Monday, June 28, 2010

The SACRAMENT of Marriage

Too often, we married couples forget that our marriages are Sacraments and Vocations - a way of living our lives to better understand God, who is Love. We are called to this Sacrament every bit as much as priest or religious is called to their respective vocations. We forget this in the midst of vacuuming, fumbling with the remote, trying to get the car fixed, balancing bills into what we need vs. what we want. We forget in the midst of doctor visits, soccer games, meetings, arguments, hilarious comedies, and heart-wrenching tragedy, that God is with us in a very real sense - again, every bit as much as He is present in ordained or consecrated life.

Valerie Shultz, a blogger for AMERICA magazine, weaves this idea of modern marriage as a Sacrament and invitation to God to be in our lives in a real tangible sense into the following article. It was written in 2002, in the context of Pope John Paul II's beatification of a married couple who became celibate after they had their children. Ms. Shultz rightly asks why this was made so prominent in their cause for beatification:


My marriage is not what saints are made of. I concluded this after reading Pope John Paul II’s homily on the occasion of the first-ever beatification of a married couple, Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi. Maria and Luigi, an Italian couple who lived in early to mid-20th century, led holy lives. They attended daily Mass, prayed a nightly rosary and raised two priests, a consecrated lay woman and a nun. They devoted their lives to various Catholic organizations. Because the cause for canonization treated the two together, a single miracle attributed to their intercession cleared the way for beatification in October 2001. The prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints considered them together because of “their experience of sanctity, lived together so intimately.” In other words, their marriage made it impossible to separate them.

The part that remains off the record is that, after giving birth to their children, Maria and Luigi stopped having sex....But if marriage is a source of sacramental grace, why are we as a church so uncomfortable about sex?When two people who chose celibacy as a way of becoming closer to God are beatified as a married couple, the message to us married people is mixed. Because we are the ones who are supposed to be having sex! We are allowed and encouraged to have sex. We are the celebration of sex. All of those shoes and backpacks in a pile in my front hall belong to the embodiments of sex. I’m taking a Catholic stand when I say that sex is good.

Of course I am not talking about casual, sporting, movie sex. I’m talking about married sex: user-friendly, loving, unitive, procreative—and also, to be honest, hot, satisfying and the most fun of all earthly pleasures. Married sex may not always be glamorous and candle-lit. But intercourse is the closest one can be to another human being. It is a bond, a sharing, a trust, a deeply intimate human encounter. It is no wonder that the relationship of Christ to the church is modeled on that of a groom and bride: we are to be that connected.

The pope sees the Beltrames as “confirmation that the path of holiness lived together as a couple is possible, beautiful, extraordinarily fruitful, and fundamental for the good of the family, the church and society.” As my children say: totally. We married people are on the path of holiness as surely as anyone else who is following the call of a vocation. While I respect the choice the Beltrames made on their journey to God, I do not believe post-children celibacy is necessary for a marriage to become holier. God can also be in the tangled sheets and tangy sweat on skin.

Is this shocking? It should not be. We are designed for this perfect fit. For biblical proof, I offer the glowing embers from the Song of Songs.

Says the bride:

“Awake, north wind, and come,
south wind;
blow upon my garden that its
perfumes may pour forth,
that my beloved may come to his
garden and enjoy its rare fruits.” (4:16)

Says the bridegroom:
“May I find your breasts like
clusters of grapes on the vine, the
scent of your breath like apricots,
and your whispers like spiced
wine flowing smoothly to we
come my caresses, gliding
down through lips and teeth.” (7:8-9)

The bride and bridegroom sing a delicious, teasing ode to sex, full of juicy and physical imagery, with which any happily married couple would agree. Sex is that good, and we thank God for this gift. Too often we Catholics treat sex as an impediment to the mission of marriage rather than a glorious manifestation and integral piece of that mission. We view sex as a necessary evil, prone to abuse and scandal, rather than a transcendent joy.

...In our house on a typical night, one may not find a rosary in use. But there are bedtime prayers and blessings, hugs and kisses, a spirit of love, the quiet world turning and maybe even the lovemaking of two searching, aging, journeying, married souls. In our house can be found the reach for what is holy—even though there are no resident saints.

And as an aside, for those of you who like a hot romance story, read more of Song of Songs; STEAMY stuff! ;)

Daily Mass Readings
Amos 2:6-10,13-16
Psalm 50:16-23
Matthew 8:18-22