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St John Vianney on Family

Sacred Scripture is God’s love letter to His people. Throughout this letter, God uses nuptial imagery to describe His covenantal relationship with us, His beloved children. Just as His love for us is everlasting, so God designed marriage to be an unbreakable relationship between one man and one woman for life. Our culture views marriage as a contract between two (or more!) people that can be broken at any time when the relationship no longer meets the needs of those involved. Hence, we have a twisted view of a God who loves us unconditionally in spite of our sin. Broken marriages lead to a broken image of God.

Right from the very beginning of Scripture, when God created the first man and woman, He gave them to each other in marriage (Gen 2:18-24). In marriage man and woman together image the Holy Trinity: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).

Sprinkled throughout the Old Testament Prophets, marriage is used as an image of God’s relationship with His people, Israel.

I will betroth you to me forever: I will betroth you to me with justice and with judgment, with loyalty and with compassion; I will betroth you to me with fidelity, and you shall know the Lord. Hosea 2:21-22

Israel in its disobedience to the commands of the Lord is depicted as a wayward spouse.

But you have played the prostitute with many lovers, and yet you would return to me! Jeremiah 3:1

In spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God remains faithful to the covenant He made with His people.

For thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you for what you did; you despised an oath by breaking a covenant. But I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young; I will set up an everlasting covenant with you. Ezekiel 16:59-60

In the middle of the Bible we find the Song of Songs, a love poem depicting the beauty and -mystery of sexual love in marriage. Through images and metaphors, this poem expresses the mutual love of the Lord and His people, an unbreakable and everlasting courtship and marriage “for Love is strong as Death” (Song 8:6).

In the New Testament, Jesus often refers to Himself as a Bridegroom:

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to him and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. Mark 2:18-20

At the end of Sacred Scripture, all of salvation history comes to a climax with the announcement of the “wedding feast of the Lamb.” The Apostle John in a vision hears these words proclaiming that Christ will wed His Bride, the Church (“the New Jerusalem” in Rev 21:2):

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying,

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

Scripture ends with an invitation to the wedding feast:

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let him who hears say, “Come.” (Rev 22:17)

Marriage is a metaphor for God’s self-giving love. It is also a participation in it. Like all sacraments, Matrimony draws husbands and wives more deeply into the Trinitarian: life of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 2205).

Marriage is also an image of the Eucharist, were Christ becomes “one flesh” with us in the partaking of His Body and Blood. Pope Benedict XVI, in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, says:

In the Eucharist a communion takes place that corresponds to the union of man and woman in marriage. Just as they become “one flesh,” so in Communion we all become “one spirit,” one person, with Christ. The spousal mystery, announced in the Old Testament, of the intimate union of God and man takes place in the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, precisely through his Passion and in a very real way (see Eph 5:29-32; 1 Cor 6:17; Gal 3:28).[1]

To understand God, we need to understand marriage. To understand marriage, we need to understand God. The two are intimately connected. Our world is in desperate need of holy examples of permanent, life-giving love of a husband and wife in marriage so they can come to know the love of the Father. Let your love shine brightly in the cultural darkness, pointing the way to the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

May the Lord bless you richly, now and always.

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 142.