|[The following is an excerpt from the transcript of
Scott Hahn's audio and video tape presentation, "Christ and the Church:
A Model for Marriage" as it appears in the "Catholic Adult Education on
Video Program" with Scott and Kimberly Hahn. In this program Scott shows
how the relationship between Christ and His Church is the perfect model
for all marriages and expands upon St. Paul's teaching on this most Holy
Christ and the Church: A Model for Marriage
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Biblical Perspective on Marriage and the Family
I want to spend some time with you this morning considering a Biblical
perspective on marriage and the family and, in particular, I'd like to
look at how the Christ-Church relationship provides us with a model for
our own marriage. The key texts for this consideration are from Ephesians
5 and also Matthew 19. Those are the texts that you should know as Catholics
if people ask you, they approach you and say, "Why do you all regard matrimony
as a sacrament? Why do you think that Jesus Christ made marriage absolutely
and strictly monogamous with no possibility for divorce and remarriage?"
You need to know where to turn. Ephesians 5 beginning with verse 21 and
going all the way down into chapter 6, 3 and 4. And then also Matthew 19,
1-12, and we are also going to look at the parallel text to that, the same
account as described in Mark 10, 1-12.
So write that down. Keep that in mind. Know those texts. In Ephesians 5, verse 21, we read, "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives be subject to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is himself its savior. As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands." That is an unpopular statement by the Apostle Paul. Unpopular in the Church and even more unpopular outside the Church in the world. But it's an inspired statement that we need to understand and come to grips with in our own minds and in our own lives as well.
It's frightening for me to think about the responsibility of women and wives in particular, in light of that verse. "For the husband is the head of the wife and Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is himself its savior. As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands." And husbands, I'll bet, would like to stop there; and just say, "Let's contemplate this for a while." But women are troubled thinking, "I haven't come to this conference to hear some impossible commandment." Well, if you think that's impossible, listen to the next verse: "Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her."
If you think it's almost impossible for a mortal woman to submit to a mortal and fallible man in marriage, I would suggest it's actually more impossible, in human terms, for the husband to fulfill the second injunction, "...to love your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her." That is absolute and total self-sacrifice! Christ was not saying, "Grovel, submit, bow down." He was saying, "I love you. I want to show it. I'll die for you." It goes on to say, "...gave himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word." In other words, Christ sanctifies the Church as spiritual leader. He provides husbands with the model of how they are to live out their own love for their wives as husbands imitating Christ.
One of the problems we're going to address in this weekend conference is the crisis of masculinity and spirituality, because in America today, to be religious and male is to be effeminate. That's a fact. You look at most churches, you look at most religious organizations and meetings and the majority of people are women. And the majority of people in leadership positions are usually women. Ann Marshall wrote a book recently, about fifteen years ago, entitled, The Feminization of American Culture, and she focuses particularly upon American church life to show how religion is commonly perceived as being the woman's province.
Not so for St. Paul! He tells us that the husband, in imitation of Christ, is to sanctify the wife. That doesn't mean bossing around, telling her what to do. It means leadership by servanthood and by example and it means that he is responsible in his own household to provide spiritual leadership.
We could just stop with that and ponder it for a few minutes and have more than enough to take home and be challenged to live out. It goes on, "... that He might present the Church to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself for no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh."
Verse 32 is the all-important verse: "This mystery is a profound one."
That word in Greek, mysterion, is where we get the word mystery.
But the Latin rendering of that is the word, "sacramentum." It's a magnum
sacramentum, a great sacramental mystery. "This mystery is a profound
one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church. However,
let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that
she respects her husband." The Christ-Church relationship is the model
for every one of our marriages, and I think it's especially challenging
for men to ponder Christ's role in that marital covenant.
Now we could spend some more time in this text but I would like to focus our attention briefly upon another text in Mark 10. In Mark 10, we read, "And He left there and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Crowds gathered to Him again, and again, as His custom was, He taught them. And Pharisees came up in order to test Him and asked Him, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?'" Now, something that you might not recognize, but it's blatant there in the text is the geographical placement and the timing for the Pharisees' question.
The Pharisees are deliberately targeting Jesus with the question not because they don't know the answer, but because they want to trap Jesus. They are already past the point where they think He has anything to offer them. They have reached the point where they are simply trying to discredit Him, or better yet, to put Him in the same trap that John the Baptist found himself. They would like to see Him executed. So they wait until Jesus is in the same region where John the Baptist found himself proclaiming as sin the marriage between Herod and Herod's brother's wife. You recall that story, don't you? How John the Baptist denounced Herod for his adultery in taking his brother's wife as his own, and all the religious leaders in Jerusalem were too cowardly to denounce this sin. John the Baptist, however, did. And Herod had him arrested and eventually decapitated.
Now the Pharisees have deliberately waited until Christ is in that same region and now they approach Him and say, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" Why raise that question on this occasion, in this place? They are trying to trap Him. They are trying to put Him into a position where He will end up saying similar things to what John the Baptist said, so that similar things might befall Him. They would be rid of this man Jesus.
He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to put her away." But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart, he wrote you this commandment, but from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh, so they are no longer two but one flesh. What, therefore, God has joined together, let not man put asunder."
What points can we derive from this? Well firstly, back in Ephesians 5, we saw that Paul was describing marriage now as a mystery, as a sacrament--a sacramental mystery that is meant to reflect Christ and the Church. Now that Christ has united himself perfectly and permanently to the Church as to His bride, He has endowed Christian marriage with sacramental grace, with specific powers that we need to live out this indissoluble covenant bond. The question emerges, though, if Paul in Ephesians 5 cites a passage from Genesis, chapters 1 and 2, to describe this mystery, "A man shall leave his mother and cleave to his wife," why wasn't marriage a sacrament in the Old Testament? After all, that's where Paul goes to explain the mystery of Christ and the Church and how that is a reflection of the marriage covenant. Why wasn't marriage a sacrament in the old covenant?
Well, there are some theological reasons we can't get into but the real down-to-earth reason is given here by Our Lord in Mark 10. Moses permitted divorce because of the "hardness of heart." The Old Testament gives to us a record of what happened after Adam's sin and before Christ gave us the grace to live out the marriage covenant perfectly. What would you think if I told you that yesterday I was reading a book that was replete with all kinds of lurid examples of incest, adultery, fornication, homosexuality and other licentious, sexual sins? You would probably think, "What are you doing reading such material?" But I was reading Genesis!
When you read Genesis, you read about the rape of Dinah, the seduction of Joseph, the homosexuality of Sodom, the adultery of Judah along with Judah going to a prostitute. You read about the incest with Lot, Onan's act of contraception, Lamech's polygamy, Abraham's concubinage--just about every sexual sin that one can imagine is there in the first book of the Bible! But there's one difference between Genesis and its record of all these immoral sins and other books, magazines, and articles that you can find that detail these as well. The one difference is that Genesis shows us the realistic consequences that follow upon those sins.
I teach an Introduction to Scripture course at the University of Steubenville. One thing that I could do in going through the Book of Genesis is to highlight these sexual sins because these are the things that people hear about all the time in our society. You can't turn on the radio or the television without seeing lurid examples of these particular acts. But I show them how in the narrative of Genesis, these sins always play themselves out, so that every time ancient Israel hears about one of their mortal foes, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Canaanites, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians--every single one of Israel's mortal foes, as a nation, is traceable back to an immoral act, a sexual sin.
Genesis shows how the sins of parents, especially in the sexual realm are carried out in the lives of their children, their grandchildren, their great-great-great grandchildren, so that in time, nations which do not renounce the sins of their progenitors, their founding fathers, will actually live out those sins on a social level, institutionalized in effect. So that in the land of Canaan you have ritual incest being practiced in the temples. You have adultery, homosexuality, bestiality as well as incest. But Genesis shows us what practical consequences follow and how these sins shatter the unity of God's family, because every nation responsible for breaking the covenant and breaking away from the human family of God--every single nation without exception breaks itself away in the act of sexual immorality.
So, in effect, Genesis sets the stage for Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. All five of those books comprise the law of Moses. But what is so curious about the law of Moses from our perspective is that it begins with the Genesis narrative. It doesn't begin with the ten commandments. It doesn't begin with all these ordinances and statutes. Instead it begins with stories. Why? Because God knows that the best way to teach people righteousness is not simply giving them a list of do's and don'ts, but showing them in a real-life history what happens when you violate the divine commandments, especially in the realm of marriage and sexuality and family life.
Why is this area so important? It goes back to the very beginning of Genesis when God created man in His own image and likeness. He created man, male and female, and the first utterance from God to man, male and female, is this blessing and then this command to be fruitful and multiply. But God would not be commanding man, male and female, to be fruitful and multiply unless they were married. Marriage, you see, is a divine institution in which man finds himself at creation. Man, male and female, are created in the image and likeness of God by being created in the covenant relationship of marriage. That is the primordial image of God, and God says, "Be fruitful and multiply. Let the two become one," and they discovered in this act of marriage how the oneness is more than just a fleeting emotion. It's more than just a physical sensation, it becomes a real fact. It becomes a metaphysical reality because when the two become one, nine months later you've got to give that "one" a name, and that child embodies the oneness that the two became--to show those two that God has designed their oneness to be permanent, to be exclusive, to be life-giving and therefore, to be faithful.
So from the beginning of Genesis apart from any statutes or ordinances, do's and don'ts, God is telling the story of His own family and how He created His family to reflect himself because our God, in the Blessed Trinity, is an eternal family. So when the two become one and then become three, their oneness is deepened. It's magnified. It's enriched. And so the three are even more one than when they were first created in marriage. That is the mystery of marriage from the very beginning. But then this mystery is distorted and torn apart, ripped to shreds, by the first sin of our parents.
Notice how the curse of God placed upon Adam and Eve focuses on aspects of their marital life. The first thing they do is to cover themselves with fig leaves. Now, where do you think they put the fig leaves? Do you think they put them on their elbows, their knee caps, their ankles? Why is it we don't need to be told where they put the fig leaves? We just know where they put them. Well, how do we just know? Why is that not a case of reading into the Bible some Western, 20th Century sexual hang-up? Because this is a reality. This is a truth that far transcends our culture or any other society. We know where they put them and we hear the Lord describe the marriage relationship in Genesis 3 in terms that directly relate to their own sexual life together.
To the woman He said, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you." And to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree which I commanded, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground," etc. etc. God's response to the sin of our first parents is to show them what impact that sin has on their own marriage covenant and on the outcome of their marital union and childbearing.
God is telling us from the very beginning that the first thing that sin does is to destroy this marital covenant that God established when He first made us. In His own image and likeness He made us to be three in one and then to be four in one and then five, by being fruitful and multiplying and showing forth the infinite love and life of God in history, the history of God's family. So the Book of Genesis just plays out like a tragic horror story, detailing certain sexual sins and then their long-term consequences.
Many of those consequences are not recognized until three or four or five centuries later, when the great-great-great grandchildren are in a sense inheriting the results of these certain forms of deviant behavior. That's the way to teach law and when I'm teaching my kids at home what they should be doing, I discovered about three years ago that if you just simply give them commandments and do's and don'ts, they don't sink in. So I made it a point, when I was tucking them into bed, to tell them stories, to tell them long, involved, narrative stories involving all kinds of action and drama. And they're getting into this. And I would load up into those stories the very moral lessons that I'd been trying to teach them through the day.
It wasn't until the end of the day, when they heard those stories and
they could see the consequences of misbehavior and disobedience that the
lessons really sunk in. That's why we need to become more familiar with
the Bible. We need to see what happens to societies, to nations, to civilizations
when they embrace as alternative lifestyles sinful actions that tear apart
the covenant of marriage.
Now, we could describe some more of the moral teaching from scripture here, but what I would like to do for just a few minutes, if you have a Bible, turn with me to John 4. We've looked at the New Testament teachings on marriage thus far and how Paul describes marriage as a mystery, as a sacrament. Then we went back to Mark 10 or Matthew 19 to see how Jesus instituted this by elevating marriage to be a sacrament and confirming the indissolubility of marriage which God had designed it to have at the very outset in creation.
For about the last five minutes, we've looked at the Old Testament briefly to see what happens, practically speaking, when people mess around with this area of their lives. And you can see that the consequences are very, very great and catastrophic. But there's one particular episode that I find particularly interesting in John 4, beginning in verse 7: "There came in a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give me drink.' His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to Him, 'How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria, for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans?'" much less women Samaritans.
"Jesus answered her, 'If you knew the gift of God and who it is that's saying to you, 'give me a drink,' you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.' The woman said to Him, 'Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our Father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, and his sons and his cattle?' Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give them will never thirst. The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.' The woman said to Him, 'Sir, give me this water that I may not thirst nor come here to draw.'"
"Jesus said to her, 'Go, call your husband and come here.' The woman answered Him, I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, 'You are right in saying you have no husband for you have had five husbands and he whom you now have is not your husband. This you said truly.' The woman said to Him," -- What? Up until now the story has been familiar. What does the woman say in response? "Go, get your husband." "I don't have a husband." "You're right, you don't have a husband. You've had five husbands, and the one you are with right now is not your husband."
She says ..... what? "Sir, I perceive that you are a -- gossip?" In other words, you have been prying into personal affairs that are not your own? In other words, mind your own business? So what, if I've had five husbands, what difference is that to you, a Jew? You don't even live here. What business do you have prying into my own personal problems, my life crisis?" She doesn't say that, though, does she?
She says, "Sir, I perceive you are a prophet." A little bit of background might help here. You see, the Samaritans didn't believe in the prophets. If you had a copy of the Samaritan Bible, it was much shorter than the Jewish Bible. The Jewish Bible consisted of the Law and the Prophets. The Samaritan Bible consisted of the Law, the five Books of Moses, and that was it. They didn't accept any of the prophets as inspired scripture. Why not? Because all of the prophets, practically without exception, denounced Samaria and called the Samaritans idolaters for worshipping God on Mount Perazim and following the ways of the idolaters, the Baal worshippers, the followers of Baal.
So, if you are constantly hearing prophets denounce your own nation, your own people, your own lifestyle, you're not going to include their writings in your sacred scripture, and the Samaritans didn't. Consequently the Samaritans didn't believe in prophets like the Jews did. But the Samaritans did believe in the one prophet, because in the Law, in the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 18, Moses issues a promise: that there will come one like unto Moses. God will send the Messiah, a deliverer, and He will be, "a prophet like unto Moses."
So, the Samaritans didn't believe in prophets. They only believed in one prophet, the prophet who was to come, the "prophet like unto Moses." That prophet they identified with the Messiah. Listen to this woman again. Jesus had just said to her, "You're right in saying you have no husband. You have had five husbands and the one you are with now is not your husband. She said, 'Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.'" For a Samaritan to say, "You are a prophet," is practically tantamount to saying, "I perceive you might be the Messiah."
Now, what on earth did Jesus say to give her any indication of His own identity as Messiah? When you read the story on the surface, you don't have an answer to that question. But when you dig deeper and deeper, you'll find one. You see, the prophet that God sent to Samaria constantly warned the Samaritans about their sinful practices and how they were constantly living like the other nations. So when the Samaritans had broken away from the Jews 900 years before Christ, a series of prophets kept warning and threatening them saying, "You know what's going to happen as a result of your sin. You are going to be cursed. You are going to be conquered. You are going to be defeated by enemies."
In 2 Kings 17, God reminds the Samaritans some 700 years before Christ what the consequences of their sinful behavior would be. He says in effect, "I sent you all these prophets and you've ignored them or you've maligned them or you've tortured them. You haven't paid heed at all to their message. Therefore, I will give you over to the nations -- one nation in particular -- the Assyrians.
In 722, the Assyrians came into Samaria and slaughtered the Samaritans and forcibly resettled five different groups of foreigners in the land of Samaria. There God prophetically speaks of how back 700 years before Christ, the Samaritans who survived and who stayed in the land of Samaria would be surrounded by all these idolatrous pagans who would bring in their idols, their Baals. They would worship Baal. You've heard of Bayal worship or Baal worship.
God said, "Because you've imitated these nations, they are coming to you, and they are bringing their gods, their false gods, their idols. In the Hebrew it's "Baalene," their idols. But in particular, 2 Kings 17 specifically lists five different Baals that the Samaritans would be surrounded by as these five foreign peoples settled in their land. So the Samaritans had been warned and then they were shown what consequences would follow. Five peoples would be forcibly resettled in their own homeland and they would bring in these five idols and worship their Baals.
One interesting fact that you might not be aware of -- what is the Hebrew word for husband? There are different words, but one very common word for husband is Baal. Interesting, isn't it? You see, there were two different kinds of marriages in the Old Testament. You can see this reflected in Galatians 4, where Paul says, "You desire to be under the law. Don't you hear the law, for it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman." You see he had two sons because he had what? Two marriages. One by a slave woman, Hagar, and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh. The son of the free woman through promise. Then he goes on to show how Hagar, the slave wife, the concubine, bore Ishmael and how Sarah, the free wife, the first wife, the only wife Abraham was supposed to have, bore Isaac, the child of promise.
You see, back in the ancient times, if you were a husband, if you were a man, you were a patriarchal figure and you wanted to extend your own power and influence, you wanted to acquire more power, you used sex. You would multiply concubines because in multiplying wives or concubine slave women, you would be multiplying slaves, because all of the children they would have would be, in effect, your slaves later on. So Hagar bore children for slavery, whereas Sarah bore Abraham children for freedom. Sarah would address Abraham as "'adon," the word for husband in Hebrew that a free woman would utter; whereas Hagar would describe Abraham as "Ba'ali," my "Baal," my master, my Lord husband, because a concubine understood that she was owned by her husband. Two forms of marriage -- one for freedom and the other one for slavery.
The Samaritans understood all of this because one of the greatest prophecies in the Old Testament is found in Hosea, chapter 2, where the prophet Hosea comes up against Samaria and warns the Samaritans what's going to happen. He says in effect, "Because you have followed these false gods, these Baals, you are going to be given over to those who worship Baal and that their worshippers are going to bring their Baals into your land and they are going to overrun you." And there is this tradition in scripture that the Samaritans were subjected to five different peoples with their five different Baals.
But there will come a day, Hosea promises, when the Lord will allure Israel, Samaritans and bring the Samaritans back into the wilderness. And in Hosea 2:16 we read, "And in that day says the Lord, you will call me 'my husband,' and no longer will you call me 'my Baal' for I will remove the names of the Baals from your mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more. And I will make for you a covenant on that day, and I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice and in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. You shall know the Lord."
That woman had a tragic series of unfortunate marriages, but she began to see through the eyes of faith how her own struggles with immorality, perhaps, with the abuse by men or whatever other problems that she faced, that reality of her own life was providentially tailored, designed by God to prepare her to recognize Christ. Many interpreters suppose that when Jesus said, "And the one you are with now is not your own husband," that that supposes that she is sleeping with a man. That isn't necessarily all that the text is suggesting. The idea is probably, at least in my opinion, that you've had five husbands and the one you're with right now, that is me, I'm not your husband.
He's meeting her at a well. In the Old Testament, do you know enough of the Old Testament to recognize what often takes place at a well? You meet your spouse-to-be; you meet your future spouse. That's where Isaac's future spouse was first encountered. That's where Jacob meets his wife. That's where Moses meets his wife. Throughout the Old Testament, the well is a meeting place where you meet your future husband.
Here is this Samaritan woman meeting Jesus and he points out how you have five husbands and she sees that. And then He says, "But the one you are with now is not your husband." Not yet, at least. And she recalls the prophecy. She vividly remembers how all the prophets said that you are going to have these five Baals until the Messiah comes, "the prophet like unto Moses." And Hosea and Ezekiel both describe how the Lord will send this prophet Messiah and He will betroth himself to the Samaritans, not as the Baals did, not as a taskmaster, not as a Lord Master does a slave woman, but as a free man marries a free woman to bear children for freedom, for responsibility. That's why she says, "Sir, I perceive you are a prophet. You are a prophet like unto Moses." You are a Messianic figure.
What lessons can we learn from this for our lives? I would suggest to you that your own life has been crafted by God--not just the good times, but the bad times; not just the easy times, but the hard times. You all, I suspect, have undergone some sort of mistreatment from other people, and if you are married, I can assure you because your spouse is fallible and sinful, like all of us, that you feel hurt. You've been wounded. You may have been abused, verbally or physically. This woman was also, like her people, the Samaritans, like our society today.
God gives us whatever we want. If we want Him, He gives himself to us
lavishly. If we want those things that Satan offers, God's wrathful response
is to say, "Fine, you don't want me. You want these other false gods; my
punishment is, you want 'em, you got 'em, and they'll pull you down. But
eventually, I will come back to you and I will woo you away from them."
Right now, God is calling us, right where we are. Given the tragic and
the painful experiences of our own past lives, we need to look into the
interior of our own souls and recognize that God has allowed certain things
to happen to us in order for us to recognize Jesus as our Lord, as our
Savior, as our Prophet, but as our husband, as the one who gives us the
grace to live out our own marriage covenant, to raise a family in Godliness.
Personal Experience of the Crisis in Marriage as an Opportunity to Grow Closer to Jesus
I really believe that Catholic Christians in America today have an incredible opportunity, in the midst of all of these crises to emerge stronger and more devout, in more grace than ever before. I want to tell you briefly from my own personal experience how this is true. In seminary, my wife undertook a study of contraception. And as a result of being very open-minded and prayerful, she came to change her mind. She is going to share about that later on today. It was difficult. It was very difficult for us at first. We prayed for assistance and God gave us the grace and when we finally got off contraception and we opened ourselves up to God's gift of life, we were shocked to discover that God had granted us a child.
We were so excited, even though it disrupted some plans that we had made to go over to Great Britain to pursue a doctoral program in Scotland, even though I knew that was the most prestigious route to take and all of that, God graced us so much. And my wife looks back on the last ten or twelve years of our marriage life and she says, "You know, you read some books and they persuaded you to talk to some people and they helped you see the Catholic faith." But she recognizes one truth above all, that it was the experience of fathering that really opened my mind, perhaps more than anything else to understanding the Catholic Church as the family of God, created by God, our Father. And I believe that if we will accept the challenge of obedience that we will see the hurts and the weaknesses in our own lives, in our own marriages, but then give them over to Christ and say, "Sir, I perceive you are the prophet. You are the Messiah. You are the Savior of my life, of my soul, but also of my marriage and family."
Jesus Christ will give us the grace to honor His law and to rediscover the life-giving power of the marital covenant, every time we renew that covenant through the act of marriage. Our discovery of the truth about contraception, I am sure, led us to be more open to other truths the Catholic Church proclaims. Even though consciously I didn't think for a minute that the Catholic Church was really a viable option at that point. Later on, though, I discovered many truths of the Catholic faith through hard study. I don't want to get into all of the painful details, but may it suffice to say that, since Kimberly only became a Catholic about a year-and-a-half ago, we went through approximately four -- maybe four-and-a-half years -- of painful struggle. One of my closest friends counseled her to consider divorcing me. (God be praised, he is now a Catholic!) But we went through a struggle that we never, ever imagined we would go through. We had married twelve years ago. We had fashioned a covenant. We had even put on the bulletin for the wedding liturgy an explanation of what the marital covenant is and how permanent it is and what God had designed it to be. We went through four or five years of hell. I can say it honestly. We went through times when we could barely talk. I was so caught up with a rich discovery of the glories of the Catholic Church. My life was theological study and my whole life had been disrupted, and I realized God's call was on my life. And I tried to play the part of the Holy Spirit in Kimberly's life, telling her, teaching her, forcing sanctification upon her, doing all of these things the wrong way.
She was resistant because she didn't feel any great need to find God's family. She grew up in a very strong family. Mine was not really so strong. She had grown up in a very alive and dynamic parish. The congregations I had experienced were barely strong enough to be considered weak. So, for me, this desperate longing, this deep search, led me to the most exciting reality in the world. For her it was sort of like, "Well, that's interesting, but you're a minister. My dad's a minister. My brother is preparing for the ministry. My uncle is a minister. I was thinking about being a minister, why are you leaving the ministry? Why are you abandoning me?"
It was, for all practical purposes, felt and experienced as a betrayal. We had always theologized together. Even before we were married, in our dating, we discussed scripture. Oh, we had good times. We had a lot of other things to talk about, too. I mean we're not just theologians. But we loved the word of God; we loved to talk about it. In fact, we were involved in ministry together for years before we got married. So we couldn't understand why on earth God would allow us to undergo such distress.
There were days, I could say there were weeks, when we wondered how on earth our marriage could survive. In fact, I often thought that if I could just die and go to be with God, it would be so much easier for Kimberly. Later on I discovered she was feeling the same way. There were times when I would walk out and slam the door or walk around the block. Times when she did the same thing. Times when I wouldn't come back for five or ten, fifteen, probably thirty minutes, and times when she wouldn't come back for that long or longer.
I didn't know why God allowed such a grueling and distressing experience for us. It just seemed so absurd. I had been teaching courses on marriage and now my marriage was crumbling. Now my life was falling in upon me. Now I couldn't understand why God would have me pursue truth at the same time it was crushing my wife. Why would He have me teaching covenant and researching covenant as marriage and family when living out that research, living out the conclusions of my study seemed to be tearing my marriage and family apart? We wondered if we could stay together.
There were times when we couldn't talk. We would be arguing and we would be silent. Then I'd wake up and say, "Do you have any other thoughts along those lines?" "No, I don't want to talk about it any more." I really did it like a bumbling fool. I didn't know how to do it right. I tried this way. I tried to read things to her. I tried to make her read things. I tried to get her to listen to tapes. Nothing worked. Finally, I learned that the sacrament of matrimony is not my action. It's Jesus Christ's action in our lives. That I am not the bond of unity. I am not the spiritual director for my wife.
I remember when my spiritual director was helping me come into the Church, he announced to me: "You are not your wife's spiritual director." I was shocked. "What do you mean?" You see in Protestantism and many circles within Protestantism, husbands are taught that husbands are their wives' spiritual directors. And certainly spiritual leadership should be provided in the marriage and the family. But that's not the same thing as providing all of the intimate and secretive details that you share with your spiritual director. A spiritual director should be more detached.
So, through a painful, long, gruesome process, I discovered what the
sacrament of matrimony really is all about. I am convinced, absolutely
certain today, that our marriage would not have made it except that it
was a sacrament. So if people come to me, or if people go to Kimberly and
describe horrible marriage situations, I'm going to tell you, we can basically
check off their list saying, "Yeah, yeah, we did that. Yeah, that happened
to us, that's right. We experienced that. Sure, yeah, he did that to me,
or she did that to me." And at the end of it when we hear them say, "That's
why we think it's hopeless," we spring into action and say, "Oh no. Jesus
Christ has prepared you to discover greater riches and graces in the sacrament
of your own marriage than you ever imagined before."
Now that's true in marriages in crisis. But what about ordinary marriages that have not undergone that kind of strain or that kind of stress? I want to end with just some practical conclusions that I have arrived at through pondering the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church and how that applies in perhaps more ordinary marriages in everyday ways.
First of all, I want to encourage every spouse here, or every future spouse here to commit yourself to a life of prayer. Orthodox doctrine without prayer is boring. Liturgy without prayer is boring. Marriage and family life without prayer is boring and burdensome. We need daily prayer. We need daily mental prayer to foster that deep covenant of friendship with Jesus Christ. Only then can romance and sex and intimacy become the things that God designed them to be. If we make that the be-all and end-all, we know, I can tell you for sure, our marriages will flounder. Sexual intimacy is not meant to be fireworks, but rather glowing embers that God uses to bring the warmth of covenant love and life into everyday experience.
We need, therefore, a lot of humility and patience before God and before our spouse. We need to recognize ourselves for who we are, with our weaknesses. We need to recognize Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of our lives and of our marriages and families, and a source of the daily graces we need. We need to see that the speck we have detected in our spouse's eye is not normally as big as the beam in our own. We often exaggerate the faults in our spouse because we have not allowed the Lord to show us our own problems. But if there is one truth I really believe that we need to live more than any other, it's forgiveness. Jesus Christ has forgiven the Church. He has washed her. He has cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. He has given to us His own Holy Spirit, so that we, as His bride, might be pure and holy. Therefore, the Christ-Church relationship gives to us the greatest principle of forgiveness. That is the way we live our daily lives.
In light of that we need to respect each other's freedom. I am not the Holy Spirit. I am Kimberly's husband. She is not the Holy Spirit to me. We cannot force each other to do certain things. We have to respect freedom. We also have to assume the best on the part of the other and trust God to work in the life of our spouse and see that that is what the covenant is there for.
We need to recognize that the other person is filled with Christ. So ultimately, I'm not trusting a fallible sinner who is just like me, I am trusting Jesus Christ in His capacity and His desire to work in her life just as He can work in mine. And as we experience that, we can find common ground. We can cultivate common interests. We can really share the natural and the supernatural life that we have in Christ together.
Now I would like to end just by giving you some practical tips for your own consideration, and actually for your own reading. I have with me four books that I think are among the very best for your own spiritual life and also for your marriage and family life. The first one is a book by John Kippley, Sex and the Marriage Covenant. It is a revised edition of the book I read back in 1980 and '81 that changed my mind on contraception. It is for all practical purposes, the most persuasive and the most practical book, if you want to understand the Church's teaching on contraception or if you want to help other people to understand it.
Another book that I find extremely helpful is Marriage, a Path to Sanctity, by two authors, Xavier Abaud and Eugenio Fenoi. This is available in the hall over at the Scepter book table, Scepter Press. Marriage, a Path to Sanctity. What this book shows is that marriage is a vocation every bit as much as Holy Orders is a vocation. I work a lot with young people at the University of Steubenville and I often hear them talking about them discerning a vocation. And once they discover that the priesthood is not for them, or the religious life is not for them, they will act as though they don't have a vocation. How odd! Marriage is just as much a vocation from God as Holy Orders or the religious life.
We need to recognize that we are not second-class, inferior citizens in the kingdom of God because we are married. We have a divine mission and marriage is the vocation in which we will find our own sanctity and impart that to our beloved spouse as well.
Two other books that I have brought with me -- this one is entitled, In My Mother's Womb, by Donna DiMarco. It's subtitled, "The Catholic Church's Defense of Natural Life." The reason why I brought about a hundred copies of this book is because I find it to be very helpful in showing Catholics how to go about defending the controversial teachings of the Church in the 1990s. A hundred years ago, the Church's teaching in the area of abortion or contraception or homosexuality, these teachings weren't controversial. These teachings were recognized by non- Catholic Christians, by non-Christian thinkers as being rooted in the natural law. Only now, in the 1990s, we find ourselves in a very uncomfortable and unusual situation where the Catholic Church alone is upholding the teachings of natural law.
This book touches on abortion, contraception, homosexuality, artificial insemination, divorce and remarriage and a host of other issues. With practical stories, anecdotes and many profound arguments, DiMarco shows how you can convince family members and friends of the Church's teaching on defense of natural life and the sanctity of the marriage bond. If you begin to read, you will begin to grow. You will begin to share in a much more natural way. If you've seen a movie or if you have read a book, you talk about it in daily conversation. It doesn't seem forced or artificial. Thank you very much.