When my late husband, Chris, and I composed one of our first publications we called it BECOMING MARRIED – SACRAMENT FOR LIFE. There are a few ways to interpret that and maybe the narrowest way became the obvious one. Becoming Married has been seen as marriage preparation, and yet it should refer to the journey of a lifetime, of married life and love. Sacrament for life can be seen as being for the whole of life, but also as being life-giving, to the couple in their own relationship as well as in the co-creation with God of a child.
The whole concept of lifegiving is one of the deepest and richest theological and spiritual insights given to the Church, and to society too. It needs to be understood and valued as something unique to marriage. Many theologians and certainly Pope Francis too in Amoris Laetitia 11-13, and Laudato Si 240, have compared marriage to God as Trinity and so at this moment in the Church, an Amoris Laetitia year, and looking ahead to the World Meeting of Families in June 2022 there is an urgency to promote this ideal. Pope Francis, in an aside, refers to Valentine’s Day on 14 Feb and the greater awareness of its potential in the commercial world. At the same time he reminds us too that no family drops down from heaven perfectly formed (AL325) and has the need for growth and maturing. In other words, “Becoming Married.”
A gift to us from Marriage Encounter, lifegiving, had been a foundational principle in our life and ministry and after Chris’ death remains so for me, even in widowhood. Let’s unpack it a little further. An article, probably by Fr Chuck Gallagher the ME guru, undated and unsigned but from my files in the 1980s, refers to 5 elements of ifegiving: 1. Life. 2. Physical, 3, psychological, 4. Mental. 5 spiritual. Other relationships can be lifegiving in some of those ways, in combination or isolation, but unique to marriage is the package deal. Sex has that unique potential for physical life and in the context of a loving relationship provides for the other elements. Within my more recent environmental area of interest it has become more clear that sexual reproduction, in almost every animal and plant, is another aspect of God’s creative plan. We, humans, are the most highly developed and are both responsible and irresponsible in caring for and sustaining creation. This is an awesome God-given task requiring much more and greater emphasis in the world today, which seems to have forgotten or dismissed God as creator.
But back to marriage. I have written of marriage as a sexual sacrament as well as a neglected sacrament, a sacrament of joy as well as pain, of loss and of gain and it remains so in the Church and the world, but sadly, overall, in decreasing numbers. Is it because of lack of theological and spiritual understanding from those who teach and those who model, or of the influence of secularism in the modern world? After all the Bible says, “See how those Christians love one another!” We should be saying “see how those couples love one another, their life-giving love, with no, one or many children, is a sign to us of God present in the world.” I can’t put it better than Fr Chuck in his prayer OUR FATHER’S CALL TO A COUPLE” which accompanied the Evenings for the Engaged programme and surely is a very meaningful reflection for the upcoming WORLD MARRIAGE DAY on 13th February. .