In marriage, two people are connected to the bridal couple, Christ and the Church, through a living bond. They live these words of Jesus in a special way: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” But why did God unite a married couple so closely with Christ and the Church? What was He thinking?
It is quite simple: a branch lives the life of the tree. If we bend a branch, we do it to the tree. When a bird sits in a tree, it alights upon a branch. When you look at a branch, you see the tree. Branch and tree have the same life. And here, we can also sense why God gave us the wonderful sacrament of marriage: He wants the whole family to experience the life of the heavenly bridal couple, Christ and the Church.
First of all, there are the children: they are the darlings of Jesus and should experience from the beginning that Christ and the Church love them with a warm love and kindness. Christ gave His life out of love to save the children of God and to give them an eternal home in Heaven. The Church breathes the same love for the children of God. She does everything to make these children feel the love of God.
It is the effect of the sacrament of marriage that the love between Christ and the Church has been poured into the hearts of parents. They may and should love their baptized children with the same love that burns in the heart of the Church and of Christ. One can only be amazed that parents are not only allowed to imitate this love, but that it is, in fact, the same love that lives in Christ and the Church. This is a great opportunity for parents to do good to their children and is in line with their parents’ deep desire to give their children only the best.
The parents educate and provide for their children. Whether they put the bread on the table, choose the right school, obtain the clothing, comfort, exhort, remind, please the children or forgive and encourage them when they make mistakes, all this is at the same time a doing of Christ and the Church. Their mercy and love is a message and a greeting from the heart of Jesus and from the Church.
At the same time, the children experience how father and mother are united in great love and respect. They form a unity like Christ and the Church. The father respects and loves the mother as Christ loves the Church and does everything for her. The mother stands by her husband as the Church is entirely there for the work of Christ. This unity of father and mother is the greatest joy for the children. In some families, the children are restless and almost sad. If you then look around, you discover that father and mother live in constant quarrels and disputes. I’m sure it’s normal that there are differences of opinion now and then. This is not a problem as long as the differences are discussed calmly and normally. But what harms the children in the long run is constant strife and tension. It also harms immensely on the religious level. The children should be able to experience how strongly Christ and the Church are united, but in such families, they receive the message that there is constant conflict between Christ and the Church—an absurd message that is also unsettling in religious matters.
This becomes even worse when there is a kind of power struggle between parents, who has the most to say, or when the mother tries to control the father and the children. This also sends an absurd message to the children, namely that the Church wants to rule over Christ and the children of God.
After the children, it is the spouses themselves who are allowed to draw great love from the sacrament of marriage. Wasn’t it the greatest wish on their wedding day that love would last forever and even grow? It is precisely this desire that the sacrament fulfils when it pours into the hearts of the spouses the same love that unites the divine bridal couple. Christ became man and accepted everything that is typically human, except sin. Even before original sin in paradise there was a wonderful bridal love between Adam and Eve. Even greater than this is the truly human and spousal love that dwells in the heart of Christ. The bride in the Song of Songs says: “Your love is more beautiful than wine” (Cant. 1:1). This nuptial love is also reflected in the heart of the Church. This love, then, may Christian spouses give to each another and even grow in it. Instead of relying only on their own hearts, they may draw from the hearts of Christ and the Church. Here too the word of the prophet Isaiah is valid: “You will draw in joy from the sources of the Saviour” (Is. 12:3). Every kind word, every joy you give to your partner, every time you give to the other, all this you can draw from the sacrament. Just as the couple of Cana was able to continue celebrating the wedding with the wine of Jesus, which was suddenly there in immense quantity and highest quality, so their deepest wish is fulfilled here!
Not only the family should be edified and encouraged by the living presence of Christ and the Church. Every well-lived marriage is a glorification of God and a beacon for the environment, whether ecclesiastical or social. This is especially true for childless marriages, which sometimes suffer badly from their fate. Their marriage is also very valuable and important. For when they are a flowering branch of the divine Bridal Couple, they encourage their surroundings and give a glorious testimony of the primal mystery of creation and redemption. God’s eternal plan is to glorify Christ, the Lamb of God and his Bride, the Church. Heaven will be the Lamb’s eternal wedding feast (Apoc. 19:6). “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who celebrated his son’s wedding” (Mt. 22:1). Because of this wedding, God created and redeemed the world and guides it in almighty providence. Every married couple who works faithfully with the graces of the sacrament of matrimony, even if they remain childless, is a light from above for the Church and the world and reminds us of the “great mystery” (Eph. 5:32) that God planned from the beginning. Today we again need couples whose lives speak of this great plan of God and who do not live in pessimism and despondency. Many young people no longer have the courage to get married, certainly because they have experienced so many failed or unhappy marriages. At the same time, we are witnessing a general attack on marriage through pornography, divorce, abortion, gender ideology and homosexual propaganda. The devil fights furiously against the great mystery of God’s plan. Today we need flowering couples again, who through their lives stand on the side of their divine friends Christ and the Church. “You are the light of the world!” (Mt. 5:14).
But one could argue that this does not reflect reality. What about these many, quite Christian marriages, where there is simply no harmony anymore, where there is much tension, even dissension, disappointment, bitterness, suppressed anger or open strife? Isn’t there an ideal here that discourages these marriages even more?
In this case, you have to look at what led to the situation. It is the result of a development in which one has lost courage over time. The bearing of the mistakes or peculiarities of the partner has become more and more difficult with time, so that in the end one of them has resigned. At this point, a decisive change occurs in the marriage. Instead of continuing to try Christian and supernatural ways, they change to purely human behavior. Mistakes are then answered impatiently, the diversity of characters is fought with always the same accusations, and demands are presented ever-more violently. Suddenly, the “old man” reigns in us, this old man who, contrary to the new man, brings only misfortune. Was it not this old man in us who led to ever-new sins, yes, who crucified Christ? And it is precisely to this person that we entrust what is actually so important to us: the love and relationship with the people who are close to us. This is a drama that continues to intensify and only brings more controversy and upset to life. The couple tried to change this nature and make it better, but they did not succeed. Heads are lowered and resigned.
This radically raises an age-old question: What makes people become better? It has been tried with better education, with categorical imperative, with moralism, with highly-stylized human rights, but nothing has brought about the decisive breakthrough.
If we look at Christ, what is His view on this question? If there is a way, He must teach us. His answer is: Man does not improve through rules and commandments, not through reproaches or threats, but only through ever-new forgiveness, ever-new opportunities, and ever-new beginnings. In the face of the enormous weight of humanity’s guilt, God approaches man humbly, gently, amicably and kindly. Is this not the joy of a Christian life, that one receives forgiveness over and over again with new opportunities and new beginnings? What would happen to us if God gave us as few new opportunities as we do to people? Our life would end quickly! One has to understand that man is only improved by forgetting the past, by forgiveness and new grace. This is the only way; if there was a better way, Christ would have shown it to us.
Let us remember the last good confession and the liberated feeling it gave us: Everything is forgiven and forgotten, a new opportunity has arisen, and a deep joy moves the heart. And out of this feeling we were allowed to continue our life and were willing to try it again. This is the way God wants to change people for the good; all other ways fail. One can certainly compare a “failed” marriage with the situation when one has not gone to confession for years: everything is tedious, restless and dark. We humans need this love, which forgives seven times seventy times, there is no other way.
Where does this ever-new opportunity, this renewed joy of goodness come from? It comes from confession, in which Christ and the Church give us their love. The priest is only an instrument of this love. In the end, every confession is a gift from Christ and the Church, an encounter with their love. And exactly this love is also given into the hearts of the married couple. Here it wants to do the same thing it does in confession: Forgive and forget the bad and open a new future. Thus, the sacrament of marriage is inspired by the same spirit as confession: forgetting, forgiving, and beginning anew.
The love of Christ and the Church is essentially a redeeming, liberating love, a love that knows exactly what man really needs. Forgiveness and mercy are not exceptions for special cases, but our daily bread. Perhaps even in this thought lies a turning point for some marriages, which no longer know what to do...
Here again, a basic feature of all sacraments becomes apparent: they are focal points of the redemption. The marriage of two people should not only tell about Christ and the Church in general, but should also be a concrete reminder of God’s forgiving and healing love. Marriage is a visible sign of God’s grace and mercy. Don’t forget what Mary said at Cana’s wedding: “Do everything He tells you!”