The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"I do."

One of the joys of faith is the realization that God not only loves us, but is head-over-heels in love with us. There is an inescapable element of romantic love in our relationship with the Almighty that easily gets overlooked. This is not surprising. After all, one prays Our Father who art in Heaven not Our Lover.

And yet sacred scripture is replete with dozens of references to a spousal relationship between God and us, His people. The Bible begins in Genesis with a wedding between Adam and Eve and concludes in Revelations with a wedding between Christ and His Church. In between there are dozens of references to God’s description of this nuptial relationship He wants with us. There is passion, affection, jealousy, heartache, and above all, love, as God speaks of His people. God even courts us like a lover. The Song of Songs is perhaps the most beautiful love letter ever composed.

In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II picks up on this reality when he describes earthly marriage as an icon to the relationship we will one day enjoy with Christ. The late Holy Father goes so far as to say that the sacrament of marriage points to all other sacraments in the Church.

An examination of the sacraments in the light of a marital relationship where Christ is the bridegroom and we are His bride reveals much. First there is baptism, each person’s betrothal to Christ. This is not just any engagement in the modern day sense where the man gives the woman a ring and then pretty much does as he is told as she plans the event. This is closer to the ancient Hebrew custom where a suitor approached the father of the woman he wished to marry, and then spent a significant amount of time building a suitable place for them to live before she joined him. This is why it would have been so scandalous for Joseph to have divorced Mary when he discovered she was with child. A formal, solemn, and binding agreement had already been made between Joseph and Mary’s father.

Christ our suitor approaches God on our behalf, and in baptism the indelible mark that is placed upon our soul shows that we have been claimed by Our Lord. That mark is the engagement ring of our soul. During an engagement, the bride prepares herself for the wedding. The washing away of original sin in baptism is part of our preparation for the wedding feast of the Lamb we read about in Revelations. What engagement would be complete without a bridal shower? In baptism one experiences a literal splash in the holy water that serves as a conduit for the grace that cleanses us of original sin. And no bridal shower worth its salt is complete without an imparting of the gifts to the bride to be. At baptism, we the brides are indeed given the most precious gifts of the Holy Spirit.

At confirmation, the bride’s professions of faith are a kind of wedding vow she gives to Christ. Those solemn promises of belief in the Trinity; the Immaculate Conception; the virginal birth of Jesus; Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection; His ascension into Heaven; the acknowledgment of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; and a belief in eternal life are each person’s way of stating an intent to live as a spouse of Christ. This vow is renewed each and every time one recites the creed at mass, and at confirmation we in a sense give Christ this gift of our profession of faith and in return Christ gives us the grace to strengthen the gifts of the Holy Spirit we received in baptism.

With the wedding complete, now it’s time to give attention to the honeymoon where love is physically consummated. In marriage, the husband gives himself to his wife who receives him and gives herself back to him. The term “making love” has been devalued in the culture to reference a polite way of saying “having sex,” and it has lost perhaps its most important procreative meaning. One should approach the marital act with as much care and dignity as one approaches receiving Christ in Eucharist. This intimate, total, and faithful exchange of self is God’s means for creation and expression of spousal love. The logical result of the marital embrace is the conception of new life either in the form of a new human being or even in the couple renewing of their own life in Christ. Often times it is both.

Like a lover, Christ wants to join with us on a physical level; not in humanity’s fallen view of a selfish sexual encounter, but rather in a way that completely transcends momentary pleasure. Christ gives His body in the Eucharist as a real and physical means to consummate our relationship with Him. One should approach receiving communion with as much care, preparation, consideration, and dignity as one approaches one’s spouse in the marital act. Christ gives His body, blood, soul, and divinity to us. We receive it and give ourselves totally back to Him. The logical result of this encounter with Our Lord is the conception of new spiritual life within us, His bride.

Now all husbands and wives will admit that they have had their share of rough patches. Nearly all relationship problems within a marriage happen when one or both spouses abandon the self-donation design of marriage in favor of self-absorption. Praise be to God that He is the perfect spouse; however, we are not. The Old Testament book of Hosea comes to mind here. We sin. Yet like a loving spouse, Christ forgives us and provides a place for a renewal of our relationship with Him. It’s called the sacrament of reconciliation. It is a sacrament that offers us the means to come back into communion with our Lord so we can again join with Him in the sacrament of Eucharist.

The wedding vows include a statement of commitment for the couple to love each other in sickness and in health. When we are gravely ill, our Lord wants to be with us to lend comfort, healing, and encouragement and He has given us the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. This sacrament not only cleanses us of sin, but in a certain sense polishes the wedding ring on our soul as we begin our journey from this life into the next and prepare to meet Our Lord face to face.

The sacrament of marriage is the earthly living out of the five sacraments mentioned above. Each spouse in the relationship lives as St. Paul directs in Ephesians 5:21, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The man takes on the responsibility of loving his wife as Christ loves His Church, and the woman agrees to receive that love and return it to her husband. It is mutual subjectivity, and it is intended to prefigure the relationship we will, by the grace of God, have with Our Lord in Heaven.

Finally, we have the sacrament of Holy Orders. A select few are called by God to live as close to that Heavenly marriage as possible. They are not called because they have attained some great achievement or because they are extraordinarily holy. They are simply called, and they have the grace to answer yes to Our Lord’s bidding. They certainly grow in holiness and in ordination experience the ontological change that conforms their hearts to Christ, but they are still subject to the same temptations and they are still imperfect spouses to our Lord like the rest of us.

Revelations 19:7-9

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and
pure" -- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are true words of God."

This is the destination of our eternal journey. We are all invited to the wedding feast. Christ did not just get down on one knee and ask for our hand in marriage. He got upon the cross, stretched out his hands between Heaven and Earth and proclaimed his undying love. The only question is will we accept His proposal. Will we say “I do?”


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