This summer I’ve thought a lot about marriage. (Don’t worry, I only introduce myself that way in columns.). Anyways, there’s been a lot happening in the world to turn my thoughts in that direction. Some events have been positive-- the weddings and engagements of friends and family. Some have been negative— mock me if you want, but I’m taking Jon and Kate’s break up really hard, and I know none of us will ever think of the Appalachian Trail in the same way, if you know what I mean.
So marriage. “Marriage is what brings us together today… That blessed union, that dream within a dream” (props if you got the Princess Bride shout-out). But I think what we are learning is that for some, marriage isn’t necessarily the dream within a dream that the Disney princesses led us to believe. Many of the bridal shower and wedding reception conversations I’ve had with friends have drifted to all the negative press that marriage has been getting, leading us to wonder, “why are we, as a society, so bad at this? I mean, if Jon and Kate, with their organic meals and perfect hair couldn’t get it together for Aaden and his seven siblings, who stands a chance?”
I’d like to propose (no pun intended) that it’s because we’ve forgotten the point of marriage in the first place. Flipping through cards in the wedding section confirmed this suspicion as I opened to greetings that sounded more like they belonged on “get well” cards (No joke, I honestly read one that said “here’s hoping it all works out!”). Marriage seems to be in trouble. Not for want of self help books, because I think we get that men are from Mars and women are from Venus (and where does that leave us now that Pluto’s not a planet?). No, we’ve got astronomy down. To understand marriage, we need to understand God and His Church.
I can only speak for team Catholic, but marriage is a Sacrament. A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ that gives us grace. I think of Sacraments as God’s answer to our ADHD society, knowing that we need tangible signs to remind us of Him and the grace He gives us to live our lives. Team Catholic has seven such signs that can be found in Scipture and passed down in Tradition from the time of Christ. All seven infuse grace into the moments of life when we need to remember that God is here (for example, Baptism to celebrate new life, Confession when we sin… you get the idea). These signs don’t replace God, but remind us of his presence in significant moments.
Although it may seem like it, Marriage was not created by Hallmark or David’s Bridal. God instituted marriage when he looked at Adam in the garden, surrounded by animals, yet realized that, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). When he sees Eve, Adam realizes that “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh…” (Genesis 2:23), Genesis then tells us that this is why a man leaves his father and mother and the two of them become “one body” (Genesis 2:24). The union of man and woman began with Adam and Eve and continues throughout history.
You’re probably thinking, awh, yeah, that’s so sweet. Adam and Eve were, as we’d say in text-lingo, MFEO (made for each other). But what does that have to do with the Church? As was mentioned, sacraments are signs and in the case of marriage, it’s the sign of the union of Christ and the Church. Think about what God did for us here. In Ephesians 5:25, Paul reminds “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loves the Church…”. Christ loved the Church by offering up his whole life on the cross and continues to love us, waiting for the day that we join Him in heaven. God intends that every marriage we see be a reminder of this. Marriage is more than a joint mortgage and a minivan. It’s signifying Christ’s eternal love for the Church. When a man and a woman make vows to each other for as long as they live, Christ intended that it be a reminder to us of His faithfulness to us for eternity. Just like Christ didn’t live to serve himself in his life and death, husbands and wives look to Christ to remember that it’s about serving one another and the children that eventually come from their union.
My friend recently got married and she made spreadsheets for the ceremony and reception to clarify to her attendants who was to be present and when. When it came time to exchange the vows the “participants” column listed “Christ” above her and her fiancé to remind them, from the beginning, Who this was all about. It was her day, but she was very aware that she was about to follow Christ in a new way through being a sign of His love for the Church. Maybe not what a Disney princess would do, but a pretty incredible vocation nonetheless. When we look around and wonder what’s gone wrong, our first step should be looking to Christ’s love for the Church as the model of Love.