12 July 2009

Marriage: the Heart of the Church

Fr Chuck Gallagher SJ developed Worldwide Marriage Encounter in New York 40 years ago from the Marriage Encounter started by Spanish priest, Fr Gabriel Calvo. Last Friday Father Gallagher underwent serious surgery in New York City. Please pray for his full recovery.

Here is an article he wrote on the sacrament of Matrimony which, with the sacrament of Holy Orders, is emphasised in the Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. I have highlighted some parts and made some (comments).

By Fr Chuck Gallagher SJ

The secret of the success of any parish is the quality of the love our husbands and wives have for one another and their children. Their love is the foundation on which the Lord Jesus builds the Body of Christ. This is why Jesus made Marriage in the Church one of the only ways in which hemakes himself visibly present to his Chosen Ones, the people of God.

When Catholics are asked what makes us different from other religions, the answers are likely to be along the lines of the Pope, Mary and the Mass. All make sense. But you never hear mentioned as a significant mark of what it means to be a Catholic is that we treasure our couples as a sacrament - that their devotion and commitment to one another is an essential and unique element of our very identity as Catholics. We would not be who we are as Catholics without our Sacramental Couples.

Sometimes we think that the prime reason that the Church declares that marriage is a Sacrament is to help the husband and wife through the ups and downs of their life together. Without doubt, there are powerful graces that the couple receives through their Sacrament that empower them to accomplish the love to which they have pledged themselves. But Matrimony, like all other sacraments, is not solely or even primarily for the welfare of the individual recipient. All Sacraments are focused on the grace-filled growth and empowerment of the whole Body of Christ.

There are two special prophetic roles that the Sacrament of Matrimony calls our husbands and wives to fulfill for the sake of the whole Community of the faithful. Married couples have the awesome mission of revealing the inner nature of the Trinity to us. As St John reminds us, ‘God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.’ There are two types of love -the love of benevolence (doing good thing for others) and the love of intimacy (belonging to one another). Divine love is the love of intimacy. Father, Son and Holy Spirit don't need anything so they don't need the love of benevolence toward one another. They are one with one another by making themselves completely present to one another.

Husbands and wives, because they are human, practice the love of benevolence but the essence of their marriage is their intimacy, their making themselves permanently present to one another. Marital love is the closest thing we have in human terms of divine love. No other human love, no matter how powerful and good compares with the total presence that loving Sacramental couples can achieve with one another. They model to all of us in the Church the very inner being of God. (Fr Gallagher is emphasising that the basic vocation of a married couple is to be husband and wife. Being parents is a consequence of this.)

So we, the people of God, need our couples to love each other tenderly, passionately and completely not just because it is good for their well being and happiness but so that we can have a taste of how Father, Son and Holy Spirit love one another. Sacramental couples are prophets in the Church revealing the mystery of the Trinity.

Secondly, St Paul tells us that then Sacrament of Matrimony is a mystery. ‘Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church. In the same way husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies, for a man never hates his own body but feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church, because it is his body - and we are its living parts. For this reason a man must leave his father and mother and be joined with his wife,and the two shall become one body.’

What an awesome responsibility Jesus has placed upon the shoulders of our Sacramental couples. Our husbands and wives are to show all of us in the Body of Christ how Jesus loves us by the way they love one another. Sometimes couples, even great couples with a grand love for one another, believe they are ordinary.

Our Lord himself has granted to then the mission to reveal to the people of God their essential nature. Just as a husband reveals to his wife who he is by the quality of his love for her so too we are who we are as a Church because we are the beloved of Jesus. It is not what we do that makes us Catholic. We don't make ourselves Catholic; Jesus does. He has chosen us. A man does not become a husband because he does married things. It is his wife who makes who makes him a husband by choosing him as her own. (and vice versa!)

The home is known as the Domestic Church. So every Catholic family is a vibrant source of love and grace. As a matter of fact, the quality of life in the big church is more dependent on the success of the little churches than on any other single factor. When husbands and wives give themselves completely to one another and are devoted to one another, then the Gospel lessons of generosity, self-sacrifice and openness to God's presence in our lives become meaningful andacceptable. When couples fail with one another, Sunday becomes a ritual to be done rather than a revelation and empowerment.

What a glorious vocation the Sacrament of Matrimony is!

Couples in the Church are the prime witnesses and prophets of two of the core mysteries of our faith - the Trinity and the very identity of the Church itself. The first Sacramental life that our children experience is that of the Sacrament of Matrimony. It is through that experience that they are led to all the other sacraments. It is the primary catechist. In a real sense we can call the sacrament of matrimony the foundation Sacrament. (This is a point I hadn't reflected on before. Most children, of course, are baptised when infants but what they experience in the years until their First Holy Communion is the sacrament of matrimony of their parents. Whether that is a good or bad experience depends on how the parents accept, as husband and wife, the graces of the sacrament of matrimony). It is the responsibility of all of us in the church to treasure our couples, to revere and honor them. Without them we would not be the Catholic Church just as we would not be Catholic without our priests.

1 comment:

Catholic Mom of 10 said...

Thanks for this post Fr Sean..will read properly later.