When we think about practical advice for a good marriage we naturally think of such things as making time to talk with each other, going out on dates together, or developing the romance in your relationship. All of these are excellent pieces of advice and will be very helpful to a marital relationship. However, I would like to dive a bit deeper and look at some ideas that will strengthen the foundation of a marriage and develop the love of the couple in this blessed union. The ideas mentioned in this article will briefly encapsulate some of the contents found in the book God’s Plan for Your Marriage.
The first thing necessary is to recognize the dignity of one’s spouse. Your spouse (like yourself) is created in the image and likeness of God. This means your spouse has immense dignity given to him or her at the moment of conception. No matter what a person does or what happens in a person’s life, that God given dignity can neither be removed nor diminished. We can act against our own dignity and other people can treat us in a way that violates our dignity, but our dignity cannot change.
Each of us is a human person. A person is defined as a living being with a mind and a free will. Our soul, which is the principle of life within us, consists of two faculties: a mind and a will. In Scripture God has revealed Himself as Truth, Life, and Love. Our souls are made for life, our minds are made for truth, and our wills are made for love. In other words, being made in the image and likeness of God, we are made for truth, life, and love.
As persons made in the image and likeness of God, the only proper way to treat one another is according to human dignity. On the day a couple gets married, they make a vow to love one another. Love is a virtue, not an emotion. As such, it remains the same regardless of the emotions that may be present. Love is defined as doing always what is best for the other. To love one another is to seek always and only the good of the other. So, we have two people looking out for the good of one another. Love is the opposite of selfishness, so to love is to serve. Love is a two-way street meaning that two people give and both receive. To take from the other is to use the other, which violates the dignity of the person. To receive what the other person gives is part of the love that is given.
The reciprocal benevolence of two people serving one another brings about a communion of persons. In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, this communion of persons finds its pinnacle. Regarding marriage, Jesus said something that is not found anywhere else in Scripture: “What God has joined, let no man put asunder.” When people hear this, they most often think of the physical union of the couple because Scripture says the two become one flesh. We will consider this in a moment, but first we must understand that marriage is first and foremost a spiritual union. What God unites is the souls of the husband and wife.
When the souls are united in a sacramental marriage, the couple enters into a covenant with one another and with God. This marriage covenant is built upon the baptismal covenant which augmented the dignity we were given in creation. We became, as St. Paul says, a new creation in Christ. We became members of Jesus Christ! We became sons and daughters of God! We were given a participation in the divine nature, which means we were raised to a supernatural level of acting and of being. This means we are able to love one another as Jesus loves us.
The love of Jesus for us was demonstrated in its fullness on the Cross. In this act of perfect love, Jesus not only transformed all of creation, but He transformed marriage. In His death on the Cross, Jesus entered into a marital covenant with His Spouse, the Church. St. Paul talks about this in one of the most misused and misunderstood passages of Scripture. In the fifth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks about the relationship between husbands and wives, but then says it refers to Christ and the Church. We do not have time to unpack the passage, but please understand that St. Paul requires exactly the same thing from both husband and wife. Both are to love, both are to be subject to the other, just as we see in the relationship between Jesus and the Church.
The union of husband and wife is holy, as is the union of Christ and the Church. On the Cross, Jesus pours out His life for His Bride, and the Church receives that life. In the sacrifice of the Mass, the Church pours out her life, which was given to her by Jesus, and He receives that life in the Holy Eucharist. In a marriage, the husband and wife die to self and pour out their lives for the other, and each receives that gift of life from the other. While this mystery takes place in every aspect of the marriage, it is expressed most completely in the physical union of the couple. As human persons, when we make an act of the will that act is expressed physically in and through the body. In marriage, the couple makes an act of the will to give themselves to one another. At that moment God unites the souls of the couple. Therefore, the union of the bodies of the couple in the marital embrace is the physical expression of the spiritual union of their souls.
This is profound, but it gets even better. The two Sacraments most closely related symbolically are the Holy Eucharist and Holy Matrimony. While they are on different levels, the symbolism is the same. Therefore, a couple can meditate on the disposition of Jesus as He sacrifices Himself for us, pours out His life for us, and gives Himself completely to us in Holy Communion. He also receives our sacrifice to Himself, and He receives our gift of self to Him. In marriage, and especially in the sign of the marriage (the physical union), the couple should emulate the disposition of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
Heaven is about loving God and loving one another. Moreover, Scripture reveals that Heaven is a marriage banquet. Christian marriage is the foreshadowing of eternal life where Jesus is the Bridegroom and each of us is a member of the Bride, the Church. All of this is to help a couple recognize the dignity of their vocation, but also to recognize the gravity of living this vocation correctly. Because marriage is first and foremost a spiritual union, the couple must build up that spiritual union. This is the foundation for everything else in the marriage. Each person must have his or her own prayer life, the couple must pray together, and they must pray with their children. If the union of a husband and wife refers to the union of Christ and His Bride the Church, then knowing and loving Jesus is absolutely necessary for the marriage to flourish as God wills. God loves you; He wants only what is best for you: to love, to be loved, and to be transformed into love.
God’s Plan for Your Marriage is available September 27 from Sophia Institute Press.