Marriage as Covenant, Church as Marriage

Today is the twenty-second anniversary of our marriage. It has been, and continues to be, a crazy-busy, head-spinning, gut-wrenching week, so we’ve agreed to postpone our celebration until sometime late next week or the following week. It’s an important day, but also no big deal. We’re in it for the long haul.

Not long ago, one of my dear spiritual daughters asked me: If it is natural for people to grow out of some friendships over time, what about marriages? I told her that it’s natural that certain feelings toward your spouse might change over time, like they do toward anyone else. The difference is that married love is not friendship.

Love is choosing the good of another regardless of the cost to yourself. Marriage is a lifelong commitment to love one person above all others save God. Love is an act of the will. Married love is an act of the will—a choice you make, as best you can, for the good of another—every moment of every day for the rest of your life.

In this light, married couples might grow out of friendly feelings, but must not grow out of love for each other.

Providentially, the gospel reading for today was Jesus explaining to the disciples that marriage is permanent, made so by God, and that divorce was only ever allowed due to the hardness of their hearts:

“Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, 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. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.” — Matthew 19:4-6

When the disciples hear this, they tell Jesus they think it would be better not to marry at all. Jesus admits this is a tall order, but does not back down.

For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. ‘Til death do us part.

* * * * *

The scandals concerning Cardinal McCarrick and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania are horrific and heartbreaking. It seems there is no bottom to the hellhole that abusive clergy and their enablers have dragged the Church into, and many faithful Catholics find themselves in a spiritual crisis.

I work for the Church, and my second son just left on mission to draw other teens to Jesus and the Catholic faith. It is hard to spread the good news of Christ’s love and mercy when some of His most trusted servants have done such evil.

One of the most common metaphors used to describe Jesus’ relationship to the Church is marriage, with Christ as the groom and the Church as His bride. It struck me as Jodi and I prayed together this morning that the first reading for today paints a vivid picture of God’s view of the Church—Jesus’s view of His bride—in these dark days:

I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you; you became mine, says the Lord GOD. Then I bathed you with water, washed away your blood, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you with an embroidered gown, put sandals of fine leather on your feet; I gave you a fine linen sash and silk robes to wear. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms, a necklace about your neck, a ring in your nose, pendants in your ears, and a glorious diadem upon your head. … You were renowned among the nations for your beauty, perfect as it was, because of my splendor which I had bestowed on you, says the Lord GOD.  But you were captivated by your own beauty, you used your renown to make yourself a harlot, and you lavished your harlotry on every passer-by, whose own you became. — Ezekiel 16:9-15

The bride He lifted up and made so beautiful is sunken in sin and seems utterly consumed by corruption. But has He forgotten her? No. Why? Because His promise to her is a marriage covenant. He has chosen her as His own and has promised to choose the good for her regardless of the cost to Himself—even unto death.

Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were a girl, and I will set up an everlasting covenant with you, that you may remember and be covered with confusion, and that you may be utterly silenced for shame when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD. — Ezekiel 16:60, 63

Does His pardon mean that we should forgive and forget the evil done by priests and other leaders in the Church? Certainly not. The Church should be ashamed, confused, and humbled as justice is demanded and done on behalf of the victims of these crimes. We should pray, fast and do penance on behalf of the Body to which we belong, for the healing and restoration of all those He loves.

But the Lord will not abandon His Bride, despite the failings of these men. And I don’t intend to either.

O Lord, how long? Hear the cries of the victims and of those who love you. Heal your people and restore your bride. Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you.

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