Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bye for now.....

Dear readers, I have so much enjoyed posting these lessons.  It is my hope and prayer that you have been blessed by them.  However, because of various circumstances in my life right now, I will be unable to continue the Pentateuch and Dies Domini series at this time.  It may be that in the near or distant future I will have the opportunity to check back occasionally!  Thank you for following along so far!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Pentateuch, Day 7: The Fall of Man

The Fall of Man, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

The Fall of Man

     There is so much to consider in Genesis 3 that I have had to break it down into three posts:  

           1.  The Ancient Serpent
           2.  The Nature of the Temptation
           3.  The Consequences of the Fall

Even these barely scratch the surface, but hopefully you will glean some insight and food for thought from these topics as we discuss them.

I.  The Ancient Serpent 

A few years ago, when I was out weeding in my garden, I noticed a strange shape up in one of the crabapple trees.  I went closer to investigate and I found that a large black snake had crawl up into the tree.  I was startled to find this snake draped along the branch;  why was it there?  Three large lumps that ranged down its body and an empty robin's nest at the end of the branch told the tale.  The snake had climbed the tree in order the eat and destroy the robin's eggs.  

In Genesis 3, we also see a snake in a tree.  This snake is attractive and does not seem to be very intimidating;  it is persuasive and does not seem to be evil.  The next time this same word for serpent is used in Scripture is in the Revelation to St. John. When we see this serpent again in the last pages of the New Testament, it's true nature is fully revealed.  It has grown to enormous proportions and is a being of unimaginable wickedness, cruelty, rebellion, and evil.  Not only is the serpent's identity as the Evil One clear, but its purpose and plan are plainly seen.  It is intent upon only one end--destroying Christ:

And another portent appeared in heaven;  behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads.  His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth.  And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron...Rev 12:3-5

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman, William Blake
Genesis uses the image of the serpent to portray the deadly evil lurking in the trees of the Garden of Eden.  This serpent is intent on one thing--the destruction of the children of Eve.  More specifically, the destruction of the Son who will be descended from Eve and will ultimately defeat him.  He climbs into the tree, just as the snake in my garden did, to devour Eve's offspring.  If he can tempt her to sin, then he can introduce sin and selfishness into the world and, he hopes, eventually destroy the possibility of the Messiah's birth.

It is interesting that the serpent is portrayed as "subtle", in fact, "more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made." In the ancient world, the serpent was usually a symbol of wisdom and healing.  The great statue of Athena in the Parthenon in Athens was accompanied by a large serpent (just to the left of her shield).  The healing god Asklepius also was depicted with  (or even sometimes as) a serpent  Even today we see this positive representation of serpents  in the caduceus, which is a commonly used symbol of medicine.

In the surrounding Sumerian culture, snakes were also worshipped.  The god Ningizzida, who was a Sumerian god of the underworld, was represented as two snakes entwined around a rod.  His name means literally, "lord of the good tree".  Perhaps it is an echo of the true memory of man's original encountered with the serpent that in these and in many mythologies the snake is associated with a tree of some kind.

In the Hebrew writings, however, the snake is not a positive element. It is not wise, it is subtle.   It is deceitful, a bringer of temptation and death.  It is a usurper of God's rightful place, persuading Eve to turn from her proper relationship with God.  It speaks with a wisdom which is not from God and which ultimately, fueling our pride and rebellion, leads to rupture in our relationship with God and to death.  Throughout the Bible this worldly wisdom, which counsels us to seek fame, glory, and power of various kinds for ourselves, is contrasted with the "foolishness" of God, which calls us to lay down our very lives for the sake of others:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God..  For it is written,  
     "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
     and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart."

Where is the wise man?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe...we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men... Let no one deceive himself.  If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.  For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile."  --I Cor 1:18-25; I Cor 3:18

So, the pagans who surrounded Israel deified snakes, seeing in them the source of that wisdom which would bring them power and domination over their fellow man and would make them craftier even than the gods.  In the Hebrew Torah, however, the true nature of this deceiver is portrayed, along with the real consequences of rebellion against the God of Life.

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed?  The end of those things is death...For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of god is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.--Rom 6:20-21, 23 

To deify means to exalt something or someone to the position of a god, to imbue them with god-like qualities and powers.  It comes from the Latin words deus, meaning "god, and facere, which means "to make."

The Church teaches us that behind this "wisdom" and these serpent images lies a reality--a spiritual being who is himself in rebellion against God:

The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God:  "The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing." (Lateran Council IV)--CCC 391

These defiant angels rose up against God, attempting to be like God and assume His power and reign.  St. Michael, whose very name means "Who is like God?", defeated Satan and his minions and cast them out of heaven.  These rebellious angels, which we call demons, continue to "act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus"--CCC 395But their power is limited and they can only operate in the world by permission of the Divine Providence, which "with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history.  It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but 'we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him."--CCC 395
Altarpiece of St. Michael defeating Lucifer,  Gerard David

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

'"May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: 'Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power' (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world."'--Blessed John Paul II

Next lesson:  The Nature of  the Temptation

Monday, May 9, 2011


The Root of Jesse

I have often wondered at the "begats" know,

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac. And Isaac begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Judas and his brethren.  And Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar. And Phares begot Esron. And Esron begot Aram. And Aram begot Aminadab. And Aminadab begot Naasson. And Naasson begot Salmon. And Salmon begot Booz of Rahab. And Booz begot Obed of Ruth. And Obed begot Jesse.
     And Jesse begot David the king. And David the king begot Solomon, of her that had been the wife of Urias. And Solomon begot Roboam. And Roboam begot Abia. And Abia begot Asa. And Asa begot Josaphat. And Josaphat begot Joram. And Joram begot Ozias. And Ozias begot Joatham. And Joatham begot Achaz. And Achaz begot Ezechias. And Ezechias begot Manasses. And Manasses begot Amon. And Amon begot Josias.
     And Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren in the transmigration of Babylon. And after the transmigration of Babylon, Jechonias begot Salathiel. And Salathiel begot Zorobabel. And Zorobabel begot Abiud. And Abiud begot Eliacim. And Eliacim begot Azor. And Azor begot Sadoc. And Sadoc begot Achim. And Achim begot Eliud. And Eliud begot Eleazar. And Eleazar begot Mathan. And Mathan begot Jacob.
    And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.--Matthew 1:1-16

And that's just one list!  There are many more scattered throughout Scripture.  I know these genealogies were important to the original authors of the sacred Word, but why does God want them in there?  What is the spiritual benefit for us?  What does, "Achim begot Eliud" have to do with my salvation?

As I was meditating on the sacrament of marriage last week, I began to think about what would have happened if Adam and Eve had had contraceptives available to them.  Or, what if they had just decided that the world had become so horrible (with sin and all of its evil consequences) that they did not want to bring any children into the world?  I realized, as I mentioned in the Sacrament of Matrimony post, that they would have been depriving themselves of their own Redeemer.  And, of course, none of us would ever have had a chance to be born, live, and be redeemed by God.  Heaven would be devoid of human persons.  The entire purpose of God for creation would have been thwarted.

Does man REALLY have such power?  Can he really refuse God?  Indeed, every man has the power of such free will:

God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions...Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility...The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes.  There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just.  The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin."--CCC 1730, 1731, 1733

Without freedom, there is no merit and there is no sin.  With freedom, man can choose God or not God, merit or sin, heaven or hell.  Fortunately for you and for me, Adam and Eve were open to life and they had many children.  And yet, as I thought about it, I realized that each generation since has had the same choice to make...will they be open to life or will they refuse to "be fruitful and multiply"?  Will they obey the command of the Creator, or not?

Each person named in those lengthy "begats" said YES to life.  Each one is a crucial link in the line to the Messiah; each one had to cooperate with God in bringing forth children from whom would one day descend the Christ.  Only a very few of them had any idea of their role in God's plan--perhaps Adam, Noah, Abraham, and David.  Maybe Judah.  The others?  They probably had no idea.  Amid the strains and difficulties of their own lives, in famine and feast, in freedom and captivity, in the years of their youth or the exhaustion of their old age, they did not refuse to bring forth children.

Where are we in the chain of faith? There may be many, many generations of mankind that will be born after us. Will we be faithful and open to life?  Will we give them--all of them--the gift of life and of Life?  We are called to transmit both physical and spiritual life to our children, but without the physical life first, there can be no spiritual life.  And if we do not pass on the Gospel to the next generation, because there isn't a next generation, how will the people yet to be born hear the Good News?  How will they know about their Redeemer if there is no one to tell them?

Now when I read the "begats", I am inspired by the example of these faithful ancestors and so grateful that each one of them chose to be open to life.  Because of their faithfulness, I have life in Christ.

The Annunciation, Henry Tanner
     And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."--Luke 2:38

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dies Domini: Entering God's Rest

Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Caravaggio

Entering Into God's Rest

      The world is running at a breakneck speed, whirling ever more rapidly out of our control, drawing us breathlessly after it trying to keep pace, keep up, keep on going.  We are desperate for a moment's peace, for a moment of true rest.  We are desperate because we were created to experience rest and relationship, both of which are absolutely necessary for our physical and spiritual health.

As we discussed in the first post, God's rest is not inactivity, but rather it is the completion of God's work of creation, the "fullness of what has been accomplished."--Dies Domini, 11  Moreover, in the creation account, this "rest" is associated with the sacrament of matrimony.  Blessed John Paul II relates the idea of God's contemplative gaze of His finished work to the marriage covenant:

Blessed John Paul II

It [the contemplative gaze] is a gaze which already discloses something of the nuptial shape of the relationship which God wants to establish with the creature made in his own image, by calling that creature to enter a pact of love.--Dies Domini, 11

We long for rest because we long for relationship with our GodWe experience our separation from Him as a restlessness of heart, as St. Augustine said:

St. Augustine

 God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You.
                                          --The Confessions

Entering into relationship with God means we are entering into His rest:

Blessed John Paul II
 All human life, and therefore all human time, must become praise of the Creator and thanksgiving to him.  But man's relationship with God also demands time of explicit prayer, in which the relationship becomes an intense dialogue, involving every dimension of the person.  "The Lord's Day" is the day of this relationship par excellence when men and women raise their song to God and become the voice of all creation.--Dies Domini, 15

Throughout Scripture, this idea of resting in a covenant relationship with God (which is best understood and imaged as a marriage relationship) is reinforced.  When Israel is rescued by God from bondage in Egypt,  God calls her to follow Him into the wilderness as His bride:

Jeremiah, Michelangelo
 The word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Go and proclaim in the hearing of  Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord,
     I remember the devotion of your youth,
     your love as a bride,
     how you followed me in the wilderness,
     in a land not sown.
     Israel was holy to the Lord,
     the first fruits of His harvest.  --Jeremiah 2:1-2

As Dies Domini states, as we meditate upon the meaning and purpose of Sunday as a day holy to the Lord, we need to "recognize in both the Old and the New Testament the nuptial intensity which marks the relationship between God and his people."  The encyclical goes on to quote this beautiful passage from Hosea:

The Prophet Hosea
I will make for you a covenant on that day....I will make you lie down in safety.  I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.  I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord--Hosea 2:18-20
God does remember the faithfulness of the people who follow Him consistently, they are His beloved spouse, but He also has some harsh words for those who rebel and committed the sin of idolatry.  The prophets compared idolatry to adultery because it was a violation of a covenant union between God and His people:

The Prophet Hosea

 When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, "Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the Lord."--Hosea 1:2

Idolatry, or placing any thing else above God as the primary focus of our life, is a sin as grave and mortal as adultery.  God desires, however, to bring us into a right relationship with Him, a true covenant union, by the forgiveness of our sins.  As we enter into that relationship which has been restored through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord,  we enter also into God's rest:

Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it.  For good news came to us just as to them [those who did not believe God and rebelled in the wilderness after the Exodus]; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers.  For we who have believed enter that rest...So then there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his.  Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience.--Hebrews 4:1-3, 9-11 

Entering into God's rest means abiding in Him, being united to Him, abandoning ourselves to His mercy, and trusting in Him to sanctify and save us as we follow Him unreservedly.   He Himself commanded us:

 Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing...As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.--John 15: 4-5, 9-10

 So, dearest readers, let us abide in Him.  This Sunday make God your priority.  Trust Him.  Rest in Him.  Know that He loves you more than you can ever possibly imagine or dream.  Spend time with your Beloved in prayer and praise.  So often we think we do not have enough time, but listen to the words of Jesus speaking through St. Faustina, the saint through whom He revealed His message of Divine Mercy:

 [Souls] have time for everything, but they have no time to come to Me for graces.  --Diary of Divine Mercy, 367

Jesus longs to give us graces and mercy; He longs to be united to us and to love us.  Are you feeling that your life is harried?  Unfruitful?  Not moving in the right direction no matter how hard you work? Then turn back to Jesus--rest in Him, make time for Him, "for apart from Me, you can do nothing."

Pope Benedict XVI
In the creation account the sabbath is depicted as the day when the human being, in the freedom of worship, participates in God's freedom, in God's rest, and thus in God's peace.  To celebrate  the  sabbath means to celebrate the covenant.  It means to return to the source and to sweep away all the defilement that our work has brought with it. --Pope Benedict XVI, In the Beginning, p. 3

"I am the vine, and you are the branches."

Ideas for sanctifying Sunday: Sunday as a day of relationship and rest:

**Go to Mass (are you seeing a theme???)

**Spend 15-30 minutes reading and meditating on a portion of the Gospels, maybe this Sunday's Gospel reading.  It doesn't matter how many verses you read, what is important is to put yourself in the scene with Jesus and think and pray about what He is saying to you right now in your life.

**Spend some time in Eucharistic Adoration if you can get away from home for a few minutes, or spend a few extra minutes if you can right after Mass.  If not, spend time in silent adoration of your Redeemer.  You may have a special place, like a porch or a chair near a favorite window, where you can be quiet for a few moments and just love God.

**Don't do any heavy work or commercial work (like working on business-related issues).  Try to avoid housework and shopping on this day. 

**Do pleasure gardening (this is not weeding!)

 **Learn and sing hymns of praise together as a family.  This joyous activity unites us to one another and to our Lord.  An artistic and beautiful free resource for both the Sunday Gospel readings of the Easter season and the words of traditional Easter hymns is available at Family in Feast and Feria for you to download. 

**If you do not feel you are in a good relationship with God, spend time thinking and praying about what steps you can take to restore your union with Him.  Consider examining your conscience, finding out when Confession is offered in your local parish, making an appointment to talk to a priest, talking to a friend whose spiritual life is admirable. Email me.  Do something to take a step closer to God--He will meet you more than halfway! There is no rest outside of relationship with God.

**The suggestions from the last post are also refreshing for the spirit and body.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Pentateuch, Day 6: The Sacrament of Matrimony

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Illuminated Manuscript

The Sacrament of Matrimony

I.  God Instituted Matrimony

 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it..." Genesis 1:27-28

Here, in the very beginning of all things, we see God instituting the first sacrament, the sacrament of marriage.  Marriage is a primordial sacrament, for not only is it the first instituted chronologically, but it is foundational in a very real and tangible sense to all the other sacraments.  In bringing forth children from their union, Adam and Eve will participate in bringing forth their own Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Without their faithful participation in the sacrament of matrimony,  there would be no need for or possibility of the other six sacraments.

[ETA:  When I say "no  need for", I do not mean that Adam and Eve did not need redemption. If the ravages of sin only affected them, Christ would still have died to redeem them, and they would still have need of the Holy Eucharist, Baptism, Confession, etc.   I mean instead was that there would be no other people who would need the sacraments...because there would just be no other people at all! To avoid confusion, I deleted "no need for" above.]

Scripture presents marriage in the very beginning as an integral part of our human nature and purpose. When God created us, male and female, he willed marriage and family as positive goods and as institutions that would reflect His glory, help us understand our relationship to Him and our final destiny in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and fulfill His plan for the entire human race:
Blessed John Paul II
Willed by God in the very act of creation, marriage and the family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ and have need of His graces in order to be healed from the wounds of sin and restored to their "beginning", that is, to full understanding and the full realization of God's plan. --Familiaris Consortio, 3

Marriage is not only a participation in God's beautiful plan of salvation, but it is also the God-ordained institution that mirrors and reflects the image of the communion of Persons and the life-giving love which is the Triune God.  When we think about comparing a family to the Trinity, let us remember that this is not a comparison that is "made up" by the Church, or stumbled upon as a teaching tool by Christ, or thought up in a fit of inspiration by some theologian.  God created marriage to PURPOSELY image Himself...we are made "in His image and likeness"...and also to INTENTIONALLY image His Church's relationship with Him.  I think this is an important point to bear in mind!  Marriage as an image of God and as a type of the relationship of the Church to her Lord and Bridegroom is part of the original plan of God, not a later human-invented institution.

The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been establihed by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws...God himself is the author of marriage.  Gaudium et spes, 48

 The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator.  Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures...God who created man out of love also calls him to love--the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being...Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. ---CCC 1603-1604

The Marriage of Joseph and Mary.

II.  Unity and Procreation

When God instituted marriage, He intended it to fulfill two essential purposes.  The first was to create a community of love and self-giving that imaged Himself :

God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion.  Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.  Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.-- Familiaris Consortio, 11

Secondly,  the marriage union is ordained to bring forth new life.  The married couple participates with God in the creation of a new human being.  The marital act generates the body of the new person, and God Himself creates a new soul (the souls of children do not pre-exist the conception of their bodies) to indwell the body. Scripture consistently refers to children as a "blessing"; they are never seen in a negative light:

Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
                are the sons of one's youth.
                Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them!
                                                                           --Ps 127:3-5  

In our modern day Western culture, children are often seen as a burden, an added cost and responsibility which can be avoided by the use of contraceptives.   This is contrary to the teachings of the Church and to Catholic understanding.  In the Catholic understanding,  each and every marital act is to be open to life.  The purpose of unity can not be separated from the purpose of procreation, for both purposes together image and glorify God. 

By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.--CCC 1652

Pope Paul VI, in the encyclical Humanae Vitae, clarified and reiterated the teaching of the Catholic Church with regard to contraception.  In this great teaching, he states:

The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, "noble and worthy.''  It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. --Humanae Vitae, 11.

Dear readers, each of us have two paths open before us, whatever our state in life.  The path of obedience and love, or the path of self-will and self-actualization.  The path of love will require us to die to self, to offer up our own plans and hopes to God, trusting that He is good and will ultimately bring us to a joy-filled banquet in Heaven with Him.  St. Augustine lays these two paths before us in his great work, The City of God:

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves:  the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.  The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord.  For the one seeks glory from men; the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience.  The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, "You are my glory, and the lifter up of mine head." In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength...the other says to its God, "I will love You, O Lord, my strength."  --St. Augustine, The City of God, Bk XIV, ch. 28.

For us who are married, the path of love and obedience means a willingness to trust God as we choose to be open to life with each conjugal act.  

III.  Marriage Images Christ and the Church

Throughout Scripture, God will again and again use the image of marriage to communicate to His people the reality of His love and faithfulness for them, as well as to reveal to them the seriousness of their own sinfulness and faithlessness.  While we can only mention here a few of these references, as we go through the Scriptures we will see the glorious picture of Christ our Bridegroom coming into ever sharper focus until it is perfectly presented to us in the final chapters of the New Testament.  

Here are a few highlights of this imagery in the Bible:

1.  The Old Testament book of the Song of Solomon (also called the Song of Songs) tells the story of a kingly bridegroom and his lowly, but beautiful, bride.  This tale of love is intimate and touching.  And where is it set?  In a garden!  This reminds us of the Garden of Eden, where God dwelt intimately with man before the Fall, as well as of the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus submitted Himself to the ultimate sacrifice so that He could obtain us as His bride, so that we could once again enter into an intimate relationship with Him.  This relationship we have with God is so intimate that we become one with Him, a oneness mirrored by the man and wife becoming one flesh.  The Song of Solomon describes in terms we can understand how deep is the desire of  God for us, His beloved:

You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes...How sweet is your much better is your love than wine!  --Song of Solomon 4:9-10 

In this inspired book, God also has the soul, represented by the bride, speak of her longing for God:

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave.  Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame.  Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.--Song of Solomon 8:6-7 

No human longing can compare with the desire God has for each soul; no human love is a great as the love He bears for you.

2.   After the days of Solomon, Israel strayed from God and began to worship the false idols of the surrounding Canaanite people.  God raised up the prophet Hosea as a sign to His people of His unfailing loving-kindness and mercy.  Hosea (whose icon appears at the left) was commanded by God to take a prostitute as a wife.  She was unfaithful to Hosea, and yet Hosea continued to love and support her, even when she did not know who was providing the money for her food and clothing. Through the life and words of this prophet, God called His people to repentance and to return to their nuptial relationship with Him:

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.  Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, "Take away all iniquity, accept that which is good and we will render the fruit of our lips"...I [God] will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.  I will be as the dew to Israel; he shall blossom as the lily, he shall strike root as the poplar, his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon.  They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden...--Hosea 14:1-7

God longs for His Bride as a loyal husband longs and prays for the return of an unfaithful wife; there is no sin too great for Him to forgive.  His mercy and faithfulness are unfailing.

3.  The last image of God as the Bridegroom we shall consider today is from the New Testament.  In Revelation, we see fully revealed the ultimate plan of God.  Here, in technicolor, is the fulfillment of all the types and of all the images that God presented in a hidden way throughout the ages.  The sacrament of marriage is shown to be a sign pointing forward to the marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church:

And I [John] saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great voice saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men.  He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.--Revelation 21:2-3 

 Throughout Scripture,  Christ is again and again revealed as the loving Bridegroom, the One Who at any price will redeem His bride, willing to suffer even death so that she could be holy as He is holy, and so enter into union with Him.  The sacrament of matrimony, faithfully lived out with the strength His grace gives us,  testifies to the world of His Love, His Sacrifice, and His Life.  

How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? !!! How wonderful the bond between two believers, with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh. In fact they are truly two in one flesh, and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit--Tertullian

Main Idea:  The sacrament of matrimony was instituted by God for the purposes of unity and procreation; it is a sign pointing ultimately to Christ's union with His Bride, the Church.

Your Assignment

1.  Read Genesis 3.
2.  Take some time this week to make a list of all of the qualities you admire in your spouse.  When you are tempted to think critical or negative thoughts, read the list and choose one positive trait to think about instead.
3.  If you have time, or maybe someday in the future, read Blessed John Paul II's encylical Familiaris Consortio.  It is an insightful and inspiring work on the beauty, purpose, and value of marriage and family life.

Next lesson:  The Fall