Put Out into the Deep

Love Your Spouse as You Love Yourself

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This is the second of a series on the Theology of the Body.

A couple renews wedding vows at a diocesan celebration of wedding anniversaries last weekend. The Tablet will have full coverage of the event in next week’s edition.

When all is said and done, Blessed John Paul II’s book, “Theology of the Body,” is truly an anthropology of the human person.  Modern science has limited itself to studying the origins of the human person and perhaps has not given adequate concentration on the present conditions of the human person.
When “Theology of the Body” speaks to the sacramentality of marriage, it uses St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 5:22-33) as the basis of its teaching.  Many have misunderstood these words of St. Paul, which begin with the phrase, “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence to Christ.  Wives should be submissive to their husbands, as to the Lord.  While the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the Church and He Himself is the Savior of the Body.”
This passage uses three analogies.  First, St. Paul compares Christ to the Church, the husband to the wife, and the head to the body.  These analogies permeate the entire letter and give us a basis on which we can understand the relationship between spouses and the relationship of the love of Christ to His Church, as well as the human understanding of how the head is related to the body.  This theological explanation, while using such understandable human analogies, gives us an insight into the sacramentality of marriage as intended by Christ and developed in the life of the Church.
We need to reemphasize the sacramentality of marriage which is so often misunderstand.  In the current situation today, unfortunately, when we speak of marriage we almost instantly have to speak about the dissolution of marriage, which is all too common.  In the United States, the number of marriages has dramatically reduced to almost half the rate of 20 years ago.  The number of divorces has increased to almost 11% of those who are married.  The situation of out-of-wedlock births in the past five years is almost 40% of live births.  The question comes to us, “Is marriage a thing of the past?”
The sacrament of marriage is never a thing of the past; however, we must understand how marriage is a sacrament.  The Church in the last 50 years has concentrated on pre-marriage preparation, either through Pre-Cana classes, Engaged Encounter or individual sessions.  As good as these preparatory programs are, however, the real preparation for marriage takes place neither in courses nor in school, but rather in the family.  Here is where the problem lies.  Marriage is basically modeled after the marriage into which the person is born.  Given today the large number of divorces, and so many children living without fathers in the home, the image of marriage and the modeling of marriage are rather difficult.  Perhaps this is why we see so many couples cohabitating, either because they cannot make a commitment or because they want to make a commitment and want to make sure that they can fulfill it given the experiences they have had in their own lives and families.  Unfortunately, there is a fallacy here and the statistics prove that the break-up rate among those who cohabitate prior to marriage is roughly similar to those who do not do so.
True, also, is the issue of pre-marital sexual relations which also have contributed to the breakdown of the understanding of the sacramentality of marriage.  This is why so many people today cohabitate without the benefit of religious or civil marriage.  Sex for many has become merely a matter of pleasure or convenience, without a life-long commitment, which humanly speaking is difficult.  This is why marriage is a sacrament, because it allows the union of spouses in a partnership strengthened by the graces of the sacrament.  Marriages are not made in heaven, but they cannot live without heavenly assistance.
If we return to the analogy of the Ephesians, we recognize that the spousal love of Christ for His Church is the image of the type of love a husband must have for his wife, and the wife must have for her husband.  The Church is the Bride of Christ, He loves her as Himself.  And so too for the husband, his bride is to be loved as himself.  And the bride is to love her husband as she would love Christ Himself.  This does not result in any submissive relationship, but rather one of mutual equality.
Many times at marriage ceremonies or wedding anniversary gatherings, I use the story that comes from Jewish rabbinical teachings to describe the creation of woman from Adam’s rib.  The story goes that God has a choice from what part of the man’s body He would take material to form the woman.  If He were to take from the man’s head, then woman might dominate man.  If He were to take something from the man’s leg or foot, then the woman would be the slave of the man.  God had the perfect solution when He took one of the man’s rib.  God took a rib from the side of Adam, close to his heart, to remind man that woman was his equal and to be loved as himself.
The sacramentality of marriage is part of the theology of the body and is necessary for a revival of our understanding of the sacrament of marriage today in the world.  As I said above, marriage is a form of modeling an experience.  But perhaps only the experience of good Christian marriages in the service of the New Evangelization can turn the tide and show the world what marriage truly is and what marriage can truly be.
Every marriage is an experience of putting out into the deep.  Two persons come to know and love one another and do not know what lies before them into the future.  They make a life-long commitment to support and love one another as they love themselves.  Only if we can restore this understanding of marriage to our Church and then to our world can we hope to evangelize the world in need of both human and religious conversion.

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