Tag Archives: family

Fatima, Marriage, and the Theology of the Body – March 25, 2017

It has been reported that Sister Lucia of Fatima wrote a letter to Cardinal Caffarra predicting that “the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.” Not long after, Pope John Paul II was in the midst of his famous “Theology of the Body” talks on marriage and the family when a Turkish assassin attempted to kill him. The assassination attempt happened on May 13, 1981, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, and the same day that Pope John Paul was going to announce the establishment of his Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. John Paul credited “a mother’s hand,” Our Lady of Fatima, with saving his life that day, and consequently, allowing for the promulgation of his exegetical insights on the theology of the body.

Pope John Paul’s biographer, George Weigel, described John Paul’s revolutionary ideas on the theology of the body as a “kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.” What were these novel ideas? As author Christopher West restated, the Pope’s thesis is the human body “has been created to transfer into visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.” The body is not just something biological, but also theological. The body is the sacrament of the person. As is often misconstrued, the Church does not teach that the body or sex is bad; this is a neo-gnostic heresy disparaging the body as something external to us and exploitable. Rather, the Church teaches that the body is good and holy, the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is incarnational and sacramental. The body is a person, and the person is a body.

But, the body is also more. God created the body as a sign and self-disclosure of His own divine mystery. God “impressed His own form on the flesh He had fashioned, in such a way that even what was visible might bear the divine form.” (CCC 704) The central mystery of the Christian faith is that God is an eternal Communion of three divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a sacramentality to the human body that makes visible this mystery hidden from eternity.

How does it do this? In the beginning, when God created man, He made them two separate but complementary incarnations, male and female. Through the beauty of sexual difference, masculine and feminine, we are called to form a communion of persons, just as there is a communion of Persons within the Godhead. In this exchange of love between husband and wife, a third person is generated in a child, forming again an icon of Trinitarian love, just as through the mutual love of the Father and Son proceeds the Holy Spirit. In this way, the human family makes visible in the created world, by way of analogy, only infinitely less so, the hidden eternal exchange of love within God. Man is allowed to take part in this great mystery of generation and creation, in imitation of the Trinity. It can be understood then that when God tells Adam and Eve, “be fruitful and multiply,” He is really telling them on a symbolic level to manifest His Trinitarian image throughout the world. This is man’s original vocation, to love as God loves.

God teaches us to love as God loves, through the complementary sexes, as imprinted upon our bodies. This reveals the spousal meaning of our very existence. Jesus Himself reaffirms the truth of dual genders and their nuptial meaning. When the Pharisees question Him about divorce, Jesus answers them, “Have you not read that He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh.” (Mt. 19:4-6) The two become one in the primordial sacrament of marriage: It was the original sacrament, the prototype that foreshadowed the marriage union of Christ with the Church. St. Paul refers to this marriage of Christ with the Church as a “great mystery.” (Eph. 5:32) Married couples are a sacramental sign of the divine Bridegroom and His bride. In reference to the marriage of husband and wife, and Christ and the Church, John Paul states, “these two signs together, making of them the single sign, that is, a great sacrament.”

The underlying theme throughout the Bible is God wants to “marry” us (Hos. 2:19). Indeed, God wanted to make His nuptial plan for us so obvious that He created our very bodies, male and female, to prepare us for this eternal, mystical marriage. Human marriage then is the sign and the sacrament, revealing the eternal reality of the union of Christ and His Church. Jesus spoke of this as well when He addressed the Sadducees saying, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Mt. 22:30) Jesus reaffirms that earthly marriage is not the ultimate end in itself, but a sign of the heavenly marriage to come. It is a harbinger of the final truth, when the earthly sign will at last give way to the heavenly reality. In the resurrection, the body will be raised eternal, incorruptible, spiritualized and divinized. Yet, as with any marriage proposal, mutual consent is necessary. We must give our “yes” through faith and the offering of ourselves.

Marriage was built upon this notion of a free, sincere gift of self to another. The gift of self in marriage is a sign and analogy of Christ’s total gift of Himself for His Church. At the Last Supper, when Jesus institutes the Eucharist, He says, “This is My body which is given for you.” (Lk. 22:19) Jesus offers Himself bodily for us, His bride. His total self-offering of His body is consummated with the His crucifixion on the Cross. In the same way then, the Eucharist is a renewal of Christ’s spousal gift of His body. In the words of Jesus, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:56) This is our one flesh communion.

Jesus repeatedly points us back to the beginning to see God’s original plan for marriage. In His response to the Pharisees’ challenging Him on marriage, Jesus says “but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mt. 19:8) He tells us implicitly that a certain residual echo of that original innocence remains in us. In man’s “original nakedness,” Adam and Eve “were both naked and not ashamed.” (Gen. 2:25) They had no shame, or fear, or lust, but only innocence. Their composite natures, body and spirit, were in perfect harmony. Adam and Eve saw in each other a whole person who perfectly imaged the Creator. Their total gift of self to one another was an embodiment of God’s self-giving love, and a perfect expression of the nuptial meaning of their bodies. Christ calls us to restore this.

Of course, with the Fall of man in Original Sin, immorality and death entered the world. Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to cover their bodies and hide their shame. In the mythic language of Genesis’ prehistory, something had gone horribly wrong, and has never been the same since then. The perfect harmony of body and spirit had been ruptured. Our human nature was wounded by concupiscence, pride, lust, and disobedience. The revelation of the person as an image of God, the theology stamped upon our bodies, had become obscured.

Yet, as John Paul points out, despite sin, “marriage has remained the platform for the realization of God’s eternal plans.” This is no more evident than in the Incarnation. Jesus willed Himself to be incarnated into a family, and to be raised by a mother and father. Jesus’ Incarnation shows the body, and marriage, and the family remain “very good.” He Himself highlights the centrality of sacramental marriage. Scripture tells us that, “Jesus also was invited to the marriage” (Jn. 2:2). His presence sanctifies the sacrament. Jesus worked His first public miracle at the wedding feast at Cana, turning water into wine. The wedding at Cana points towards His marriage consummation at Calvary, when He gives His body for His bride.

On the Sermon on the Mount, Christ again calls us back to the way it was in the beginning. Jesus says, “everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt. 5:28) He challenges us to find a new, pure way of looking at each other, with custody of our eyes and a purity of heart, capable of seeing the person as the image of God. Jesus calls us to conversion, and a mastery of self. This is Jesus’ new ethos of the heart, in which our eros is infused with an agape love. John Paul’s anthropological vision is a redeemed sexuality, an “ethos of the redemption of the body,” through the power of Christ, free from the domination of concupiscence and lustful self-gratification. We are called to this liberation and freedom of being, to which Jesus came to restore us; to let us have “life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn. 10:10)

However, if marriage is the primordial sacrament – the primary revelation in creation of God’s inner being and the primary revelation of Christ’s union with His Church – is there any doubt why Satan attacks it? It is precisely in this original unity of the sexes that he tries to sever our communion with God. Satan’s goal is to keep man from his eternal destiny with Christ. Sister Lucia commented, in fact, that many people go to hell because of “sins of the flesh.” By distorting the theology of our bodies, Satan schemes to obscure the Trinitarian image within us. He seeks to mock our one flesh union with Christ. It is an increasingly depraved society that twists the sacrament into an anti-sacrament, and distorts the sign into a diabolic countersign. The staggering loss of sexual ethics over the last fifty years at least, as part of the “sexual revolution,” (and subsequent “culture of death”) shows the savage assault that has taken place on marriage, sexuality, procreation, and the family. We can readily see so many counterfeit signs that have gained widespread cultural acceptance, sadly even by many within the Church. As John Paul declared, “The ‘great mystery’ is threatened in us and all around us.” Not surprisingly, progressive sexual morality, especially the redefinition of both marriage and gender, is now the tip of the spear threatening religious freedom.

In further reflection on the Church’s sexual prohibitions, such as contraception, for example, it is theologically sacrilegious because it falsifies the sacramental sign of marriage. In exploring these sublime truths, John Paul considered his theology of the body as “an extensive commentary” on Humane Vitae (of Human Life) and the regulation of birth. Do we ask of ourselves the hard questions, like is our union free, total, faithful and fruitful? In the modern rationalist era that we live, where sexuality is reduced to just biology, is there room for “the great mystery?” In order to understand the Church’s teaching on birth control and sexual ethics it is necessary to have a “total vision of man and of his vocation.” Openness to life makes complete sense in the “prophetism of the body” as an image of God. In failing to recognize the sacramental sign, however, it is folly.

In this year, the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima, perhaps we can, like Pope John Paul, appeal to Our Lady of Fatima for her intervention for the sake of marriage and the family. It was in the October 1917, in the climactic final apparition, that the world was given the miraculous vision of the Holy Family: Our Lady, and the Child Jesus in the arms of St. Joseph. They were presented for us as the model of the perfect family. We too can strive in our families for holiness and perfection through prayer, penance, and the sacraments. As Sister Lucia wrote about the vision of the Holy Family:

“In times such as the present, when the family often seems misunderstood in the form in which it was established by God, and is assailed by doctrines that are erroneous and contrary to the purposes for which the divine Creator instituted it, surely God wished to address to us a reminder of the purpose for which He established the family in the world?”

“Hence, in the message of Fatima, God calls on us to turn our eyes to the Holy Family of Nazareth, into which He chose to be born, and to grow in grace and stature, in order to present to us a model to imitate, as our footsteps tread the path of our pilgrimage to Heaven.”

Marriage is a lifelong sacramental sign of God’s inner mystery, to be lived out chastely and experienced in the day-to-day moderation of our lives, in reverence for Christ. This is, for many, our roadmap to eternal life. Let us study anew the theology of the body, as part of the new evangelization, to shine truth and compassion again in this world so desperately in need of it, for the hour is late.

Trinitarian Life of the Family – May 19, 2016

God is one, but He is not alone or solitary. God is a communion of Persons. He is the Most Holy Trinity, an eternal communion of three divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the central mystery of the Christian faith. (CCC 261) St. Patrick converted Ireland with the Trinitarian analogy of the Shamrock: three leaves, one clover. God is an eternal unity of three distinct divine Persons, each of whom is wholly and substantively God. They are consubstantial and equal to each other. The three Persons of the Trinity are relational to one another in two internal divine processions: The Father eternally generates the Son, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. (CCC 254) The one Godhead is an inter-relational Being of three Persons. In short, God is a family.

Man is ontologically created in the image of the one Trinitarian God. As God is a family, so is man created in His image as a relational being made for families. After God creates Adam, He says, “It is not good that man is alone.” (Gen. 2:18) Man by himself did not yet fully represent the relational nature of God. With that, God creates Eve, the first woman, so that man cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) This is the primordial sacrament of marriage. It is Trinitarian by nature. Husband and wife become a communion of persons in the natural order, where the two become one, reflecting the communion of Persons in the Godhead in the heavenly order. The perfect self-knowledge of the Father eternally begets the second divine Person, the Son; and from the perfect self-offering of will and mutual love between the Father and the Son proceeds the third divine Person, the Holy Spirit. In an infinitely imperfect but analogous way, husband and wife come together in a mutual self-offering of love, consummated in the sexual union, which conceives a third independent being, a child, just as from the mutual love of the Father and Son comes the Holy Spirit. Although with obvious and profound dissimilarities, this is our closest imitation of Trinitarian relations within the natural realm. As Pope John Paul II wrote in his Theology of the Body series, “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.”

The Trinitarian image is reflected in our families, and the family is the icon of Trinitarian life. As the Catechism teaches, The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 2205) The family is a mythic archetype of the relationships within the Trinity. Living with a husband or wife and children necessarily draws us out from ourselves. It challenges our pride and selfishness. It forces us to minimize ourselves for the sake of others. It pushes us to focus on someone else, not just our own well-being. It challenges us as a form of preparation, within the concreteness of our flesh and blood relationships, to be holy as God is holy. The family, as the “domestic Church,” is the foundational building block of the greater Church, and of society on the whole. It was part of God’s plan for humanity from the beginning. Indeed, Jesus Himself incarnated into a family, in order to highlight its institutional importance, and to personally sanctify them. (CCC 533)

Of course, living a self-sacrificial marriage and complete self-offering to family is easier said than done. Marriage and parenthood are hard work. Our selfish pride and egocentric desires get in the way. Overcoming these requires a lifetime of tiny steps to incrementally grow in holiness and virtue. It is difficult to reflect at times that Trinitarian love and vision amidst the exhaustion of crying babies, soiled diapers, sibling squabbles, spousal arguments, stressful jobs, washing dishes and baskets of laundry. This is part of our daily Cross, to take up and follow Jesus, by denying ourselves and serving others. Yet, we should also remember that the supernatural spirit of God works in the ordinary and mundane activities of our everyday lives. The family is meant to be holy, reflecting here and now, in time and space, the eternal beauty of the Trinity’s relationships. Tragically, we need only look at the current sad state of fractured families and marriages today to see the greater challenges. Families are riddled with every type of pain and suffering, abuse and abandonment, dysfunction and dissolution. The Trinitarian image in many modern families is badly disfigured.

Fortunately, God has not left us orphans. He has left us His Church. He has left us the sacraments, which can heal and make us whole again. Even if we come from irreparable marriages and broken families, God has provided us with the communion of persons found in the Church. This is the supernatural family of God. (CCC 1655) Jesus Himself points to the Communion of saints, not biological or hereditary bonds, as His true family in faith, saying, Here are My mother and My brothers!(Mt. 12:49) Our families are the closest natural approximation to the spiritual communion of Persons in the Trinity. However, beyond that, we have our supernatural communion of Persons in faith and the Church, in which, we can also live a Trinitarian life. The Catechism states, For if we continue to love one another and to join in praising the Most Holy Trinity – all of us who are sons of God and form one family in Christ – we will be faithful to the deepest vocation of the Church.” (CCC 959) Our deepest vocation is to live in communion with each other in our marriages, in our families, and in our Church, serving the universal brotherhood of man, with mutual self-sacrifice and life-giving love, in imitation of the Most Holy Trinity.

  

 

Trinitarian Life of the Family (long version) – May 19, 2016

God is one, but He is not alone or solitary. God is a communion of Persons. He is the Most Holy Trinity, an eternal communion of three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the central mystery of the Christian faith. (CCC 261) St. Patrick converted Ireland with the analogy of the Shamrock: three leafs, one clover. God is an eternal unity of three distinct divine Persons, each of who is wholly and substantively God. They are consubstantial to each other. (CCC 253) The three Persons of the Trinity are relational to one another in two internal divine processions: The Father eternally generates the Son, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. (CCC 254) The one Godhead is an inter-relational Being of three Persons. In short, God is a family.

The triune family of the one God is apparent from the very beginning. In Genesis, at the foundation of the world, the Creator says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26) Here, in the preternatural prologue to human history, before Adam and Eve, God the Creator refers to Himself as “us” and “our,” both plural pronouns. The most common name for God in the Hebrew Bible is “Elohim,” which is a plural, masculine noun. Later in Genesis, in the time of Abraham, scripture says “the Lord appeared to him”(Gen. 18:1), and in the very next verse, “..behold, three men stood in front of him.” (Gen. 18:2) The prophet Isaiah refers to God as one who is holy – thrice times. He says, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Is. 6:3), emphasizing the triune nature of the Godhead. Even in the Shema, the prayer the Jews consider the most important, Judaism’s central monotheistic creed, the name of God appears three times. It says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” (Deut. 6:4) (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד) In effect, Moses is saying the name of God three times (Yahweh, Elohenu, Yahweh) is a united one. There are other inferences too, such as Isaiah’s Immanuel, “God with us” (Is. 7:14); Daniel’s “Son of Man” references (Dan. 7:13-14); and David’s psalm on “The Lord said to my Lord.” (Ps. 110:1)

This was part of the on-going self-revelation of God to Israel and humanity over the course of salvation history. Just as St. Augustine taught, what lies hidden in the old is revealed in the new. That is, what God hinted at in the Old Testament is made explicit in the New Testament. (CCC 129) This, of course, refers to the revelation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. At the Baptism of Jesus, we see the Trinitarian formula. The Son is baptized in water, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove, and the Father’s voice comes from Heaven. (Lk. 3:21-22) In the Last Supper Discourse, Jesus tells His Apostles that the Father will send the Counselor in His name, again linking the Trinitarian formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Jn. 14) In Jesus’ Great Commission, before His final ascension into Heaven, He tells His disciples, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..” (Mt. 28:19) Jesus’ final message is to baptize the whole world in the “name” (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (CCC 233)

Man is ontologically created in the image of the Trinitarian God. As God is a family, so is man created in His image as a relational being made for families. This is why in Genesis, after God creates Adam, He says, “It is not good that man is alone.” (Gen. 2:18) Man by himself did not yet fully image the relational nature of God. With that, God creates Eve, the first woman, so that man cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) This is the primordial sacrament of marriage. It is Trinitarian by nature. Husband and wife become a communion of persons in the natural order, where the two become one, reflecting the communion of Persons in the Godhead in the heavenly order. The perfect self-knowledge of the Father eternally begets the second divine Person, the Son; and the perfect self-offering of will and mutual love between the Father and the Son eternally spirates the third divine Person, the Holy Spirit. Husband and wife come together in a mutual self-offering of love, consummated in the sexual union, which conceives a third independent being, a child, just as from the Father and Son comes the Holy Spirit. Although an infinitely imperfect analogy with obvious dissimilarities, this is our closest reproduction of Trinitarian relations in the natural order. This is partially why the Church rejects contraception, because it obscures the openness to life in our Trinitarian image. Adam and Eve, in their marriage and procreation, make visible the Trinitarian image in their lives, and so, God blesses them, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28) In effect, He is saying show forth the image of the Trinity, as reflected in the communion of persons in marriage and family, across the natural and humanly world. This is partially why the Church rejects contraception, as it obscures the openness to life in our Trinitarian image. For this reason, Pope John Paul II wrote in his Theology of the Body series, “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.”

The Trinitarian image is reflected in our families, and the family is the icon of Trinitarian life. This is why the Catechism teaches, The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 2205) A family coming together with in self-sacrificial offering and mutual life-giving love is the fullest expression and the closest analogy, despite obvious dissimilarities (ie, God is spirit who infinitely transcends human realities), that we have of the Trinitarian life. Our deepest bonds are our familial relationships; these offer faint glimpses of the eternal communion of love that exists within the heart of the Trinity. As the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar said, family is “..the most eloquent imago Trinitatis that we find woven into the fabric of the creature.” Living with a husband or wife and having children necessarily draws us out from ourselves. It challenges our pride and selfishness. It forces us to minimize ourselves for the sake of others. It pushes us to focus on someone else, not just our own well-being. It challenges us to be holy as God is holy. The family is the foundational building block of the Church, and of society. It was part of God’s plan for humanity from the beginning. Indeed, Jesus Himself incarnated into a family, in order to highlight its institutional importance, and to personally sanctify them. The family is the “domestic Church.” (CCC 1666) The Apostolic Exhortation Christifidelis Laici says families are “a ‘sign’ of that interpersonal communion of love which constitutes the mystical, intimate life of God, One in Three.” (CF, 52) The family is a prefigured sign and a primeval archetype of the relationships within the Trinity. It is a foretaste and preparation in the divine economy, within the concreteness of our flesh and blood, for our ultimate destiny of incorporating us into the eternal life of the Blessed Trinity. (CCC 260)

Of course, living a self-sacrificial marriage and complete self-offering to family is easier said than done. Marriage and children can be, and are, hard work. Understatement of the year! Our selfish pride and egocentric desires get in the way. Overcoming these often take a lifetime of tiny steps to incrementally grow over time in holiness and virtue. It is difficult to reflect at times that Trinitarian love and vision amidst the exhaustion of crying babies, soiled diapers, sibling squabbles, spousal arguments, stressful jobs, washing dishes and baskets of laundry. This is part of our daily Cross, to take up and follow Jesus, by denying ourselves and serving others. Yet, we should also remember that the supernatural spirit of God works in the ordinary and mundane activities of our everyday lives. The family is meant to be beautiful, reflecting here and now, in time and space, the eternal beauty of the Trinity’s relationships. Tragically, we need only look at the current sad state of fractured families and marriages today to see the greater challenges. Families are riddled with every type of pain and suffering, abuse and abandonment, dysfunction and dissolution. The Trinitarian image in many modern families is badly disfigured.

Fortunately, God has not left us orphans. He has left us His Church. He has left us the sacraments, which can heal and make us whole again. Even if we come from irreparable marriages and broken families, God has provided us with the communion of persons found in the Church. This is the supernatural family of God. (CCC 1655) Jesus Himself points to the Communion of saints, not biological or hereditary bonds, as His true family in faith, saying, Here are My mother and My brothers!(Mt. 12:49) The relations of our families are the closest natural approximation to the spiritual communion of Persons in the Trinity. However, beyond that, we have our supernatural communion of Persons in faith and the Church, in which, we can also live a Trinitarian life. The Catechism states, For if we continue to love one another and to join in praising the Most Holy Trinity – all of us who are sons of God and form one family in Christ – we will be faithful to the deepest vocation of the Church.” (CCC 959) Our deepest vocation is to live in communion with each other in our marriages, in our families, and in our Church, with mutual self-sacrifice and life-giving love, in imitation of the Most Holy Trinity.