The Great Adventure Blog – The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Wed, 03 Apr 2019 20:38:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Ultimate Guide to Running a Catholic Bible Study Fri, 30 Nov 2018 15:46:35 +0000 Starting a Catholic Bible study can be intimidating—but we’re here to help!

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What If We Just Wrote About What We Believed? Thu, 09 Aug 2018 17:59:25 +0000 Just write.

This has been my mantra for the better portion of my life, and it has gotten me into some pretty tight spots and heated debates, some scolding admonishments and some harsh criticisms. The bad has outweighed the good, so why do I continue? Why does anyone, for that matter, bother to communicate in this most cumbersome form when it leaves one so vulnerable in so many ways?

It is for that very reason, actually. It is because writing makes one so vulnerable that it remains, I would argue, the most respectable form of communication. My readers can easily go back and dissect every word, point out precisely where I am wrong, where I digressed. Every error sits there on display on the page for all to see. If we misspeak in conversation, it is often forgiven. If we misspell a word while texting, it is usually pardoned. If we curse on a social media forum, no one bats an eye. In all of these forms of communication, the one who points out a grammar, spelling, or vocabulary error is usually considered a scrupulous curmudgeon. If someone points out the same errors in an article, though, he is called an editor. If we write an article, even on the increasingly informal internet, we are held to a certain standard of perfection.

You can thank the many great classic writers who came before us for this display of uncompromising writing etiquette. Anyone can come up with a good idea and jot it down on paper, but it takes a devoted man or woman of letters to weave it and iron it out so it is an elegant fabric of words that simultaneously delights the mind and rolls off the tongue of those who read it. What I mean to say is, in a world where it’s becoming easier and easier to communicate ideas, it is also ironically becoming harder and harder to understand those ideas when they are communicated. That is because we have spent so much time inventing new ways to communicate and so little time mastering the actual communication part. It’s as if the means of communication today are many rooms in a beautiful mansion, but all of those rooms are in disarray. They’re filled with boxes we need to unpack.

A Call to Evangelize with Words

So let’s start communicating. The stage is set for a renaissance of ideas. I am reminded of how vulnerable Jesus had to become on the Cross to communicate his message of love in a way that was universally understood. I don’t mean to equate any vulnerability we experience as writers with what Jesus experienced on the Cross, but he did set an example in his proclamation of the truth, which led him to Calvary. When Caiaphas asked him if he was the Son of God, he said:

“You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

When Pontius Pilate asked him if he was a king, he said:

“You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37).

Engaging the Culture: Helpful or Harmful?

Jesus didn’t compromise or soften the truth to make it more acceptable to his accusers, even though he knew his words would lead him to his death. I often wonder if our desire to engage the culture leads us away from this kind of straightforwardness. Our method of evangelizing today aims to meet people where they are, and this is an admirable approach that complements Pope St. John Paul’s II challenge to engage the culture as a part of the New Evangelization. This approach encourages us to truly understand the person we are evangelizing before we actually share with him or her the gospel message. The idea is to find common ground with the person first.  Then, once that connection is established, the hope is that the gospel message will flow more naturally from us to the other person.

Pope St. John Paul II described this approach in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio:

“Missionaries, who come from other churches and countries, must immerse themselves in the cultural milieu of those to whom they are sent, moving beyond their own cultural limitations. Hence they must learn the language of the place in which they work, become familiar with the most important expressions of the local culture, and discover its values through direct experience. Only if they have this kind of awareness will they be able to bring to people the knowledge of the hidden mystery (cf. Rom 16:25-27; Eph 3:5) in a credible and fruitful way. It is not of course a matter of missionaries renouncing their own cultural identity, but of understanding, appreciating, fostering and evangelizing the culture of the environment in which they are working, and therefore of equipping themselves to communicate effectively with it, adopting a manner of living which is a sign of gospel witness and of solidarity with the people” (Redemptoris Missio, 53).

As a general approach to evangelizing a culture, and in a more specific sense as an approach for evangelizing individuals, meeting people where they are is a commendable way to reach people with the gospel.

However, this approach comes with its set of dangers. One danger is that the culture may end up evangelizing us, rather than allowing us to evangelize it. Another danger is that we may end up muffling the message of the gospel and diluting its power. Pope St. John Paul II warns against this in the same encyclical:

“At the same time [inculturation] is a difficult process, for it must in no way compromise the distinctiveness and integrity of the Christian faith” (RM, 52).

The inculturation method of evangelization works well with those who are not familiar with the gospel, but I don’t think it’s as effective in a culture like our own, one that, as Pope St. John Paul II would describe, is among those cultures that:

“have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel” (RM, 33).

The problem with the inculturation approach in today’s culture is that, more often than not, the people we are trying to evangelize have already heard the gospel and have been indoctrinated against it by the media, academia, a friend or family member, or some combination of those. Because of this, we are already a step behind understanding the person when we assume that we simply need to find some clever way to share the gospel with others, a way that they can relate to and appreciate. They’re bound to see this effort to find common ground as nothing more than a game of hide and seek with a toddler. They may play along and pretend they have no idea we are trying to evangelize them, but they know exactly where we stand. When push comes to shove, they will make it abundantly clear that they have no intention of changing their minds. Meanwhile, I’ve found that many well-intending Catholics, myself included, have placed themselves in some questionable situations while using “engaging the culture” and “meeting people where they are” as their excuse.

Is There Another Way?

Considering this unique cultural climate, a devout Catholic finds himself in a difficult situation when he takes his calling to evangelize seriously. After careful evaluation, he may conclude that the only way to reach people in today’s culture is by unabashedly hoisting up the gospel message like a crucifix is raised up before and after Mass, rather than disguising it in a haphazard attempt to find common ground that often turns out to be precarious.

Just as Jesus boldly spoke the truth, the apostles did the same and it led to their deaths. Many saints after them were also martyred for their straightforward proclamation of the gospel, and we have their writings and those of the apostles as proof. We live in a much safer society today, where our religious freedom is not as threatened—but, with the far reach of the internet and social media, we are faced with a different, albeit less threatening, kind of danger. If we proclaim the gospel unabashedly on the internet, our name and reputation may become the martyrs. We run the risk of being verbally attacked, scolded, criticized, and calumniated on all our online accounts and in person. Libel and defamation become an everyday reality for us. So, if we are shying away from sharing our faith online, we may use the excuse that we are simply muffling the message in order to reach people in a more subtle, tasteful, and effective way—but it may be wise to ask ourselves, are we toning down the message to evangelize more effectively, or are we doing it simply to protect our name and reputation?

Back to the Basics

Just write. I decided to write this article because I noticed how foolish my reasons for not writing more often have been: What if people don’t like my ideas? What if someone decides to tear them apart and point out all the places where I’m wrong or where they legitimately disagree? Who am I to claim that I have anything noteworthy to say?

In the spur of the moment, literally as I was writing this, I noticed that my reasons for not evangelizing were akin to my reasons for not writing more often: What if I inadvertently push people away from Christ? What if someone is offended by my strongly held beliefs? What if someone smarter than I am challenges my beliefs, and I’m not learned enough to respond?

Just write. That is the mantra that has led me to where I am today, and for all of the trouble it has brought me, I am still here. All of those “what ifs” I mentioned—they all have already happened to me, and in the end they weren’t that bad. So despite it all, I still have the audacity to encourage you to do the same: Just write.

And just evangelize. The two may be separate in your mind, but for me the opportunity to write is also the opportunity to spread the amazing news of Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior. So if you are like me, share your love of Christ and do not worry how those around you will take it. We live in a time when the ambiguity, duplicity, and relativism inherent in the messages we hear—online and elsewhere—have made people’s desire for a clear, straightforward, unabashed proclamation of the true gospel message stronger than ever. So all those “what ifs” really don’t matter much. The questions that matter are these:

“What if we actually dared to express our faith more often on the internet, and elsewhere, and tossed caution to the wind? What if we stopped trying to calculate how much true gospel we should drop into our message? What if we stopped trying to find the perfect balance between engaging the culture and evangelizing, and what if we just evangelized?”

P.S. – This article is not just a static set of thoughts. I actually have a precise proposal to make. If you want to share your love of Christ and the Catholic Faith through your writing, stay tuned because we may have a golden opportunity for you.

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Reaching Various Catholic Groups with the Gospel Wed, 08 Aug 2018 17:38:23 +0000 As a Church, we need to always live in the realm of what is “real and true,” including how we need to carry out our evangelization efforts so that all Catholics are impacted by the message of the gospel. To help in this assessment and planning, we need good information. An organization whose work I have turned to for such information is the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. If you have not heard of CARA’s research, I recommend their work. They are professional and relevant, particularly in the research they conduct regarding the Catholic Church in the United States.

CARA publishes a blog called “1964,” and a couple years ago they posted a profile of Catholics in the United States.They divided America’s Catholics into three groups: 1) those at the “core,” who attend Mass regularly and are involved in parish life; 2) those on the “periphery,” who attend Mass about once a month; and 3) those who, as “former Catholics,” no longer practice the Faith. CARA then examined each of these groups and broke them down using additional demographics, such as gender, age, race, sexual orientation, and education. The trends they discovered in each of these categories are interesting, but I will focus here on what CARA discovered regarding “generational engagement” with the Church. I then offer observations about the challenges in reaching each generation with the potent message of the gospel.

The ‘Greatest Generation’

CARA found that fourteen percent of “core Catholics,” eight percent of “periphery Catholics,” and five percent of former Catholics belong to the pre-Vatican II generation. This generation, sometimes referred to by sociologists as the “Greatest Generation,”fought in World War II and grew up in the Church prior to the changes of the Second Vatican Council. This generation enjoyed an enveloping Catholic culture that permeated all facets of life, from social gatherings to family dynamics. They also grew up in a world where the wider ambient culture was more traditional in its values, and the gospel message wasn’t foreign. Pre-Vatican II Catholics tend to be better catechized than subsequent generations, although there is a fair amount of evidence that many have fallen prey to a more secular world view offered in our modern culture. Many seem to have a faith that is need of serious nourishment and formation, and the Church cannot assume that they need no special catechetical attention.

Baby Boomers

The next generation CARA looked at was the Vatican II generation, or what secular sociologists refer to as the Baby Boomer generation.Forty percent of “core Catholics,” thirty-five percent of “periphery Catholics,” and thirty-five percent of former Catholics belong to this generation. This generation grew up in a time of great change, confusion, and “self-realization”, and while many are inheritors of a Catholic culture and chose to remain in the Church, more than a third of former Catholics belong to this group. This generation can seem jaded, skeptical, and educated enough in the Faith to believe that they “get it” (richly understanding Catholicism and the gospel). Many in this group, though, hold beliefs that are contrary to the Faith. During my twenty-five years in apostolic work, I have historically viewed this group as “the hardest to reach” in terms of faith formation. (That said, the Millennials now give them a run for the money in this category. More on them on later.)

Generation X

Next is the post-Vatican II generation, which overlaps with what sociologists refer to as Generation X.This generation grew up immediately following Vatican II and experienced a Church and a culture in flux. Thirty-eight percent of “core Catholics,” forty-eight percent of “periphery Catholics,” and forty-nine percent of former Catholics belong to this group. Note that the highest number of disengaged Catholics belong to this group. From a catechetical and evangelization standpoint, this generation was on the receiving end of faith formation that emphasized process over content, meaning there was a bit of a disdain on the part of the educational establishment for rote memory and more engagement in experiential learning for the purpose of internalizing more one’s beliefs.

Although Generation X Catholics (no pun intended) may have felt welcomed by the Church, the gospel message that they received had little teeth and was not presented convincingly enough to keep them in the Faith. Those who have remained in the Church are often weak on the “tough” teachings, such as the authority of the Church, sexual morality, marriage and divorce, and abortion, among others. In most cases, it might simply be that they have never received a compelling presentation or explanation of such teachings. Regardless of the reason, the fact remains that we find ourselves with a group of mostly marginal believers.


Finally, we hear much about the elusive Millennial Generation in the news. Millennials comprise only eight percent of “core Catholics,” nine percent of “periphery Catholics,” and eleven percent of former Catholics. I contend that this generation, much like Generation X, has experienced a perfect storm that makes it difficult to reach them with the truths of the Faith. They have grown up with a lack of formation and the lack of an enriching culture (Catholic and secular), they are constantly surrounded by digital noise, and they tend to be what Princeton researcher Christian Smith calls moralistic therapeutic deists(i.e., they believe that God exists, but God’s role in our lives is primarily for “therapy” reasons wherein we accept the truth of something based on the feeling or positive results it elicits; also, they would posit, everyone who is a “good” or “nice” person goes to heaven).

Apart from a unique movement of grace or some cataclysm in our society, this group is going to be tough to reach, due to the death grip that relativism seems to have on them. The notions of objective truth and natural law generally do not fly with this group. So, how do we reach them? I think the solution rests in Pope Francis’ “theology of encounter,” since the vast majority of millennials only engage with the Church when they feel connected with it—when members of the Church truly care for them, help them heal their wounds, and hear their opinions. I also believe the idea of “relational” ministry is a key to success. Relational ministry focuses on forming a relationship with a given person—a genuine relationship—before one hopes to influence belief. In short, great patience, energy, and creativity will be needed to reach this generation. The alternative is not reaching the millennials at all.

Difficult Times

In the industrialized and secularized countries of the West, the Church’s ministry of evangelization and catechesis faces some difficult times. We will need to be at the top of our game if we are to have any meaningful effect. As CARA’s report reveals, Catholics of all different ages have left the Faith or are on the “periphery.” For those involved in ministry, it is important to be aware of the challenges posed by generational tendencies as we try to draw former and “periphery” Catholics back to the “core.” But I have every confidence that God will be faithful—if we exhibit faith and faithfulness as we step out into the deep.

This article was first published on on August 10, 2016.

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Deleting Debate: McCarrick, Capital Punishment, and the Demise of Discourse Tue, 07 Aug 2018 17:02:50 +0000 Have talking points killed actual talking? In an era defined by polarization, I fear that humans have abandoned the ability to communicate via exchanging points of view. Recent trends, both in and out of the Catholic realm, seem to have given credence to the argument that soundbites and memorable moments have supplanted thoughtful discussion. Is this actually what people desire, or just what they are given? And is there a way out of this?

Hot Takes

Without a doubt, a quick-hitting approach has already overtaken the information we digest. Perhaps this is due to the manner in which modern society consumes information. When people choose to get their news from social media, they essentially choose to receive information from (and send it to) others who think as they do. Further, when the platform limits posts to 280 characters (Twitter), this often removes the possibility of nuance and discussion that leads to an understanding of a differing point of view.

However, the problem does not exist only in the world of social media. Watch any news channel; most networks, based on the stories they cover and the manner in which they do so, do not even try to hide their bias. Many viewers approach news the same way they do social media. They turn on the channel that makes them feel comfortable with their own viewpoints and when there is an attempt to present both sides of an issue, we do not see a reasoned discussion, but instead a split-screen with two people screaming at each other, trying to disparage the other with ad hominem attacks.

When a Win Isn’t Enough

As a sports fan, I notice those like me have been presented with a similar scenario. While the press and media outlets have cut back on the number of investigative reporters or analysts they employ, fans can have their fill of shows which pretty much consist of talking heads loudly arguing about one side or another. In fact, sports media, like all media, seems to have devolved into a way to find a wedge in every scenario. Fans of a team must choose whether they are on the side of a coach or a general manager, the players or the ownership, the starting quarterback or the backup. One wonders whether the media outlets are responding to a demand, or simply taking advantage of a demand they created because creating artificial conflict is cheaper than hiring a staff of journalists who will find genuine evidence and authentic stories.

These mentalities present a problem: they create a distorted view of the goal. Using our sports analogy, a fan may find himself unhappy that the team won if they didn’t win using their preferred player, or if the coach they didn’t like actually called a good game. Similarly, in news or politics, we may find ourselves with one set of priorities when our preferred party takes an action, and the opposite when the other party does the same thing.

Another example of this was found recently when President Trump nominated Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. One can (and should) examine everyone’s record before deciding that they approve or disapprove of a nominee.  Depending on what side of the aisle one was on, though one sensed that most people either felt that this man was the most fitting person ever nominated for the job, or that he was not qualified to have any position in politics, possibly outside of dishwasher at party headquarters; which one would expect from advocacy groups.

However, when one such group actually released their very passionate opinion of the nominee, they made a mistake: they left the portion of the press release with Kavanaugh’s name unchanged from the placeholder there when they drafted the statement. In other words, they already wrote the entire statement without knowing whom it concerned and would have written the exact same words even were someone else the nominee. This was embarrassing for the group and they got unsurprisingly lampooned online, but make no mistake. Many, if not most—if not all—of the statements from opposite-minded groups presenting a different opinion of the nominee, also were drafted using powerful marketing language to present their support before knowing his identity as well.

Debating Catholic Issues

How does this relate to the Catholic world? Examine the reactions to the recent news regarding the change to the Catechism’s paragraph on the death penalty. Many responses fell into three categories. Some read the change as more about language than practicality. Another viewpoint revolved around satisfaction that the Church offered clarity on capital punishment in the modern world. Others were concerned that the new language, though more clearly expressing a position on one issue, also offered ambiguous language about morality in general.

These positions were all compatible with healthy, informed debate, and there was some of that. There was also plenty of less healthy debate. Commentators who disagree with Pope Francis on other issues immediately used this as an opportunity to criticize him for the change and infer from it what they thought he was really trying to do.

In many ways, they seem like the group that issued the press release on Judge Kavanaugh. Instead of reading the paragraph as written, they immediately criticized it. Similarly, there were plenty of other people who saw things the opposite way, but instead of focusing on a discussion of what the Catechism said, used it as an opportunity to gleefully celebrate the fact that His Holiness had said their opponents were wrong.

Again, this is not to say that one can’t have questions or concerns about this or any other issue in the Church. However, when discussing them, there is no need to focus on our feelings about the pope, or look for ways to attack those you disagree with. Even if everyone else is addressing their posts like this, there is still no need to. Focus on the topic itself, or don’t post at all. Each of us is just one small part of the social media universe, but perhaps we can move toward a more civil debate one at a time.

Out of Anger, Hope

This leads us to the news about Archbishop (one-time Cardinal) McCarrick. In this story, I actually saw hope with regards to discourse. When the story first broke, it seemed like a few people tried to tie this into ideology, based on where they thought things fell on the spectrum (to the extent that there is a spectrum in the Church. I believe one source of confusion that adds gas to these online fires is the attempt to apply traditional left/right political thought to Church teaching).

However, since people have been able to examine this story, the majority of the response has been one of anger, and demand for reformative actions, regardless of the mindset of the writer. Many who, in the past, have had varying viewpoints as others are coming out saying the same thing. It is a shame that it takes such hurt and tragedy to bring this out. However, if people can see this as something that transcends their bubble and is bigger than their own viewpoint, maybe they can see this about other issues as well.


That is our challenge. All media, including social media, offer more people than ever the opportunity to engage in debates and be heard. But ask yourself a few questions before jumping in, since your voice can now be heard by so many. Is what I say helping? If I feel moved to address a topic, will my point focus on the topic, or a person (be they someone with whom I agree or disagree)? Am I doing this to add a new perspective, or just to reiterate what was already said? Even worse, am I doing this because I thought of a great comeback to “own” someone? And most importantly, can I honestly say that by adding to this conversation, I am doing so for the greater glory of God?

This article was first published on The Great Adventure’s new blog, The Ascension Blog

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The Sacramentality and Indissolubility of Marriage Mon, 06 Aug 2018 18:32:28 +0000 One of my good friends loves to get people riled up. Well, I suppose he doesn’t necessarily “love” doing things to rile people up, but he certainly gets a kick out of certain reactions. He’s a non-Catholic Christian, and he’s always ready to let people know that he’s a Christian and in love with our Lord Jesus. One of the most powerful ways he witnesses to this? By telling people this one simple statement: “I love being married”.

Now perhaps that doesn’t seem all that controversial, but bear in mind that he and I both have many acquaintances that come from broken homes, have endless one-night stands, have serial monogamous relationships, have divorced once, or twice or even more, and have a general disdain for “the old lady”.

But his love for the vocational state that our Lord has revealed to him is a powerful witness. It prompts the question, “Well, why do you love being married?” I’ve found myself saying those four simple words, “I love being married”, more and more now. And as I deepen in my understanding of the theology and sacramentality behind marriage, the more I want to share it with my peers, friends, and family. In a world that increasingly sees marriage as a mere “piece of paper”, we need to boldly witness to our vocation as my friend has, showing that marriage is more of a covenant than just a simple contract.

The ‘Irrevocable Covenant’

Towards the end of his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI made these comments regarding Holy Matrimony:

“Marriage is the irrevocable covenant between a man and a woman. Mutual trust, in fact, is the indispensable basis of any agreement or covenant. On a theological level, the relationship between faith and marriage has an even deeper meaning. Even though a natural reality, the spousal bond between two baptized persons has been elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament.”

Throughout the centuries, the Church has elucidated its theology on marriage, and has done so most beautifully through the Theology of the Body by Pope St. John Paul II in recent times. But before looking at this aspect, it’s important to dig a bit deeper into what Pope Benedict had to say about the “irrevocable covenant” and “the spousal bond between two baptized persons”. What is it about this relationship that is sacramental? Perhaps the better question would be—especially for a post-Christian society that does not see life in a sacramental sense—what isa sacrament?

First, it’s always important to note that the Church sees marriage as a covenant, and not as a contract; if the Church did see things this way, then the people who view marriage as “a piece of paper” would be correct. But look how the Bible describes a covenant. It’s irrevocable. It’s permanent. It’s unconditional love.

The Nuptial Imagery of the Cross

Nuptial imagery is found in Sacred Scripture from cover to cover. The first book of the Bible begins with the creation of man and women in God’s likeness, and the last book ends with “the wedding feast of the Lamb.” Our Lord Jesus’ earthly ministry begins where? At a wedding in the small village of Cana. And where does it end? On “the bed of the Cross”, as the Church Fathers so wisely put it. On the bed of the Cross where our Lord says “It is consummated” (John 19:30)!

Very often these last words of our Lord are translated as “It is finished!” But such a simple translation doesn’t lend to the imagery of nuptials that takes place on the Cross. As St. Augustine said in one of his many sermons:

“Like a bridegroom Christ went forth from his chamber … He came to the marriage-bed of the cross, and there in mounting it, he consummated his marriage.”

The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, the world’s first true “televangelist”, took the imagery even further, following in the footsteps of St. Augustine:

“Who is our Lord on the cross? He’s the new Adam. Where’s the new Eve? At the foot of the cross. … If Eve became the mother of the living in the natural order, is not this woman at the foot of the cross to become another mother? And so the Bridegroom looks down at the bride. He looks at his beloved. Christ looks at his Church. There is here the birth of the Church. As St. Augustine puts it, and here I am quoting him verbatim, ‘The heavenly bridegroom left the heavenly chambers, with the presage of the nuptials before him. He came to the marriage bed of the cross, a bed not of pleasure, but of pain, united himself with the woman, and consummated the union forever … And so from these nuptials ‘Woman, there’s your son’ this is the beginning of the Church.”

This imagery and language fully illuminates what happened on the Cross. Jesus gave birth to his Church right there. Our Lord, as the Divine Bridegroom, spent himself fully on the Cross. In a similar way, the bridegroom does the same with his bride on their wedding night, and each time the Christian husband and wife come together in the marital act, they renew the covenant they made at their wedding. (This is certainly one way to understand why sexual activity outside of marriage is gravely sinful; because the couple involved does not have any covenant to renew. They are essentially “lying” to themselves with their bodies.) The spouses renew the love they promised to each other, the vows they made as well. Vows which include self-sacrifice, that is, self-sacrifice that is to mirror our Lord. It’s clearly laid out in Scripture, particularly when St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians in this way:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body”(Ephesians 5:25, 28-30).

Sometimes people get hung up on the prior verse, where St. Paul tells wives to be subject to their husbands. But this isn’t some kind of oppression; it’s an image of the Church. The members of the body (the Church) are subject to the head (Jesus Christ). As head of the Church, we reverence him and submit ourselves in love. That sacrifice isn’t so difficult once we keep in mind the sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross. Husbands, therefore, are given a pretty large task by St. Paul. They must love their wives the same way Christ loved the Church; by sacrificing themselves! It’s a tall order, for sure, but with God’s grace flowing through the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the Christian husband has nothing to fear. Indeed, St. Paul goes on to say in that same letter:

“Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

The Sacraments as Mysteries

It is fitting that Eastern Catholics (and Orthodox) refer to the seven sacraments as “mysteries”. St. Paul closes this portion of his letter saying, “This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32). This whole marriage thing is mysterious, but then as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out:

“Christ’s whole life is mystery.” (CCC 518)

Our Lord however, does not leave us in the dark, and presents us with tangible signs of his love and grace.

So getting back to our second question from earlier, just what is a sacrament? The Catechism puts it this way:

“The saving work of [Christ’s] holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church’s sacraments (which the Eastern Churches also call “the holy mysteries”). The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body”(CCC 774).

Indissoluble Unity

What’s awesome about the sacrament of marriage, is that it differs from the other six sacraments in that it existed before the inauguration of the New Covenant. Although marriage “is not purely a human institution” (cf. CCC 1603), it has been present in different cultures since time immemorial, and it is this which Christ elevated to the level of a sacrament. Summarizing from the Council of Trent (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1799):

“The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life” (CCC 1661).

As Catholic Christians (and Orthodox Christians as well), we recognize that the grace of God strengthens the covenant we made with our spouses. The covenant between my wife and I is a microcosm of the covenant that Christ made with his bride, the Church.

Sadly, all too often, our non-Catholic Christian brethren are largely unaware of this nuptial imagery, and thus (in practice), put a lower emphasis on marriage. I say in practice because we see many Christians (and this includes Catholics too) who divorce their spouses and see no real problem with remarrying later. Only the Catholic Church fully understands the indissoluble covenant that is contracted between two baptized Christians, and this is why it takes the annulment process so seriously.

Far from being a “Catholic version of divorce”, the annulment process serves to determine if a covenant was actually ever created. The Church always assumes that a covenant was created between the spouses unless direct evidence of the contrary is brought forth. If a defect is discovered, then a “decree of nullity” is issued, confirming that because of said defect, no covenant (that is, no marriage) was ever effected.

The Church takes marriage seriously because God takes marriage seriously. So often we in modern culture think we “deserve” to be separated from our spouses because of infidelity or adultery. But if that were the case, God would have abandoned Israel almost immediately after making his covenant. For every mortal sin we have committed, our Lord would have locked us out of the Kingdom of Heaven forever with no chance of repentance. God’s covenant is irrevocable, and if our marriage is a microcosm of our marriage to the Divine Bridegroom, so is ours. The prophet Hosea states this reality clearly:

“And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me, ‘My husband,’ and no longer will you call me, ‘My Ba′al.’ For I will remove the names of the Ba′als from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more. And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:16-20).

For those of us that have received this beautiful sacrament, it’s important to realize that God has given us many graces to succeed, despite our own frailty. But just as it is with the other sacraments, we have to cooperate with God’s grace. We have to “unlock” those graces, as it were (cf. Colossians 1:24-26).

If we can show others how our own marriages have improved our lives, we can also witness to our faith. Be bold and tell all your friends how much you “love being married”. If they’re secularized, you may get some stares, but it will give you a wonderful opportunity to profess your faith in Christ, showing them that your own loving covenant mirrors that of the covenant between Christ and his Church.

This article was first published on the Great Adventure’s new home, The Ascension Blog.

Photo by Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash

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