Reflection for Sunday October 4 – Fr. Ed Palumbos
When I prepare to preach on a weekend I like to read the readings early on in the week and see what “jumps out” at me. Usually this same theme stays with me for the whole week and I often see things fall into place around it. As I reviewed this week’s readings early on last week what came to me were memories of the many loving couples with whom I had the pleasure to work over the years.
As I watched their love for each other unfold and give life to others, I am transported back to the first reading where God entrusts the man and woman to each other’s care. They are to be partners on the journey through life. For many years I worked in the Marriage Encounter Movement, helping people come to a deeper understanding of their commitment to each other. It was a wonderful time for me and one that has enriched my life profoundly.
The recent Supreme Court decision about gay marriage—about who can get married and about what kind of rights that people have, invited me to reflect on what we believe about marriage. Without passing judgment on others, what bubbled up inside of me was a renewed determination to help husbands and wives appreciate how great is their call.
So what does our Catholic tradition teach us about marriage? What is it that we come together to celebrate at a wedding?
We believe that marriage is a sacrament.
Sacraments celebrate existing realities and they deepen those realities. They call out from those realities a greater awareness of God’s grace. Sacraments are an encounter with God! When we talk about the Sacrament of Marriage we are talking about the love that two people have for each other and how God is powerfully present in that love. We believe that love is not only good for those two people; their love is also good for everyone else. Love by definition radiates outward to others and is not closed in on itself.
We believe that God brings two people together for the purpose of their mutual sustenance and new life that flows from their love for each other. We believe that the Sacrament of Marriage is a covenant, not a contract. Most of us are familiar with contracts. A contract is a legal document that one signs in making transactions such as home mortgages, car payments and the like. A covenant is different. A covenant is written with the blood of our own conviction and our own commitment. We give our lives for covenants.
The covenant between the partners in marriage is a reflection of God’s covenant with us. It is one of the things that the sacrament of marriage points to: God’s faithfulness to us and to all creation. In a marriage, husband and wife are equal partners who care about each other and care for one another. Their love for each other radiates into new life, sometimes the life of children, but always new life. This new life is generative and radiates outward. Sacraments celebrate what is profoundly true and deepen that truth.
So the Sacrament of Marriage is important to all of us. We rejoice in it because it is a gift to all of us, whether we are married ourselves or not. Like all sacraments there is nothing magical about it. We celebrate something profoundly true and see the love of God reflected in it. When spouses say, “I do, I do” on their wedding day, it’s not that something magical happens. Rather, their words express what is already true. Commitment does not just happen automatically by words in a formula. Commitment is born out of the flesh and blood decision to love each other.
All of you who are married or have been married certainly can testify to the reality that marriage is not a celebration of perfection. We are imperfect, frail, human beings who make mistakes. And we hurt each other. But we are also filled with the grace of compassion and understanding. We can seek forgiveness. We can fix the broken dimensions of relationships because of the grace of the sacrament.
Our sacraments are encounters with Christ. As people of faith we bring that vision of faith in our own hearts into our daily lives. Marriage partners reflect the faithfulness of God’s love in their love for each other—no wonder we hold the Sacrament of Marriage is such high esteem.