Thank you, kind reader, for accompanying me through this trek through the seven sacraments, signs (1) perceptible to the senses, (2) instituted by Christ and (3) entrusted to the Church, (4) that impart the divine life.
This last one is first in terms of its establishment because it is the relationship by which the Creator got the proverbial ball rolling. Before there was a Church strictly speaking, there was a man and a woman, and there was Love, divine and human.
This ends up telling us nearly everything about the Church, at least according to Saint Paul: Recall from a recent Sunday second reading (Eph 5:21-32) his meditation on the mutual submission of wife and husband. Jesus’ total Love-Investment took the form of His entire life, especially His passion and death, the paschal oblation from which the Church has grown by yielding to that supreme Gift. Human families grow from the same seed of willing submission of bride and bridegroom.
Marriage is not merely incidental to human society or Catholic life. “The Church passes by way of the family,” said Pope St. John Paul II. The family is the fundamental building block of society, of the Church at large and our parishes at small. The love of husband and wife, expressed and fortified by children, is both our “social security” and our “ecclesial security.” Jesus Himself is our security par excellence, but we can experience His security more…securely…within the context of a vibrant family—for which reason the family is often called “the domestic Church.”
Spouses unite body and soul in the act of conjugal love, expressing and nurturing the total gift of self, holding nothing back. Among the vast variety of life arrangements out there, sacramental marriage alone can sustain a total, faithful, permanent, exclusive union that is open to new life. The Catholic Church is among a shrinking (but no less bold) few who insist despite our own failures that man and woman alone express the total gift of self through conjugal acts that are not closed off to new life by intention, chemicals, or devices.
Note the comprehensive nature of this affirmation: extending it to “intention” demonstrates the totality of the gift. A “fingers-crossed,” corrupted intention, pleads for a deeper commitment from the spouses. “The struggle is real,” we say nowadays, and this in truly trivial matters; but fidelity to that struggle yields blessings in this life and the next.
Here’s the rub: Do we honestly believe in the next life and its impact on our decisions in this life? As they say, “Click here to find out.” When the “link”—i.e. the marital covenant—seemed never to be truly made, that’s the stuff of declarations of marital nullity. We celebrate the proper functioning of the marital relationship, properly situated within the divine-human relationship of which it is an analogue.
Just as in medicine, we can learn more about the proper function of a tissue or organ by way of the improper function. Learn now, and do everything in your power with God’s grace and others’ help to move forward in the best direction. Learn from your mistakes and repent of your sins: that’s the human way along the Divine Way!