Holiness of Family
As we gather this day to discuss living out the Sacramentality of the Marriage Covenant (and don’t worry, we’ll get back to what exactly that means in a bit), the first thing to note is that from the foundation of the world, the family has been the most basic unit: Creation was not complete until God had found a suitable partner for Adam in Eve; the covenant with Abraham necessarily involved Sarah; and eventually down to Jesus’ time where even He, God’s Divine Son. Lord of the Universe, Creator of the World, did not just appear on this earth in a blaze of glory, but came as a member of family.
Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, learned his prayers at the feet of Mary and Joseph. Mary, herself, was formed to be able to say ‘yes’ to the Angel’s invitation by the example of Anna and Joachim, her parents. It was in these homes that they learned to pray, read the Scriptures, that Jesus began to discover the richness of the human condition; fostered in relationship with his mother and foster father; with his rich array of cousins and friends; the wisdom of the Scribes and Rabbi’s. Because we do not know much about the ‘hidden years’ of Jesus’ life, we can easily forget that He, too, was raised in a loving family.
Priest as Living Icon of Christ
Before we get too far along, though, I have a caveat I have to make. It must be remembered that nearly all that I do is focused on the priesthood, specifically the priest as a living icon of Christ. Through the leadership, teaching, and sanctifying office of the priest, Christ reassures and comforts His people. Through the priest, Christ is still present to His Church. The priest is a living Sacrament of Christ, and to help make this clear, a quick story:
I live at the Cathedral downtown and work a few blocks down the street, near the library. Luckily, my walk down 8th Street is quite nice, as Garfield/Piatt park is there, and it can even be somewhat cool during these hot summer days, as long as you avoid the pigeons. One day, my first summer in the Office, I was walking home. It had been a long day, some things hadn’t gone right (or at least as I thought should have!), and I still hadn’t adjusted to life in the office and life downtown. Frankly, I was missing the life of the parish. Well, I am moping along and someone stops me. He was sitting on one of the park benches, and looked at me and said: “Are you a priest?” Well, yeah, hence the fancy color and the black jacket, not comfortable in the summer! He looks back and asks: “Can you do me a favor?” I responded that I don’t give out money, I support the local charities. He came back with “No, I don’t want any money, I need a favor.” “Ok, what’s going on?” “Well, you see, I’m in a bit of trouble and I’m likely going to jail because I haven’t paid child support, could you send an email to my parents (as he wrote their address on a small slip of paper) to tell them that I am ok, that I love them, and I hope to see them soon?” I was dumbfounded. Why was he asking me, of all the hundreds of people that walk in front of him that entire day, to do this for him? Simply because, as a priest, I represented something much more than just my own limited abilities. I was Christ to him. I am always humbled by that awareness, as I am unworthy of such a status.
Married Life as a Living Icon of Christ
Now at this point, you are likely checking your program to see if you came to the right Church this evening: wasn’t this to be about the Sacrament of Marriage, and not priesthood? Yes, it is, but the reason I veered off into that territory (besides the fact that that’s what I get paid to talk about!), is that in the same way as I was recognized as a Christ figure while walking down the street, you, too, as a married couple, are also to be recognized as a Christ like figure.
Look at your wedding day, for some of you that was not so long ago, for others it might have been a year or two; and specifically the prayers that are prayed:
- The Love of husband and wife symbolizes and is modeled after the love of Christ for His Church.
- Heavenly Father, you established the marital covenant as the one gift that was not forfeited in Original Sin nor washed away in flood.
- He consecrates you in a special sacrament so that you may assume the duties of marital life in mutual and lasting fidelity.
These prayers all point to the fact that as a married couple, you too are called to be living icons of Christ! The fidelity and fruitfulness of marriage are reflections of Jesus’ fidelity and generous outpouring of self to us! So often in our world today, I think we look at marriage as just another thing, it is simply a rite of passage, something we have to do to keep mom and dad happy and stay in their will.
Marriage is not ‘just another thing!’ It is a Sacrament; it is an Institution that is Holy! It is an outward sign to us from God, instituted by Christ, to confer Grace not only on this unique married couple but an avenue of Grace for the entire world! Yikes, you thought I had it tough as a priest, your obligations are even harder!
Christ abundantly blesses Married Love
There is good news, however: you are not in this alone, Jesus promises that he will richly reward those who come to Him in prayer and in need. Two episodes from Scripture highlight this, the first from the Book of Tobit, the second from the Gospel of John. First, Tobit:
When the door was shut and Tobias and Sarah were alone on their wedding night, Tobias got out of bed and said to Sarah, “Sister, get up, and let us pray and implore our Lord that he grant us mercy and safety.” So she got up, and they began to pray and implore that they might be kept safe. Tobias began by saying,
“Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors,
and blessed is your name in all generations forever.
Let the heavens and the whole creation bless you forever.
You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve
as a helper and support.
From the two of them the human race has sprung.
You said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone;
let us make a helper for him like himself.’
I now am taking this kinswoman of mine,
not because of lust,
but with sincerity.
Grant that she and I may find mercy
and that we may grow old together.”
And they both said, “Amen, Amen.” Then they went to sleep for the night.
Have you ever wondered why Tobias is praying with such fervor? He is not Sarah’s first husband, not even the second or third; but her eighth! And, even worse, all seven previous have died the night of their marriage to Sarah. (She must’ve been quite the catch, to take that risk!) So, if Tobias sounds like he is praying to save his skin, he is!
The difference here, though, is that Tobias does not desire Sarah because of lust, but with sincerity, that he may find God through her. There is the key to the building and establishing of the relationship: it is through one another that you find Christ, that when you look in each other’s eyes, you are to see the face of Jesus! Wow!
And when we turn to Him in need, he does not give us a paltry little amount, rather he lavishes us with praise! The Gospel of John and the familiar Wedding Feast at Cana:
There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
I love that, isn’t it nice: his disciple began to believe in him: John, the master of the understatement!
I just want to focus on one small aspect of this story, that of the wine. The details in the Gospel of John are always important, and it is easy to miss: six stone water jars are there, each holding twenty to thirty gallons of water. My rudimentary math skills start to get overwhelmed: that’s 120 to 180 gallons of wine! Ok, I’m from a big family, that likes to have a lot of fun, especially at weddings; but this way more than we could drink, and it is after they have already gone through a good amount. This is not just for the couple, but it is for them to share abundantly, generously! Holy smokes, the town’s gonna be buzzing for weeks!
He still pours out this amount of gift, this generously upon us today, that’s the amazing thing, and not just for me, but for me to share, and it is right there waiting for us to ask Him to provide it. If he's not listening, go talk to Mary, then.
Living Marriage as an Icon of Christ
The challenge, though, is how to put all of this into action. It is easy for a priest, we celebrate the Sacraments, we preach the word, and we govern a parish. This same framework can actually be a guide for living out the so-called Baptismal Priesthood as well, in the context of marriage, for at your baptism, you, too, were consecrated as a priest, prophet and king.
The Priestly Dimensions of Marriage
To be a priest means to offer blessing and sacrifice, to make something holy. As a married couple, the basic thing that you are called to sanctify is your life together, in the home. It begins, actually, with the marital act as a holy thing, as a way of coming to know Jesus in the total gift of self to the other. But it extends much beyond that one dimension. The home, just as it was for Mary and then Jesus, should be a house of prayer where the mystery of the Incarnation: God coming to dwell with us, is lived out on a daily basis. Therefore,
- Is there prayer before meals, in the morning and evening?
- Are special events and anniversaries celebrated first in prayers of thanksgiving to God?
- Are visitors welcomed as if they were Christ?
One family I know has a ‘prayer bucket’ on the middle of their dinner table. Inside the basket, the names of priests, friends, family, those who have had surgery or are in need of prayer, are kept, written on Popsicle sticks. At some during the meal, each child is to report on how they prayed for the person from the day before, and then he or she is to draw a new stick. It helps to grow the awareness that our lives are to be built in prayer: pray always! St. Paul tells us.
The Prophetic Dimensions of Marriage
My sister Tania has a good friend whose oldest child is 8 years old. Any guesses as to how many children she has? TEN! (including three sets of twins), so if you think your life is busy…. She even blogs, too! It helps me remember that I am never too busy to throw something up on my blog. She gets the questions: are they all yours? Do you know what causes this? Are you Catholic? They make a pill, you know... I am sure some of you here have heard the gamut before, as well. Instead of getting snippy and snapping back at people, she takes the time to gently show the joy that comes from a big family. Now, please, I know not everyone can handle that, my mom was slacker for stopping at six! But the point is to be able to take the opportunities presented to be a witness to your joy in Christ. Another friend, who is single, works at a large, multi-national consumer products company here in town, I won’t mention names but buy Fabreeze! She does presentations and training sessions all the time at work, and as people come in, she has her desktop background showing a picture of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Gesu’ Church in Rome, or her home parish. She uses the opportunity that she has to teach others about Catholicism. (My favorite story of her’s is the dragging of a Southern Baptist co-worker to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on a Mexican Feast day, he nearly popped his top!)
As parents and grandparents, it is also forming your children in the importance of learning and practicing the faith. So, do your children see you come to confession regularly? Do you make it a point to go to Mass when you are on vacation? (There is no vacation exemption!) In the preparation for the Sacraments, take the extra step and renew your own commitment and understanding of what is being celebrated.
The Governing Dimensions of Marriage
What I mean by a ‘governing dimension’ is more along the lines of a stewardship dimension: the recognition that the gifts you have been given are not your own, but are simply loans to us from God. This is not just financial or monetary gifts, but also the gifts of children, the gifts of talents, the gift of an understanding ear when someone is in trouble. This is perhaps the hardest dimension to discuss because there are so many potential aspects that it can be hard to cover.
Significantly under this area, Jesus’ warning to the unnamed rich young man in Matthew 19 comes to mind. “It is harder for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than the rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” It is not that we should go through life wearing only a burlap sack, but that we should go through life unencumbered by the trappings of material wealth. There is something to be said of living the simple life, for in the simple life, we find simple joys.
I recently read a blog post from a Catholic mom in Washington State where she described a ’40 trash bag challenge.’ Over eight weeks, she was determined to get rid of 40 bags of stuff that either was trash, recycled, or donated. In an email, she described how it became a joy to do so and her life is so much easier now. (By the way, I am preaching to myself first and foremost on this one!)
But we are not just stewards of material things; we are spiritual beings and have been given spiritual gifts as well. Therefore, to be good stewards we need to recognize what the particular charisms that God has given to me, and how is He asking me to use them for the building up of his Kingdom. Usually, these are easier to see in someone else than in the self, so for that reason I usually give parents a particular penance when they come to me for the Sacrament of Confession: pray for your children! Ok, not too penitential, but I give them specific things to pray about: ‘What are the unique gifts and talents that God has given to each one of your children?’ and ‘How is God asking you as their mother/father to nourish and enrich those gifts so that when you send them forth into the world, they go as confident and firmly committed Catholic Christians in the world?’ This can truly be a penance in the world!
Part of your struggle to be a living Icon of Christ in the world is that you must make your discipleship of Jesus intentional. The days of being totally immersed in a Catholic Culture, the so called ‘Catholic Ghetto,’ is over. You have to specifically choose to be Catholic in a world that is hostile. You have to radiate the joy that comes from truly knowing Christ in everything that you do. You have to live out what St. Paul says: “They will know we are Christians by our Love.” If you were to die tonight and be presented before the pearly gates, would there be enough evidence to convict you of being a Catholic Christian?
Now, I know when I say this, you are getting images of Mormon missionaries coming door to door asking about the Book of Mormon. That is not what I have in mind. The most effective witness is the joyfilled believer. That is what we are looking for and letting the Love of Christ radiate through all that you do.