The union of a baptized man and a baptized woman in Holy Matrimony is the beginning of a domestic church, which is the smallest unit of the universal Catholic Church. The love of a husband and a wife is a love between them; there are not two loves but one love that unites them (from “Love and Responsibility” by St. Pope John Paul II). Their love is a third element between spouses making them one. Does that remind us of another mystery?
In Holy Matrimony, the Holy Spirit transforms a natural man-woman love relationship to mirror the love and life of the Blessed Trinity. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity is the love between the Father and the Son. A marriage open to the work of the Holy Spirit is foundational to the domestic church – just as it is the Holy Spirit Who animates the life of the universal Church.
Once a month in our parish – at Mass before the final blessing, married couples with wedding anniversaries on that particular month are asked to stand up. The celebrating priest gives them a blessing and the whole congregation joins in the prayer. This gesture not only shows the Church thanking these couples for their witness of married love, but it also shows the vocation of marriage as belonging to the greater Church.
In our domestic church, the celebration of wedding anniversaries must include a spiritual component, perhaps by going to Mass or voicing a prayer of thanksgiving and renewal of the commitment to love. This not only reminds us that our vocation of marriage is our call from God, but also to communicate to our children that they are part of God’s call for our family. Most importantly, we ask God for the grace to continue to live out our marriage vows.
A Missionary Marriage
United together in Christ, the Christian marriage is a missionary marriage. Christian parents take on Jesus’ mission – to bring all people to union with God, the Father, “so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” (John 17:21).
Christian parents consider their family as the first mission field. As leaders of our families, we – parents are the “first heralds of the Good News to our children.” Spouses must be united in mind and heart to build the family as a domestic church. Marital unity is essential to our vocation as parents.
The unity of husbands and wives face many challenges today and obstacles may seem insurmountable. Many resources available for Christian couples are certainly helpful and effective. Lest we forget, it is sin that undermines, breaks, and destroys loving spousal relationships. Sin, not only affronts God’s love, but in many instances, offends married love and unity. Because the spousal relationship is a primary relationship in the day-to-day living, it is open to many opportunities to selfishness or pride. Sin separates, weakens, even kills the relationship with God and with a spouse. Reconciliation is the answer when sin creates gaps and chasms in relationships.
As Catholics, we know that when we go to the confessional with a repentant heart, the priest – in the Person of Jesus and in the name of the Church, absolves sins. We ask God for forgiveness as we ask our spouse or children for forgiveness, and as we also forgive family members for their faults against us. Reconciliation restores unity – with God and with others.
The Eucharist – Source of Unity
The most efficacious source of unity for husbands and wives is the Holy Eucharist because this union is brought about by our union in Jesus. Spouses not only have the one-flesh union in conjugal love, a union of minds in our shared Catholic Faith, a union of hearts in the intimate sharing of inner lives, but also a spiritual union forged by the Holy Spirit. To meet the full demands of true marital love, we receive grace to follow Jesus in His self-sacrificial love so that our spouses and our children may have abundant life.
As Catholic couples and parents, we remain deeply grateful to the Church for the source of grace to faithfully live out our vocation. The building of our family as a domestic church in turn comes as a significant service to strengthen the universal Church today. Only in holy marriages and holy families centered on Jesus and united with the Church can we take up the Church’s identity and mission to go out and evangelize in the power of the Holy Spirit.