For Catholics, Sacred Scripture is the “soul of sacred theology.” This means that theology, which is faith seeking greater understanding of what God has revealed to us, must look to the Bible as its primary source of reflection. So, if we want to think about the family the way God thinks about the family, we need to read, pray, interpret and then live out the Word of God. To do that rightly, we need the guidance Mother Church, whose soul is the Holy Spirit, whose Bridegroom is Christ, whose Father is God and whose children we are. You see, theology is a family affair from start to finish. I invite you now to join me in having a picnic in the lush gardens of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, where we can feast on Jesus Christ, the Bread come down from heaven.
The book of Genesis, which is the biblical book of beginnings, inaugurates the great story of creation and salvation by narrating God’s calling into existence a “very good” (Genesis 1:31) world teeming with life and characterized by unity-in-diversity. In the first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:4), man and woman, created on the sixth day, are the crowning glory and stewards of God’s freshly minted world. Humanity, precisely as male and female, is stamped with the “image and likeness” of the one God; with the divine “us” – “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). The Church Fathers saw in this plural voice of the one God an intimation of the Trinity, still yet to be fully revealed in Christ. They also recognized in the divine “us” a sign that, out of all creation, only man and woman bear the image of the three-in-one God. The image of God, for the author of Genesis, is reflected both in the male/female face-to-face communion and in the divine command, “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), by which man and woman are made co-creators of a community of divine images (cf. Genesis 5:1-3); of faces-in-communion. This means that life-giving marriage – i.e. family – bears the greatest resemblance to the Creator, and that family born of marriage is the crown and goal of creation.
The second creation story (Genesis 2:4-3:25), which narrates with poetic beauty the creation of Man from the earth and the creation of Woman from the earth-Man, offers a stunning explanation of the God-designed origins of monogamous marital unity. God creates the man and woman in covenant relationship, bound by commands and entrusted with the stewardship of creation. Arising from the original unity of Adam’s one flesh, the woman becomes a sign to the man that he is called to be in relation, to live a life of loving communion with an equal taken from his side. The man and the woman naturally seek one another and both find completion only in their return to the original unity from which God first fashioned them (cf. Genesis 3:24). For the author of this story, human nature is essentially nuptial, build on the “cleaving” covenant bond of marriage. Because that covenant bond was created by God himself, the nuptial union of man and woman is implicated in their covenant with the Creator, so that breaking the marital covenant meant breaking the divine covenant (cf. Malachi 2:10-16; Mark 10:9).
This creation story also revealed that being human is inextricably bound up with being in communion with another, seeing the other as your other self, and to living out that communion in harmony with the Creator’s commandments (cf. Genesis 2:16-17). But as with the first creation story, this communion of nuptial love overflows into the community of family. In fact, Genesis 3:24 refers to the “father and mother” of the son who “abandons” them in order to be joined to his wife as one flesh. Thus, in the beginning marriage and family life are established by God himself to serve as the vital center of the human story yet to unfold.
But alas! The glory of this story comes to an end. In chapter three of Genesis, the author suddenly leads us into the dark and destructive sequel to God’s bright and creative work, as man and woman disobey the divine command, breaking their primordial covenant and falling into a disastrous divorce from their Creator, from one another and from all of creation. The symphony has dissolved into a cacophony, but at once a new song arises from the dissonant chords: the song of salvation. The rest of the biblical narrative after Genesis 3, all the way up to the New Testament, recounts the “wonderful works of God” who, time after time, leads his people out of slavery to sin and death into the glorious freedom of the children of God. The history of salvation reveals the mercy of God working through a twisted and sordid genealogy of marriages and families, tribes and nations to restore the unity of the human family and reunite them to God in an everlasting covenant of nuptial love.
Christ gathered up all that mangled history and re-fashioned it into something beautiful, reestablishing — in the Holy Family — marriage and family as the foundation of the New Creation.
Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.
Of this salvation event marriage, like every sacrament, is a memorial, actuation and prophecy: “As a memorial, the sacrament gives them the grace and duty of commemorating the great works of God and of bearing witness to them before their children. As actuation, it gives them the grace and duty of putting into practice in the present, towards each other and their children, the demands of a love which forgives and redeems. As prophecy, it gives them the grace and duty of living and bearing witness to the hope of the future encounter with Christ.”
Like each of the seven sacraments, so also marriage is a real symbol of the event of salvation, but in its own way. The spouses participate in it as spouses, together, as a couple, so that the first and immediate effect of marriage is not supernatural grace itself, but the Christian conjugal bond, a typically Christian communion of two persons because it represents the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and the mystery of His covenant.
The content of participation in Christ’s life is also specific: conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter- appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, the unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values. — St. John Paul II