Ave Maria! “The kingdom
of heaven is likened to a king who made a marriage for his son.”
“The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king who made a marriage for his son.”
The scripture readings in today's Mass offer a variety of topics for our meditation. In the epistle, Saint Paul speaks to us of the way we are to behave toward one another; with truth, and honesty, and concord. The Gospel tells us something about the character of salvation; many, or even all, are given the opportunity to join God's heavenly feast, but all too few take Him up on His invitation.
I often follow the sermon outline prescribed in the Catechism of the Council of Trent. This is an outline for a two year course of sermons, intended to acquaint all of us with the basic teachings of the Catechism. Both for this Sunday, and for the Sunday a year hence, the outline calls for a talk on the holy state and sacrament of Marriage.
If you have been following the scripture readings from the Breviary, as outlined in our Parish Bulletin, you have just finished reading the Book of Tobias, and you will understand why it is so appropriate for us to speak of Marriage at this time. If you have not read it, you might go back and do so during the coming week, for it contains some very beautiful insights into the purpose of Christian Marriage.
It is important to note that Marriage existed long before the time of Christ, or even the Law of Moses. Even before being raised to the dignity of a sacrament, it existed as a natural contract under the Natural Law. The nature of Marriage can be clearly seen, even without revelation, for it reflects the need of the Human Race to nurture its children, and to preserve the unity of the family group and ultimately the entire society.
From the perspective of Natural Law, if we consider the human anatomy, we see that man and women are pretty much alike: a head with two eyes, a nose, and a mouth; two arms and two legs, heart, lungs, a digestive system. The only differences are those necessary to produce and nurture children. Men and women are not “different,” they are “complimentary”—made that way for the procreation and education of children.
More technically, we say that Matrimony is “the conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, obliging them to live together until death.”
1) It is said to be “conjugal,” from the Latin words which mean that a man and a woman agree to share “the same yoke,” mutually bearing all of the burdens of their common life.
2) We speak of being “properly qualified,” because some are prohibited or incapable of Marriage; those who have been married before (with a living spouse), those physically or mentally incapable of carrying out the duties of Marriage, or those under Solemn Vow of Religion, to name the most common ones.
3) Finally, we say that Marriage “obliges the couple to live together until death,” because, even without the benefit of revelation, we see that this permanence is necessary to secure the purpose of Matrimony; the proper nurture of children, and the stability of society.
As a contract between two persons, it must be a mutual agreement—not something forced by one party, or by an outside party. Also, it must be expressed externally—that is, the mutual agreement must be expressed by spoken or written words, or even in some form of sign language, as long as it is unambiguous to those concerned.
For Christians, the natural contract of Marriage has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a Sacrament. That is to say that this outward contract, this outward sign, works to produce grace. In a Marriage lived according to God's Law, it produces the actual graces necessary to live happily as man and wife, and it produces sanctifying graces to make the couple holier and closer to God.
A good Christian Marriage can be said to symbolize the relationship of Christ to the mystical body of His bride, the Church. It may even be seen as Eucharistic in nature, with each spouse giving body and soul to the other. And certainly, we see Marriage as an extension of God's creative and sacramental power as man and woman come together in a physical wayto bring a new spiritual and physical being into existence.
Marriage is then a most holy thing, to be cherished and safeguarded from all the contamination of worldly and profane things.
It should be seen from all of this that Marriage is a very special vocation—one which requires the same kind of deliberation exercised by those who want to become priests or religious. It is a special vocation, and not necessarily for everyone.
In the Book of Tobias, we hear from the Archangel Raphael that it is a vocation of chastity, as he tells us that “the Devil has power over those who receive Marriage is such a way as to shut out God, and to give themselves over to their lust as the horse and the mule.”
In Saint. Matthew's Gospel, after our Lord explains how Marriage is a vocation of lifetime fidelity, his disciples voice the opinion: "If the case of a man and a woman is as you say, it is not expedient to marry.” To which our Lord answers, essentially, that life oriented toward the kingdom of heaven will require chastity in any state—married or single.
It is for this reason that those of you who are thinking about Marriage—either now, or in the relatively near future—should exercise such extreme care in the company you keep (hopefully, good practicing Catholics); should give some unemotional thought to what Marriage is, and the way in which it will affect you; and should seek out advice from those with learning and experience (even if that means talking to your parents!)
And, those of you who are already married should take it equally seriously; keeping in mind the holy purposes of this contract and Sacrament; and scrupulously avoiding everything which is unlawfully opposed to it.
Finally, to use the words we have from the Book of Tobias: “May a blessing come upon your spouse and your parents. May you see your children and your children's children, unto the third and fourth generation. And may your seed be blessed by the God of Israel, who reigns for ever and ever.” And, May God bless you, in the name....