In Wednesday’s general audience, the Holy Father wraps up his series on the sacraments by covering that of Holy Matrimony. It is fitting he saved the sacrament for last, because in the end, matrimony is what we are all called to. Even if we choose the religious life, we are called to nuptial union with Christ.
Here on Earth, that nuptial union between Christ and believer is represented by the sacrificial love and eternal commitment of a man and a woman. Pope Francis uses a bit of terminology we might find confusing. He states that married couples are “living icons of God’s love in our world, building up the Church in unity and fidelity.” We normally don’t use the word “icon” in the West, so allow me to give a brief explanation behind the word from a biblical standpoint.
In the Scriptures, Christ is called the eikon of the living God. (2 Cor 4:4) Most Bibles translate this as “image” of the living God, and some translations give an awful rendering of “likeness.” The reality is far deeper. Christ is not “like” God, He is God. We refer to him as the “Icon” of the living God because it is through Christ God was revealed to men. Before Christ, men could not see God. Even being in his vicinity was enough to change the color of skin. (Exodus 34) It was through Christ that man could actually gaze upon God face to face, which was the highest form of communion in the Bible.
When Francis says we are living icons of God’s love, he means it in the sense that married couples reveal the love of God to the world by loving each other. This puts the divine charge to love each other in a whole new light. We don’t love each other because we find our spouse agreeable. Often we don’t. Francis has joked that marriage will even involve “plates thrown at each other” as recognition of this reality. Yet we must not “call in the UN peacekeepers”, but reconcile with each other every day.
To those who are newly married, this is a tough reality to accept. Marital bliss ends, and your spouse says something that royally infuriates you. Nothing would be better than to tear them a new one. Yet if one were to see you doing this, is that a good representation of God’s love to the world? Does God tear us a new one every time we mess up? Every time we give in to that anger, we not only hurt our spouse and our marriage. We hurt the bringing of the Gospel to the world.
If at this point you feel overwhelmed and find the mission of the married to be humanly impossible, that’s because it is. Based on our own efforts, we will always succumb to “the human condition.” The Holy Father stresses this shouldn’t discourage us. Instead we should joyfully strengthen our relationship by praying for the other. When we pray (especially when we pray together), we stop becoming icons of the human condition (sin, discord, throwing dishes), and instead become icons of God’s love, a visual representation of the Christ whose image we are conformed to. (Romans 8:29)
So please, love your spouse. Love them beyond what you think possible. In doing so, you will spread the Gospel further than the craftiest of theologians and apologists.
Note: For the past couple months, “Carlos X” has done a fantastic job walking us through Pope Francis’ catechesis on the sacraments. As the Holy Father begins a new set of audiences, we will be changing the format of this series. Instead of just one writer, we will have multiple writers contributing. While most the dates are filled, there is always a need for alternates. Feel free to contact me on twitter @CatholicSmark if you are interested. Don’t worry, Carlos will remain a regular here at Catholic Lane and is already working on a new project.