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Christian Marriage: Model, Mystery and Mission

By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
Catholic Online

“This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” St. Paul, Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 5, verse 33

I was recently asked to give one of the talks in the Pre-Marital Program of my Diocese. It was to be entitled “The Sacrament of Marriage.” I was happy to do so. I have lived the vocation of Marriage in Christ for thirty years. And, I know that it is just that-a vocation -a call to follow the Lord in a specific way and, in so doing, to grow in holiness, participate in the very life of God and in the continuing mission of Jesus Christ as He walks it out through His Body, the Church, of which the domestic Church of the Christian family is a cell.

Wow. That’s a big sentence isn’t it?

Well, that is because Christian marriage is a big vocation. I am also convinced that the witness of faithful Christian marriage and family is of profound and prophetic importance in this unfaithful age that is so desperately in need of seeing true love manifested.

The assembled couples had already heard other talks on a range of topics such as communications skills, finances, and other “practical” subjects; all intended to assist them as they live out the daily realities of married life. However, as I looked at the materials, I was not really sure that they had been introduced to the foundational vision for this call that they were responding to; this vocation to Marriage in Christ, this way of holiness and call to ecclesial mission. I also thought that the order of the talks was wrong. After all, it is hard to learn how to live in a house if you do not first know the floor plan or the architecture. There is an architecture, what philosophers call an “ontology” -an “essence” - an identity, to Marriage in Christ. After all, it is a Sacrament of the Church, a very participation in the life of God, a manifestation - in the real world- of His presence and purpose, a source of continual grace, a call to holiness, a model, a mystery and a mission.

Is it being taught that way?

Are Christian couples really being “prepared” for Marriage “in Christ”, as a true spiritual vocation? In our contemporary neo-pagan world, are Christian couples aware of the evangelistic and prophetic witness of their life together and the ecclesial dimension of their vocation? If not, not only is it a shame, because they will really truly need such instruction to live in fidelity and love in an age that has little tolerance for such things, but it is also a true loss to the Church in this new missionary age into which she is called to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. After all, Christian families are the little platoons, the missionary units of the New Evangelization.

So, I tried to do my part. I gave my talk as a “vocations talk”. Perhaps some of my readers are old enough to remember Father coming to the elementary parochial school for that “talk”. Back then, the word “vocation” was often limited to vocations to the priesthood and religious life, which, of course, are wonderful vocations. How desperately we need more of them both in this Third Christian Millennium. However, Marriage in Christ is a vocation as well. At the root of the word vocation is the latin “vocatio”, to follow a voice. It is the Lord Himself who calls people to Christian Marriage. It is also the model of the vocation of the entire Church. Jesus is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride. This is sometimes called “the great analogy” in theological reflections on St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. However, these words present more than an analogy; they reveal a “mystery.” The Greek word “mysterion”, is the word that in the West has been rendered “Sacrament.” In the Eastern Christian Churches, the Sacraments are called the “Mysteries”. Why? Because their depth and meaning are beyond our mere words and our own limited human comprehension. They are not so much meant to be comprehended by us, rather they comprehend us.

We westerners, in our “Cartesian” approach to knowledge, tend to try to “mathematicize” everything, thinking this will help us come to know. But in the realm of the spiritual, in the realities of faith, such an approach to knowledge is inadequate. “Mystery” in the biblical, philosophical and theological sense of the Christian Tradition is not about a puzzle to be solved but rather an invitation to participation in the very life of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a communion of Three Divine Persons in Perfect Love and Perfect Unity. Marriage in Christ actually invites us into the very life of God. The letter to the Ephesians is one of the most mature and well-developed expression of a "theology of Christian Marriage" found in the entire New Testament. This letter helps us to understand what it means to be a Christian - whether we live the ...

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