Marriage as a path to Happiness IV – The sacrament beyond social conventions and family traditions
In every culture and every family, the celebration of weddings and the life of married couples are both avenues where tradition and current trends meet. These cultural or familial habits related to marriage range from genuine meaningful traditions which express the beauty and importance of the union between man and woman, the depth of the commitment and the sacred character of their union; to some others that are unimportant yet harmless, to some which are downright disrespectful of the dignity of the human beings involved or clearly opposed to the wisdom of God as expressed in the sacrament. To take extreme examples: forced marriage (where freedom of choice is not respected) or marital violence are clearly opposed to the dignity of the human person and to God’s design in marriage. But in the case of some other habits and traditions, it might not be so clear, which means that discernment is needed. We cannot be satisfied in blindly following cultural habits or current trends.
That is to say that we should give priority to marriage as a sacrament. What is a sacrament? A sign which realises what it signifies, a gift of God which confers a special grace on those receiving it. It means that it is much, much more than just a sign or a symbol; even much more than a simple blessing or a sacramental. Pope Francis explains that “the sacrament is not a “thing” or a “power”, for in it Christ himself now encounters Christian spouses… He dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens. Christian marriage is a sign of how much Christ loved his Church in the covenant sealed on the cross, yet it also makes that love present in the communion of the spouses.”1 Through the sacrament of Marriage, the union between man and woman becomes for them the privileged means to live personally and to witness to others the union between Christ and his body the Church. To speak in more concrete terms, to love one’s spouse becomes for each of them the way to come closer to Jesus, to grow in holiness.
From the creation of man and woman to the gospel
Marriage is not only a set of conventional rules made up by the Church. It is instituted by God himself and it expresses something of the wisdom of the creator, and so the truth of what human beings are – created in the image and likeness of God. Let us be clear; there are conventions, human and even infrahuman aspects present in marriage, because of the limitations of our nature marked by sin; but the reality of the mystery at work in marriage, the reality of the grace which is given and of the sanctification at work through the day to day struggles and joy of married life, the mystery of that radiating charity typical of family life is to be distinguished from all the secondary, accidental, or even corrupted aspects of marriage. Petty selfishness under so many forms – jealousy, domination of man over woman, all kinds of violence and alienation of the person, abuse of authority and possessiveness of parents toward children are all deviances. St. Paul goes far in describing the mystery at play in the union between man and woman. After describing the mutual relationship of husbands and wives in the light of the mystery of Christ crucified, he writes “this mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). This is the mystery to be lived in marriage but very often it is overlooked or forgotten and the grace of God goes in vain. However, this is not a fatality. The newness of the gospel has to be chosen anew by youth planning to get married and by married couples. God is faithful and through all our limitations and weaknesses he will guide us without ever giving up on us. With his help we can open our hearts and allow his grace to be fruitful in us.
The celebration of wedding: have the courage to be different!
Pope Francis gives us very practical hints: “Short-term preparations for marriage tend to be concentrated on invitations, clothes, the party and any number of other details that tend to drain not only the budget but energy and joy as well. The spouses come to the wedding ceremony exhausted and harried, rather than focused and ready for the great step that they are about to take. (…) Here let me say a word to fiancés. Have the courage to be different. Don’t let yourselves get swallowed up by a society of consumption and empty appearances. What is important is the love you share, strengthened and sanctified by grace. You are capable of opting for a more modest and simple celebration in which love takes precedence over everything else. Pastoral workers and the entire community can help make this priority the norm rather than the exception. 2Let us choose to go beyond worldly show-off and vanity. Let us choose boldly to try living the gospel and then relativise or even discard what in human traditions and trends is not genuinely human. What is not genuinely human cannot be evangelized. A new balance in these matters is to be found. It demands autonomy and discernment to set priorities right. As Jesus said in Matthew 13:52 “Every scribe who has become disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Each one of us is called to do the same: not to despise human traditions, to keep in them what is good and beautiful; but also to be bold enough to make different choices to let the newness of the gospel be an effective agent of change.
1.The joy of Love 73
2.The Joy of love 212