Is Matrimony Countercultural?

July 12, 2014 at 11:42 am

Recently I sent a NYT obituary of Stephen Gaskin to a few of the best friends of my youth.  I addressed them  as my countercultural brothers.  One of them responded that he is my brother, but that I am the one who remains “countercultural.”  I still puzzle over that comment.  I am not sure but he may be referring to my traditional beliefs such as my belief in the sacrament of matrimony.  The  readings of July 7 include one  from Hosea which captures the beauty of marriage.   Hosea describes the loving relationship of Yahweh and his people.  Hosea is one of the most poetic and comforting of YHWH’s prophets:

“The Lord says ‘ I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.  She will respond there as in the days of her youth…She shall call me ‘My husband’…I will espouse you to me forever:  I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity.”

I love the word “allure”.  Allure possesses a flirting quality.  Contains sexual energy or desire.  Allure is followed by “speaking tenderly” which conveys a sense of deep and  unafraid intimacy.

This verse is reminder of the book of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Song of Songs, and also of the verses in Paul’s letter to Ephesians which is frequently used to celebrate the sacrament of marriage.  Paul compares Jesus’ relationship with the Church to the relationship of a husband and wife.  Of course, in this age where divorce is commonplace, it may be difficult for our contemporaries and us to grasp what is signified  here.

I recall when I taught high school in the 80s, the prevailing attitude among our Catholic students was that it was not a big deal if a marriage did not work out.  One can simply get divorced.  I do not think that is what the prophet  Hosea or St Paul has in mind.   We have lost a sense of what a covenant is or what it means to take a vow.  For the Chosen People, the covenant made with YHWH meant a commitment that could not be broken.  Mother Teresa understood this sense of commitment when she took an additional vow to those of poverty, chastity and obedience.  She took a vow to “Never refuse the Lord”.  Brian Kolodiejchuk describes her faithfully executing this vow in Mother Teresa Come Be My Light:

A few days before Mother Teresa’s death,  a sister witnessed a scene that confirmed her heroic fidelity to her private vow not to refuse God anything:

I saw Mother alone, facing…a picture of the Holy Face…and she was saying, “Jesus, I never refuse you anything.”  I thought she was talking to someone.  I went in again.  Again I head the same:  “Jesus, I have never refuse you anything.”  Mother Teresa had kept her word to God.  She had succeeded in not refusing Jesus anything for fifty-five years, welcoming each situation as a new opportunity to be faithful to the love she had pledged.”

Mother Teresa considered Jesus her spouse.  Kolodiejchuk describes her relationship with God as follows:

The secret of the abundant light and love that Mother Teresa radiated…lies in the depth and intimacy of her relationship with God.  She was a woman “madly in love with God,” and even more she was a woman who understood that “God was madly in love with her.”    Having experienced God’s love for her,  she desired ardently to love Him in return—even as He had never been loved before.

Isn’t it interesting that we can more clearly see the meaning of marriage in a celibate sister than we often can those who take the vow of Matrimony?   Our scriptures tell us that  YHWH’s relationship to the Chosen People and Jesus’ relationship to his Church is as deep and intimate as that of a husband and wife who live out their marriage vows by recognizing that they are called to love one another and bring God to one another.   Married life is a call to incarnate and make real the Kingdom of God  and Love that Jesus proclaimed.  God willing, our love for one another is incarnated in our children.  Our children are tangible physical products of our passionate love for one another and mirror the act of God in creating life.  God created because God must love.  Family life is an opportunity to live out this Christian understanding of God’s love as revealed in Jesus’  gospel of love.  Yet it is not always easy.  We are frail creatures who often fall short.

I am reminded of one time when I was suffering from a sinus infection which particularly made me cranky and irritable.  Kathleen looked me at said “ So this is the meaning of ‘ For better or for worse.’ “ Believe me that captured my attention!  To paraphrase  Father Raj:   So many families are bleeding like the woman in the Gospel of Matthew  (Mt. 9: 18-26) who was suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. ( She touched the cloak of Jesus in faith and was healed.)  “They are bleeding through misunderstanding, conflicting egos, infidelities.  Spouses have to touch Jesus in faith –individually and together as a married couple in prayer.  It would bring great healing to them, their families and the entire society and the Church.  After all is not family a domesticChurch?”  Personal relationships can be very challenging.  Our faith tradition has example after example of God embracing our fallen condition, forgiving us, and renewing our life.  David committed adultery with Bathsheba.  Their son, Solomon ruled during the golden era of Israel.  We too through prayer must learn to embrace forgiveness to truly make our homes  domestic churches.

I recently read an illuminating example of the sacrament and its vows that builds on Father Raj’s comments in a publication of one of my friends, Matt Palmer.  He and his twin brother manage money  for people and publish “ Harvest.. a quarterly journal on true wealth building and sharing”.  Matt interviewed a retiring couple and asked them about faith and family:

“We’ve both been blessed with Catholic educations, provided by loving parents who understood its importance during our formative years.  We met and fell in love while attending a  Jesuit university and enjoying a vibrant, faith-filled college community together.  When we married we chose to top our wedding cake with a simple gold cross with two entwined wedding bands at its center.  For us it symbolized the true nature of our relationship, being one with each other and Our Father.  That sense of God being a part of our relationship, our friendship, our marriage each day has carried and sustained us throughout our lives together.  Without our faith and Him in our lives, I know our path would have been rougher and our challenges more severe.  He multiplies our joys and divided our sorrows.  For us, life is all about faith, family, and friends…and all the rest is just stuff!”  Truly this couple lives reflects that a sacrament is an encounter with God.  Together they experienced and encountered God frequently if not daily in their lives together.  They became the people that they had to become to make the marriage work and be faithful to one another and their Father.

In the sacrament of Matrimony, husband and wife are called to minister to one another.  We help one another along the Way.  Was it Jean Valjean at the end of Les Miserables that sings “We reveal the face of God to one another.”   I was touched one Sunday when Fr Raj gave me a second communion host to bring home to Kathleen.  It was acknowledgement that a husband and wife bring God to one another. As Mother Teresa said to her sisters and brothers:

“God is in love with us and keeps giving Himself to the world—through you—through me….May you continue to be the sunshine of His love to your people and thus make your life something truly beautiful for God.”

Lord, help all married couples faithfully live our marriage vows.  Make us into sacraments for one another.  May we encourage and nurture one another. May we reveal your unconditional love to one another.  May people see our relationships and yearn for You.  As parents, grant us wisdom and prudence to nurture and guide the fruit of our loving passion for one another.  May we be holy families who live in gratitude for all the great gifts you have bestowed upon us.  May our lives be something beautiful for You.  Amen.