a sacrament comes to the forth front as the chosen locus of conversion. This is not to say that the sacraments, in toto, do not bring about conversion but rather that something in the nature of that sacrament confronts a particular failure or sin present in the prevalent culture. Consider these two examples. In the sixteenth century, the Church’s firm teaching on the nature of the Holy Eucharist at the Council of Trent directed all the faithful to reflect upon the reality of their communion with the Church and to recoil in horror before the possibility of tearing the Body of Christ to pieces, either via schism or dissent. Two hundred years later, give or take a block of fifty, the Cure of Ars converted the town he was assigned to by renewing the Sacrament of Penance, a sacrament receiving new attention given a renewed focus upon moral theology. In our time, the sacrament of Matrimony offers the same confrontation.

The Icon of the Couple
In the theology of the Eastern Church, the icon serves as a window into the eternal. The encounter with beauty means that more than your looking at the icon, the icon is looking at you and forcing you to ask in what ways you don’t measure up to the divine goal. Surfing through the Church’s teachings, I think you can see a three fold icon present in the sacrament of marriage. First, the Sacrament of Marriage points to the restoration of the fallen human couple. Christ, by raising marriage from the natural order to the order of Grace, points backward initially to show where it was headed. Therefore, the shame and division represented in the fall, because of Christ, is patched by the two in marriage who become one flesh. Second, the Sacrament of Marriage points to the mystery of redemption and the union of Christ and His Church. This is what St. Paul is referring to in Ephesians 5. The relationship in marriage is one based in mutual service, not mutual one-upmanship. Just as Christ gives his life for His Spouse, the married couple make a gift of themselves in the service of one another and their children. Third, the Sacrament of Marriage points to the Holy Trinity. Just as in the Holy Trinity, life begets life. The Father and the Son make such a total gift of themselves one to the other that a third person, the person-bond of love, is breathed forth. In the married union this is the fruitful goal of fertility. The child is not a prize; he is a gift generated first by the mutual love and realized in the conjugal act.

Why Marriage Matters
In a time when efforts at redefining are being aggressive made both in the natural order (homosexual marriage initiatives) and in the supernatural order (laxity toward divorce and re-marriage), marriage must be defended. It then follows that marriage must matter if it is worth defining. Here are some thoughts on why marriage matters. One, society at large depends on it. The most basic society is the family and the family begins when man and woman say "I do." In that moment, a whole new structure, with a entire new future, burst on the scene. Because the couple are making promises now that only play themselves out over the duration of earthly days, the couple are creating a new society around themselves, their respective families and their offspring. It is within this society that both the couple and their children learn what it means to live for the common good – service and sacrifice that doesn’t necessarily benefit self, directly or indirectly. If they learn to serve it with those whom they are given to love, the odds are much higher the neighbor existing outside the confines of the home will be served in the same way. Our public society and the Church, organized as a society, flourish to the degree families as primal societies flourish. Two, vocations depend upon happy, stable families. The average reader will assume that when I say "vocation" I mean "priesthood or religious life," and they would correct but deficient. The stability of families translates itself into children who can properly give themselves to any vocation, priesthood, religious life, or marriage. After all, if a child doesn’t see a marriage lived to the full in their home, where, pray tell, will they see it? On HBO? Ask Tony Soprano for marriage tips and see what you get. Three, marriage ultimately is a path to holiness. The Catechism makes this most telling observation about both marriage and Holy Orders. Paragraph 1534 reads "Two other sacraments, Holy Orders and Matrimony, are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God." How could we treat as trivial that which leads to SALVATION?!

More than ever the words of E.F. Schumacher "Small is Beautiful" are proving relevant. Cancer spreads one cell at a time and is cured the same way, one cell at a time. The ills of society have their roots in the rootlessness of the modern family. Therefore, it would seem logical that the solution to societies’ ill lies not on the senate floor, but on the living room floor of every home.

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