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Natural Family Planning Class - Sympto-Thermal NFP method
Homily on Marriage
By Saint John Chrysostom
|...let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife that she reverence her husband. (Eph. 5:33)|
A certain wise man, when enumerating which blessings are the most important included "a wife and husband who live in harmony (Sir. 25:1). In another place he emphasized this: "A friend or a companion never meets one amiss, but a wife with her husband is better than both." (Sir. 40:23). From the beginning God in His providence has planned this union of man and woman, and has spoken of the two as one: male and female He created them (Gen. 1:27), and there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). There is no relationship between human beings so close as that of husband and wife, if they are united as they ought to be. When blessed David was mourning for Jonathan, who was of one soul with him, what comparison did he use to describe the loftiness of their love? Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women (II Sam. 1:26). The power of this love is truly stronger than any passion; other desires may be strong, but this one alone never fades. This love (eros) is deeply planted within our inmost being. Unnoticed by us, it attracts the bodies of men and women to each other, because in the beginning woman came forth from man, and from man and woman other men and women proceed. Can you see now how close this union is, and how God providentially created it from a single nature? He permitted Adam to marry Eve, who was more than sister or daughter; she was his own flesh! God caused the entire human race to proceed from this one point of origin. He did not, on the one hand, fashion woman independently from man, otherwise man would think of her as essentially different from himself. Nor did He enable woman to bear children without man; if this were the case she would be self-sufficient. Instead, just as the branches of a tree proceed from a single trunk, He made the one man Adam to be the origin of all mankind, both male and female, and made it impossible for men and women to be self-sufficient. Later, He forbade men to marry their sisters or daughters, so that our love would not be limited to members of our families, and withdrawn from the rest of the human race. All of this is implied in Christ's words: He who made them from the beginning made them male and female (Matt. 19:4).
The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together. Men will take up arms and even sacrifice their lives for the sake of this love. St. Paul would not speak so earnestly about this subject without serious reason; why else would he say, Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord? Because when harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both for families and states, are thus produced. When it is otherwise however, everything is thrown into confusion and turned upside down. When the generals of an army are at peace with each other, everything proceeds in an orderly fashion, and when they are not, everything is in disarray. It is the same here. For the sake of harmony, then, he said, Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord ....
Let us assume, then, that the husband is to occupy the place of the head, and the wife that of the body, and listen to what "headship" means: For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and He is the Saviour of the Body. There fore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let wives be subject to their own husbands in everything. Notice that after saying the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, he immediately says that the Church is His Body, and He is Himself its Saviour. It is the head that upholds the well-being of the body. In his other epistles Paul has already laid the foundations of marital love, and has assigned to husband and wife each his proper place: to the husband one of leader and provider, and to the wife one of submission. Therefore as the Church is subject to Christ--and the Church, remember, consists of both husbands and wives---so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands, as to God.
You have heard how important obedience is; you have praised and marveled at Paul, how he welds our whole life together, as we would expect from an admirable and spiritual man. You have done well. But now listen to what else he requires from you; he has not finished with his example. Husbands, he says, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. You have seen the amount of obedience necessary; now hear about the amount of love necessary. Do you want your wife to be obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ? Then be responsible for the same providential care of her, as Christ is for the Church. And even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and even to endure and undergo suffering of any kind, do not refuse. Even though you undergo all this, you will never have done anything equal to what Christ has done. You are sacrificing yourself for someone to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself up for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way, then, as He honored her by putting at His feet one who turned her back on Him, who hated, rejected, and disdained Him as tie accomplished this not with threats, or violence, or terror, or anything else like that, but through His untiring love; so also you should behave toward your wife. Even if you see her belittling you, or despising and mocking you, still you will be able to subject her to yourself, through affection, kindness, and your great regard for her. There is no influence more powerful than the bond of love, especially for husband and wife. A servant can be taught submission through fear; but even he, if provoked too much, will soon seek his escape. But one's partner for life, the mother of one's children, the source of one's every joy, should never be fettered with fear and threats, but with love and patience. What kind of marriage can there be when the wife is afraid of her husband? What sort of satisfaction could a husband himself have, if he lives with his wife as if she were a slave, and not with a woman by her own free will? Suffer anything for her sake, but never disgrace her, for Christ never did this with the Church. /.../
Paul has precisely described for husband and wife what is fitting behavior for each: she should reverence him as the head and he should love her as his body. But how is this behavior achieved? That it must be is clear; now I will tell you how. It will be achieved if we are detached from money, if we strive above everything for virtue, if we keep the fear of God before our eyes. What Paul says to servants in the next chapter applies to us as well, ...knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same again from the Lord (Eph. 6:8). Love her not so much for her own sake, but for Christ's sake. That is why he says, be subject...as to the Lord. Do everything for the Lord's sake, in a spirit of obedience to Him. These words should be enough to convince us to avoid quarrels and disagreements. No husband should believe any accusation he hears from a third party about his wife, and vice versa; nor should a wife unreasonably monitor her huband's comings and going, provided that he has always shown himself to be above suspicion. And what if you devote the day to your work and your friends, and the evening to your wife; but she is still not satisfied, but is jealous for more of your time? Don't be annoyed by her complaints; she loves you, she is not behaving absurdly--her complaints come from her fervent affection for you, and from fear. Yes, she is afraid that her marriage bed will be stolen, that someone will deprive her of her greatest blessing, that someone will take from her him who is her head.
A wife should never nag her husband: "You lazy coward, you have no ambition! Look at our relatives and neighbors; they have plenty of money. Their wives have far more than I do." Let no wife say any such thing; she is her husband's body, and it is not for her to dictate to her head, but to submit and obey. "But why should she endure poverty?" some will ask. If she is poor, let her console herself by thinking of those who are much poorer still. If she really loved her husband, she would never speak to him like that, but would value having him close to her more than all the gold in the world....Furnish your house neatly and soberly. If the bridegroom shows his wife that he takes no pleasure in worldly excess, and will not stand for it, their marriage will remain free from the evil influences that are so popular these days. Let them shun the immodest music and dancing that are currently so fashionable.
I am aware that many people think me ridiculous for giving such advice; but if you listen to me, you will understand the advantages of a sober lifestyle more and more as time goes on. You will no longer laugh at me, but will laugh instead at the way people live now like silly children or drunken men. What is our duty, then? Remove from your lives shameful, immodest, and Satanic music, and don't associate with people who enjoy such profligate entertainment. When your bride sees your manner of life, she will say to herself, "Wonderful! What a wise man my husband is! He regards this passing life as nothing; he bas married me to be a good mother for his children and a prudent manager of his household." Will this sort of life be distasteful for a young bride? Only perhaps for the shortest time, and soon she will discover how delightful it is to live this way. She will retain her modesty if you retain yours. Don't engage in idle conversations; it never profits anyone to talk too much. Whenever you give your wife advice, always begin by telling her how much you love her. Nothing will persuade her so well to admit the wisdom of your words as her assurance that you are speaking to her with sincere affection. Tell her that you are convinced that money is not important, that only thieves thirst for it constantly, that you love her more than gold; and indeed an intelligent, discreet and pious young woman is worth more than all the money in the world. Show her that you value her company, and prefer being at home to being out. Esteem her in the presence of your friends and children. Pray together at home and go to Church; when you come back home, let each ask the other the meaning of the readings and the prayers. If you are overtaken by poverty, remember Peter and Paul, who were more honored than kings or rich men, though they spent their lives in hunger and thirst. Remind one another that nothing in life is to be feared, except offending God. If your marriage is like this, your perfection will rival the holiest of monks.
If we seek the things that are perfect, the secondary things will follow. The Lord says, Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you (Matt. 6:33). What sort of person do you think the children of such parents will be? What kind of person are all the others who associate with them? Will they not eventually be the recipients of countless blessings as well? For generally the children acquire the character of their parents, are formed in the mold .of their parents' temperament, love the same things their parents love, talk in the same fashion, and work for the same ends. If we order our lives in this way and diligently study the Scriptures, we will find lessons to guide us in everything we need!
A selection from On Marriage and Family Life by St. John Chrysostom, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1986. Reprinted by kind permission of the publisher.
Christian Marriage: Model, Mystery and Mission
By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church."
St. Paul, Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 5, verse 33
I was recently asked to give one of the talks in the Pre-Marital Program of my Diocese. It was to be entitled "The Sacrament of Marriage." I was happy to do so. I have lived the vocation of Marriage in Christ for thirty years. And, I know that it is just that - a vocation - a call to follow the Lord in a specific way and, in so doing, to grow in holiness, participate in the very life of God and in the continuing mission of Jesus Christ as He walks it out through His Body, the Church, of which the domestic Church of the Christian family is a cell.
Wow. That’s a big sentence isn’t it?
Well, that is because Christian marriage is a big vocation. I am also convinced that the witness of faithful Christian marriage and family is of profound and prophetic importance in this unfaithful age that is so desperately in need of seeing true love manifested.
The assembled couples had already heard other talks on a range of topics such as communications skills, finances, and other "practical" subjects; all intended to assist them as they live out the daily realities of married life. However, as I looked at the materials, I was not really sure that they had been introduced to the foundational vision for this call that they were responding to; this vocation to Marriage in Christ, this way of holiness and call to ecclesial mission. I also thought that the order of the talks was wrong. After all, it is hard to learn how to live in a house if you do not first know the floor plan or the architecture. There is an architecture, what philosophers call an "ontology" - an "essence" - an identity, to Marriage in Christ. After all, it is a Sacrament of the Church, a very participation in the life of God, a manifestation - in the real world - of His presence and purpose, a source of continual grace, a call to holiness, a model, a mystery and a mission.
Is it being taught that way?
Are Christian couples really being "prepared" for Marriage "in Christ," as a true spiritual vocation? In our contemporary neo-pagan world, are Christian couples aware of the evangelistic and prophetic witness of their life together and the ecclesial dimension of their vocation? If not, not only is it a shame, because they will really truly need such instruction to live in fidelity and love in an age that has little tolerance for such things, but it is also a true loss to the Church in this new missionary age into which she is called to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. After all, Christian families are the little platoons, the missionary units of the New Evangelization.
So, I tried to do my part. I gave my talk as a "vocations talk." Perhaps some of my readers are old enough to remember Father coming to the elementary parochial school for that "talk." Back then, the word "vocation" was often limited to vocations to the priesthood and religious life, which, of course, are wonderful vocations. How desperately we need more of them both in this Third Christian Millennium. However, Marriage in Christ is a vocation as well. At the root of the word vocation is the latin "vocatio," to follow a voice. It is the Lord Himself who calls people to Christian Marriage. It is also the model of the vocation of the entire Church. Jesus is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride. This is sometimes called "the great analogy" in theological reflections on St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. However, these words present more than an analogy; they reveal a "mystery." The Greek word "mysterion," is the word that in the West has been rendered "Sacrament." In the Eastern Christian Churches, the Sacraments are called the "Mysteries." Why? Because their depth and meaning are beyond our mere words and our own limited human comprehension. They are not so much meant to be comprehended by us, rather they comprehend us.
We westerners, in our "Cartesian" approach to knowledge, tend to try to "mathematicize" everything, thinking this will help us come to know. But in the realm of the spiritual, in the realities of faith, such an approach to knowledge is inadequate. "Mystery" in the biblical, philosophical and theological sense of the Christian Tradition is not about a puzzle to be solved but rather an invitation to participation in the very life of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a communion of Three Divine Persons in Perfect Love and Perfect Unity. Marriage in Christ actually invites us into the very life of God. The letter to the Ephesians is one of the most mature and well-developed expression of a "theology of Christian Marriage" found in the entire New Testament. This letter helps us to understand what it means to be a Christian - whether we live the Christian vocation as a consecrated celibate or a married follower of Jesus Christ – because it unpacks the deeper meaning of the nuptial mystery.
The heart of the Christian vocation is broken open in this deep letter and summarized in chapter five. There is a nuptial meaning to all of our lives and our eternal destiny is modeled in Christian marriage. God fashioned us out of love and for love. We have been created, constituted - spiritually as well as physically - for the gift of ourselves to the other. Through that gift we give ourselves to God in Christ and in Christ for the world. God’s eternal plan is to "marry" the Church. That plan unfolds now in Christ. That is why this letter to the Ephesians needs to become the Biblical ground for instruction on Christian marriage. Its singular intent is to communicate the profound "mystery" of Christian marriage - God thought first of the spousal union of Christ and His bride, the Church, and He then made husband and wife look like it!
In the order of creation, something of this "plan hidden from the ages" (Ephesians 3:8-9) is revealed; however in Christian Marriage, through its participation in and with Jesus Christ, it is all elevated and transformed. The good of the very human relationship of marriage becomes a real, substantial participation in Trinitarian Love! It is here where the rich development of the writings of Pope John Paul II will be so helpful in opening up a deeper understanding of the nuptial language of the Body and the truth concerning baptized Christian marriage as both a vocation and call to holiness. His teachings need to be unpacked and ordered into a comprehensive catechesis for Christian marriage. My experience in this class reminded me of the utmost importance of that task.
The passage with which I began this reflection explains it is so vital. Christian Marriage is a model, a mystery and a mission in the Church, for the Church and for the world. It reveals the unfolding of Gods plan for the entire human race. This is why it is being so fiercely attacked in some quarters! Nature is for grace and the order of creation is transformed by the order of redemption. The married couple lives their vocation now "in Christ" and participates in His very life and action with His bride, the Church. This is the great "mysterion" Paul so profoundly alludes to in his text. Within this "hermeneutic," this lens, the entire teaching in this text opens up and reveals the splendor of the face of Christ.
The key to living Christian Marriage as a vocation is coming to understand Christian love as the self-emptying "kenotic" love of Jesus Christ being lived out vocationally. St. Paul writes: "Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2: 5-11)
The word translated "emptied Himself" in this text is "kenosis" in the Greek. It literally means to be poured out. My favorite Eastern Icon, the one before which I pray every day, is called "Divine Humility." It is this passage, written in the language of mystery. It depicts the Son of God, who is True God and True Man, condescending out of love to enter the tomb so that we can now enter into the eternal communion of Love. If God so loves us that He empties Himself, in Christ, so are we called to love one another now, and capacitated in Christ, by grace, to do so, in return. This participation in the vocation of loving "in Christ" is now possible because Christ's love has been concretized and made available through His death and resurrection. The same Spirit, which raised Him from the dead, is now at work in sacramental Christian marriage.
The vocation of Christian marriage is thus a means of grace and a sign of Christ's love for the Church. This way of loving can never be seen in a "power matrix;" a model where the spouses struggle against one another for dominance. Rather, it must be lived and demonstrated in a poured out love in the order of Christ on the Cross. It is there, on Golgotha’s Hill, where He espouses His Bride, the Church, to Himself. It is there, in the kenosis of Christian marriage that those called to the vocation, join with Him.
As I shared this kind of "vocations" vision with the thirty couples who were assembled for this talk, I could tell that I was treading on new turf. I tried, though the subject makes it a bit difficult, to keep my presentation "rooted" in the real. After all, I have lived this vocation for thirty years with my wonderful partner in faith and ministry, my beloved bride. We have raised five children (though you never stop "parenting") and now we have begun now with grandchildren. It has been a very "real" way of love, one filled with struggle, mistakes, pain, failures and all the "real" stuff of human living. It has also been filled with joy, human flourishing and grace, ah, yes, most of all, grace; that beautiful unmerited experience of the gratuitous love of God in Christ. We have experienced the endless resources of the Sacrament, going back to the well, over and over again, through prayer, and receiving all that we needed.
I drew from the experiences of three decades, in order to put the "Mystery" of Christian Marriage inan "incarnational" framework for these wonderful couples. I gave the talk as a "Vocations" talk, presenting the truth of Christian Marriage as model, mystery and mission. I wanted them to come to know that in this faithful committed loving relationship, called Christian Marriage, there is a real participation in Trinitarian love. Husband and wife are invited to "become one," and in so doing to manfest the very life of God. Yet, in the gift of self to their spouse, they also discover their uniqueness and their "otherness."
I spoke freely of the gift, beauty and dignity of conjugal love and the conjugal act. I explained the reasons for the Church’s teaching that the conjugal act must always be open to new life. I spoke of this insistence on the on both the unitive and the procreative dimension of the marital act as a part of a much deeper understanding of who we are, how our bodies were fashioned to speak the language of love and gift, and of who we are called to be in Jesus Christ. I explained why love must always to be open to new life. I spoke of the Church’s teaching on that openness to life not as a "proscription" but as a prescription, a path to holiness, freedom and joy, the way to a full and rich experience of love, life and mission. Drawing on my own lived experience, I explained the asymmetry to all of this, as there is to so much of the Christian life. I told them that they will discover, in grace, that they can give themselves away in an ever-fresh way – actually "lose themselves" in Christ and for the other – yet still find themselves anew. This is the paradox presented by the Gospel; Love is self-donation in communion.
I told them that in Christian Marriage the world is meant to glimpse the inner life of the Trinity - absolute equality but infinite difference - held together in perfect unity by Love. The early Church Fathers called the dynamic inner life of the Trinity, "perichoresis," a Greek word literally meaning the "dance" of love. Every Christian married couple is invited into this dance, in the real day to day living out of their vocation in Christ. In this dance they can prophetically show forth the destiny of the entire Church. The model of Divine Love witnessed in Christian Marriage is a manifestation of what theologians call nuptiality.
I explained that this nuptial mystery also lies at the heart of the Christian vocation to consecrated celibacy. But whereas the participation in this mystery called Christian Marriage is mediated through a spouse, in the life to come it will be unmediated! The Scriptures make it clear; there will be no specific marriages in heaven. Rather, we will be "like the angels." (St. Matthew 22:30) Yet, marriage is the eschatological destiny of all Christians, because we will be married to Christ. It is within this deeper understanding that consecrated celibacy is to be seen. It is a prophetic and eschatological participation in that eternal union. It is the "immediate" or "unmediated" spousal love of God, in Christ, made possible in the "here and now" by call and election. This gift of consecrated Christian celibacy "for the kingdom," like Christian marriage, is understandable only by virtue of the "new" made present in Jesus Christ.
I told them that in the life to come, we who have been baptized into Christ will live the "Communio Personarum" of the eschaton, married to God in Christ. There will be no giving or taking in specific marriage as Jesus said. Not because we will not be physical, for we will be resurrected "body – persons", but because we will be "espoused" forever as Church in Christ. To begin to truly understand the mystery of Christian Marriage is to begin to understand the beauty of Christian celibacy for the Kingdom. In the "end" (which is the beginning), God's power will transform the Cosmos, the entire created order. God will give Himself in Love to the whole universe, which will be reconstituted in Christ.
We will receive transformed bodies. Then Christ will be "all in all." Resurrection will be the perfect participation of what is physical with what is spiritual; a new spiritualization of the entire psychosomatic subjectivity of the person. Consecrated celibacy is participation - even now - in that forever. It shows forth the final Spousal Union, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
Oh, I know, all of this is very deep stuff. But, that is what really makes it so very important. Christian marriage is meant to be, well, Christian. That is why I am even more convinced then ever, after this experience, that it is so important that couples preparing for Christian marriage be evangelized, catechized and then commissioned. At the very least, they should be given a vocations talk. Christian Marriage can only be lived, in its fullness, in Christ.
In his letter to the Ephesians, particularly in its fifth chapter, St. Paul gives us the Magnus Opus of Christian Marriage. The profundity of its insights cannot be overstated. It is no surprise that this letter is increasingly controversial in this narcissistic age. However, it is not just the theologians (who are unfortunately "missing the mark" more often than not) who need to explain the depth of its meaning and message. This task will require the stalwart and prophetic witness of Christian married couples who are genuinely converted and living out this vision of Christian marriage and family.
When this occurs, the Church will have a great resource in her work of the New Evangelization. The "domestic church" in the home can become a frontline in the missionary work of the Third Millennium. What the Catholic Church teaches about Christian marriage is the liberating message for this age, as it is for every age, precisely because it presents the mystery of eternity made manifest in the here and now.
Marriage in Christ is a "Mystery", meant to be lived, a model, meant to be imitated, and a mission, that needs to find its fullness. That will require a new catechesis. Nothing less will suffice.
By the way, after giving this talk, I wasn’t sure what the group, of for that matter, the sponsor, thought. It was not a "light" presentation. To my delight, I have been invited back next month to give it to another group of couples preparing to live the mystery.
Deacon Keith Fournier is a married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy with permission. He is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is a human rights lawyer, policy activist and consultant. Deacon Fournier is the author of seven books and his eighth "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life" will be available in June. He is the Senior Editor of Catholic Online and a Contributing Editor of Traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports.