Today it was announced that the Holy Father had appointed Bishop Blase J. Cupich as Archbishop of Chicago, one of America’s largest Dioceses. Bishop Cupich was originally a priest of Omaha, Nebraska, and served most recently in Spokane, Washington. As I was researching the new Archbishop I found a wonderful explanation of Christian marriage that he wrote to the good people of Spokane.
The vocation of marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures and spiritual attitudes. Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶1603
It is striking that the Bible begins and ends with a reference to marriage – the union of man and woman in Genesis and “the wedding feast of the Lamb” in the Book of Revelation. How appropriate, for the Bible is nothing less than God’s call for us to enter into a relationship with Him, to become His partners and co-creators in bringing about the salvation of the world. The union of man and woman, then, is not only a good for the couple but for the entire community of the Church and of humanity, for marriage serves as a model and a point of reference for all that God calls humanity to be.
When a man and a woman marry, we claim that it is a celebration of the whole Church. Married couples on their wedding day make an act of faith as they freely choose to give their lives to each other “for better, for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, until death.” Their act of faith benefits us all. Whenever a couple is willing to promise themselves totally to each other, faithfully sharing their unique and complementary gifts as man and woman, all of us are again called to be faithful in our relationship with God, “who loves us beyond all telling.”
This is precisely why we call marriage a sacrament: it reveals God’s plan for us and makes present the saving work of Christ in our midst, a saving work that makes us one with God. From the earliest days of the Church the disciples of Jesus have treasured the witness of husband and wife, for it keeps fresh in the life of the Church the invitation that God has held out to humanity since the dawn of creation, to love Him as He loves us, to be one as the Father and the Son are one in the Spirit. Thus, when St. Paul uses the image of the bride and the bridegroom in describing the relationship between Christ and His Church, he is telling us something about the Church, to be sure, but he is also telling us something about the importance of marriage in the community of believers as a special revelation, a sacrament of our relationship with God. We refer to a married couple and the family they create as a domestic church precisely because it is a “relationship” temple in our midst.
In a word, then, the act of faith in God and each other, which a man and a woman make on their wedding day, makes visible and present in the Christian community what God has been saying to us from the beginning of time. This is why it is a sacrament.
It has been said that “intimacy is true when fruitfulness is intended.” We all know that from our friendships. Friendships become dry and unsatisfying when friends “use” each other for their selfish aims. This is also the case when it comes to our prayer, which is a celebration of friendship. The goal of prayer is not to gain helpful insights or to “feel good.” True prayer liberates us to create something new as we extend our relationship with God to others.
The same is true for marriage. We believe that marriage has two interrelated aims, which together make it true: the faithful, intimate and loving union of the couple and the generation of children. Both these aims – unity and fruitfulness – are mutually nourishing for the couple, a fact which all the more helps us understand what it means for marriage to be a sacrament. Nothing more fully reveals the nature of our relationship with God than a faithful, lasting and fruitful union of two people of the opposite sex, for it too is a relationship in which God, who is Other, faithful and eternal, brings about new life in us.
It is true that not all couples are able to have children. Yet, they do bring to society their witness of sharing gifts, which are different and which complement each other, in a meaningful conjugal life that “can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality and of sacrifice.” (CCC 1654) Or, as St. Paul would say, they as bride and bridegroom, distinct and opposite, reveal and make present in their sharing of counter-balancing differences the life Christ invites us to share in union with God who is “Other.”
The world seems to have forgotten the real meaning of love. “Love is a word that has never before been used so much and meant so little.” Each day around the clock the world of entertainment and other media bombard us with messages designed to arouse “love.”
The late Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Servant of God and foundress of the Madonna House Apostolate, makes this same point. She once wrote that the world needs marriage to rediscover the meaning of real love: “Love was born in a manger and died on a cross. Real love is synonymous with sacrifice and service… A man and a woman united in holy wedlock are a miracle of love – two distinct persons yet one in a fusing creative beauty. They are lifted by God to become co-creators with him of another human being, another immortal soul – a child.”
The world needs this witness of real love, for the love between a man and a woman, which is faithful, fruitful and permanent, reveals how God loves us.
— Excerpted from Bishop Blaise Cupich, “Believing in Marriage”
A Pastoral Letter published in the Inland Register 20 Sept 2012