Meaningful Relationships must have Life!
Some relationships simply do not grow. They are static, limited, predictable – they involve persons “kept at a distance” – they are the less important relationships in our lives. Relationships that really matter, the meaningful, important ones, must be growing and developing. They must have life. Meaningful relationships have life – vitality, ever new, ever fruitful, always more somehow than the mere sum of their parts. The relationships I want to consider here are the relationship of spouses in Christian marriage, and the relationship of a Christian with God which is known as the Christian’s life of prayer. The two relationships ought to be ever growing, ever deepening in intimacy, ever full with life and ever fruitful.
Marriage must be, by its very nature, a relationship of great importance and priority. Christian marriage in particular is ordered to be a covenant communion of the spouses in Christ, ordered to Christ and His mission by virtue of the spouses’ Baptism into Him, and by virtue of the meaning and the mystery of Matrimony itself. Christian marriage must have life – fertile, fruitful, growing and maturing life.
Because Christian marriage is sacramental, a supernatural reality, it is in its essence fertile and fruitful. It is based upon more than human love; it is based upon holy divine charity. Of the unique presence and empowerment of God with the spouses in this sacrament, the Catechism says,
1624 … In the epiclesis of this sacrament [Matrimony] the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of love of Christ and the Church. [Cf. Eph 5:32] The Holy Spirit is the seal of their covenant, the ever available source of their love and the strength to renew their fidelity.
1639 The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself. [Cf. Mk 10:9] … The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man: “Authentic married love is caught up into divine love.” [GS 48 # 2]
A good and natural marriage (a non-sacramental one) in itself calls persons into a bond that is alive, growing and rich in human fruitfulness. But how much more does the supernatural covenantal bond in Christ, of a sacramental union of spouses in Him, call forth supernatural life? A marriage in Christ calls us beyond the natural to a holy union in Him. Paul wrote:
Eph 5:31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Eph 5:32 This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church…
Among natural relationships, that of a man with his father and mother is profound. It is fundamental, it is foundational to his personhood, his very being. Yet Christian marriage calls the man to leave that foundation of a natural relationship with father and mother, to one that is supernatural and sacramental. Christian marriage – the mystery of the conjugal covenantal communion of human persons – prophetically proclaims the even more profound mystery of Christ and His Church, as Paul observed.
How can a Christian marriage truly have the supernatural life to which it is ordered? The marriage union must be, truly and actually, in Christ. How can the marriage truly be one in Christ? The spouses must be, really and truly, in Christ. When the spouses personally live the life they were given first at Baptism in Christ, their marriage will be a marriage in Christ. When the spouses are personally growing in Christ, their marriage will be growing in Christ. When the spouses personally are experiencing the fruitfulness of the life of Christ in their individual souls, then the marriage will bring forth the fruitfulness of the life that Christ came to give us all.
Growing in Christ Means Growing in Prayer
And so how does a Catholic Christian truly and personally grow in Christ? How is his personal relationship with Christ nurtured, that it may grow – that he may grow, and mature to the fullness of the stature that God has intended for him from the beginning? Well, we grow through the sacraments that bring us grace, we grow through Holy Scripture that brings us truth, and we grow through prayer which in itself is our relationship with God. Prayer is relationship. The Catechism teaches:
2564 Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.
2565 In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit…. Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him.
The key is prayer. Prayer unlocks and ignites fruitful life in Christ, which then empowers and nurtures fruitful sacramental marriage. And because prayer is relationship, we begin to see the thread that unites these subjects: our relationship with Christ is our life of prayer; our relationship in marriage is dependent upon our life in Christ, our life of prayer with Him.
“The life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence” of God. We need to develop a life habitually in prayer-communion with God. We need to grow in prayer, until by habit we live dwelling with Him. By habit, when we remain in Him, we remain prayerful. We become persons of prayer, we become persons with whom relationships matter, and are fruitful for Christ.
This ends part one of a two-part series on Growing as a Christian. Part two will focus on prayer. Prayer is both an art and a science. We will consider both the art and the science of prayer: we will find that the journey of prayer is a journey traveled in stages, each one leads into the next, for those willing to grow.