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 

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