Fifth in a series
As I was reading the lengthy and magnificent document that Pope Francis wrote about the synod on the family, I felt as though I was reading the thoughts of a parish priest. Some of the beautiful insights that Pope Francis offered reminded me of the type of encouragement and instruction that a parish priest might give to a couple preparing for marriage.
Certainly anyone who has dealt with marriages breaking up knows that everything that might be done to help a couple have a happy, fulfilling and even holy relationship should be done. As I was inspired by the Holy Father’s emphasis on the importance of marriage preparation, I volunteered to be part of the Pre-Cana program in the Brooklyn Diocese.
I knew that if I was ever to talk to couples preparing for marriage, I would use some of the insights into marriage and friendship that are contained in “The Essential Writings of Bernard Cooke: A Narrative Theology of Church, Sacrament and Ministry.” The treatment of marriage and friendship in the book is filled with Cooke’s insights into the mystery of person and the mystery of God’s love bestowed on us through Christ giving us His Spirit.
When I studied at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisc., many years ago, the two theology courses I took with Cooke on grace and the priesthood were the best courses I have ever taken. His insights into persons helped me in my study of philosophy. In fact, they probably played a very important role in the philosophical topics I have been interested in during the almost 50 years that I have been teaching philosophy. In one way or another, it seems that every philosophy course I teach stresses the mystery of the human person and sheds light, even if only indirectly, on the mystery of God.
Sacrament to One Another
What I like most about Cooke’s reflections about marriage and friendship is how he relates them to our relation to God. Cooke points out that a Christian married couple’s love for one another and their unselfishness, which should color their entire relationship, makes them sacraments for one another. When some couple mentions the name of a priest who “married” them, they are not speaking correctly. A priest does not “marry” a couple. The man and woman marry each other. Each administers the sacrament to the other. The priest is the Church’s witness to their administering the sacrament to one another. The presence of the Holy Spirit in their relationship can help the couple become more and more loving and less and less selfish. The husband and wife can become channels of God’s grace for one another.
Pointing out that a Christian marriage can help bring about a new level of personal maturity, Cooke suggests that husband and wife can commit themselves to each other, believing that not even death will end their relationship. He notes that Christian hope in risen life supports the almost instinctive feeling that love conquers even death, that love relationships continue beyond the grave.
Reveals Enormous Dignity
In discussions with secularists, I have been surprised that they don’t see what a magnificent idea it is that love relationships conquer death. I understand that they don’t believe love conquers death, but I am surprised that they don’t appreciate how wonderful it would be if it were true. The belief, that because of God’s presence to the lovers they can pass through death into risen life, reveals the enormous dignity of human persons and the astounding love that God showers on them.
Cooke writes the following:
“Before ending this reflection on the sacramentality of Christian marriage, it is good to return to what was said earlier: all genuine friendship, and in a particular way the friendship between people who share faith in the God Jesus revealed, is sacramental. While marriage, because of its society-recognized pledge of life-long fidelity and its creation of new human life, does play a paradigm role for friendships, deep friendships also play a paradigm role in reflecting the personal relationship that marriage should be. It is important for those who, for one reason or another, are not married to realize that the essence of marriage’s sacramental power, the transforming power of human love, is open to them also in proportion to their mature care, concern and affection for others. Married and single are meant together to form one community of friends…”
I suppose that the most important truth that I have welcomed in re-reading the thoughts of my former professor is that we are never completely alone, that our lives are surrounded by God’s love.
Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).