All family life is a “shepherding” in mercy. — Pope Francis
Yesterday in class, I was speaking on the Sacrament of Marriage and its redemptive character. I reviewed my notes early in the morning, and prayed about how best to express the points I was making. The focus of my lecture was the sense in which marriage and family life “sacramentalize” — make present and effective — the undying love of God revealed in Jesus. I was exhausted and feeling inadequate to the challenge of teaching that day. As I spoke that to God, those dreaded words Jesus spoke to St. Paul sprang to mind,
My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness (1 Cor. 12:9).
As I sat with that, what struck me hard was the stark realism of the Christian vision of divine love which, rather than keeping an antiseptic distance from the messiness of human life, appears most fully in the midst of dysfunction, weakness, failure, betrayal, division, hatred, death. Far from romanticizing or idealizing marital love, Sacraments thrust God right into the middle of our thorny thickets and tangled relationships, setting Him to work repairing, healing, strengthening all who open themselves in faith to His power. I immediately thought of the words of theologian, Fr. John Behr:
Forcefully stated, this means that in and through the action that expresses all the weakness, impotence, and futility of our created human nature—our subjection to death—Christ shows himself to be truly divine, voluntarily taking this upon himself. As one tries to comprehend this, one is simply at a loss for words. Perhaps not surprising, then, is our all-too-human response to the revelation of God in the crucified and exalted Christ, understood through the Scriptures by the power of the Spirit, to talk about something else—to make theology into an abstract discourse or, like Peter before the passion, to try to separate Christ from the cross
And try to separate marriage and family life from the cross. I then thought this is why St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians identifies marriage with the crucifixion — because God calls the couple to holiness by sharing in His sufferings and imitating His sacrificial covenant love; because God calls the couple to cry out to Him from the depths of their weakness, impotence, and futility; and because God calls the couple, as sinful perpetrators of the crucifixion, to receive His redeeming, restoring, transforming love. Marriage is indeed a mystery immersed in mercy.
I wrote this prayer in the margins of my notes,
You are a fire always burning but never consuming; you are a fire consuming in your heat all of my soul’s selfish love; you are a fire warming all chill and giving light to my darkness. Make me able to love your daughter, Patti, with your love, in all my imperfect love, that along with my feeble love she might also receive your perfect love.
Then I searched YouTube for a video I use when I teach marriage workshops, and happened on this: