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Marriage: The Real Presence

Marriage is a covenant “yes” to Christ, whose Spirit desires to be the bonding force of the spouses’ one flesh, one mind, one heart, and one spirit.

by Dr. Tom NealNovember 19, 2018

I’m searching for a sign,
been looking way too high.
Heart in the trenches,
head in the heavens (BØRNS)

Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ’s redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect. (Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes)

In Judaism and Christianity, one thing is exceedingly clear: God wishes to be loved principally in and through the neighbor. Period.

God sealed this by himself becoming human, thereby making it, in a quite literal sense, impossible to love him except in and though—and never apart from—human beings. And so the God-Man says, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This means that the Christian never seek fulfillment in “God alone.” To enter into the “union of love” with God is, of necessity, to enter into union of love with humanity, i.e., with the real people around you. Especially the ones hardest to love.

This is precisely the meaning of 1 John 4:20: “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

Marriage is the most extreme and radical form of neighbor-love in all of creation, as you promise the entirety of yourself to one human being, pledging on your wedding day to set out on a journey to become one body-mind-spirit with your spouse. Pope Benedict affirmed that “marriage is a union for the whole of life, until the man and woman become one spirit as well.” From a biblical perspective, that affirmation is breathtaking. The spirit is the deepest depth of the human person, our capacity for union with the infinite God—“anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Cor. 6:17).

And so I am invited to share with my wife my most intimate union with God in the depths of my spirit. For Patti, I renounce all “private property,” from my body (1 Cor. 7:4) down even into the spaces of my secret depths, my spirit. I am not my own. My very union with God is hers, and hers is mine (1 Cor. 7:14).

“What God has joined man must not divide” (Mark 10:9) refers not just to a contractual agreement to remain together as a couple for a whole lifetime. It is a covenant “yes” to Christ, whose Spirit desires to be the bonding force of our one flesh, one mind, one heart, and one spirit. The “joining” is not just of the spouses to each other, but of both to God.

Which is why we chose John 17:21-27 as our nuptial Mass Gospel:

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you,
may they also be in us,
so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
The glory that you have given me I have given them,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may become completely one,
so that the world may know
that you have sent me and have loved them
even as you have loved me.

To me, though, what is most magnificent of all is that this high vocation to such a mind-bending depth of mystical marital unity is not some sweet and sappy pious fantasy for the very few couples who get along famously or spend their date nights at Holy Hours. No! It’s for any couple, or even any one spouse, willing to daily hand over to Christ the indestructible resolve to love through all of the joys and heartaches, dances and arguments, ecstasies and agonies; the fun, funny, irritating, drab, dreary, dreamy, energizing, exhausting moments that pulse at the heart of real marriage and real family. That’s the stuff of real union.

Why? Because Christ’s journey to the union of love with his spouse—the human race—was marked by joys and heartaches, dances and arguments, ecstasies and agonies; the fun, funny, irritating, drab, dreary, dreamy, energizing, exhausting moments. Because of this (what a relief!) Patti and my marriage-family potpourri gets caught up into divine love—paschal love—and serves as our royal road to union with God.

Wherever the Real Presence is, there is reality, redeemed.

About the Author

Dr. Tom Neal

Dr. Tom Neal

Dr. Tom Neal presently serves as Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans...

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