By Joseph A. Breig
IT IS A FRUITFUL meditation for a parent to think of his own son or daughter nailed to the cross. This does not mean that my child is substituted for Christ, but that through my child–through my love for my child–I am brought closer to Christ.
We parents must learn that it is not our vocation–as it is the vocation of some few–to go to God by forsaking others. Our vocation is to go to God through the embracing of others. From love of those who are ours, we are to deepen our love of Him Whose we are.
Christian marriage does not mean that a husband and wife love each other with one love and Christ with another love. They are to love Christ and each other with the same love, and indeed with the same kind of love. There are not really various sorts of love; if we know what love is, there is one love only.
Love is not the physical embracing of another. The embracing is, or ought to be, an expression of love; and if it is not that, then it is not what it ought to be. If a husband and wife do not love each other in God and in accordance with God’s rights over us, then what they feel for each other is not truly love at all.
To love (let us mark it well) is to desire the good of the beloved, and to endeavor to bring that good to pass. But the beloved’s truest good is to live in the friendship of God; in oneness with Christ. Christian marriage, then, is a state of life in which two who truly love each other, in the true meaning of love, assist each other to love Him by obedience to Him.
For the husband, then, the wife is a door into holiness; she is a way to God; and for his wife, the husband is a path to sanctity. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, husband and wife are to cooperate with Christ in each other’s sanctification. Why else, pray, did Christ raise marriage to the dignity of a sacrament; why else did he make it one of the channels through which He pleases to dispense His divine grace?
This is not to destroy, nor to whittle away, the bodily aspects of life together in marriage. To the contrary; the joy of the coming together of husband and wife cannot be as great and as unalloyed as it ought to be unless consciences are clear.
If there is anything of spiritual reproach in married love, their married love will not give the happiness it ought to give. Nor will it confer the unity it is intended to confer–the unity, the peace, the harmony, the serenity which ought to be its fruits.
This harmony and serenity of husband and wife are the deepest foundation for the happiness of the family. How many, many children live in a deep unease, rebelling against what they know not, because their father and mother are not united in Christ, or at least imagine that they are not united in Christ!
“Imagine that they are not united in Christ.” This is a real and painful condition in our day of the opposite errors of puritanism and hedonism. Many a husband and wife are prevented, either by prudery or by the prevailing over-emphasis upon sex, from finding in marriage the joy and the security-in-God that this great sacrament was instituted to give them.
Either they enter into their giving of each other with consciences stricken by rigorism, or they expect more of their giving than even this great giving can give. In the one case, they feel guilty; in the other, they feel cheated. No; the Christian husband and wife must acquire the Christian attitude of mind toward marriage, if they are to find in marriage the depths of joy and goodness which they ought to find there.
Marriage, the Sacrament of Matrimony, is first a union of souls. Husband and wife love each other; not in the modern mistaken meaning of being “in love,” but in the right meaning that they are prepared to serve each other, to defend each other, to sacrifice for each other, to work together in mutual well-wishing for success in marriage.
Out of the union of souls, out of this true love of each other, comes the union of bodies; and each union contributes constantly to the perfecting and deepening of the other.
Husband and wife must understand that Matrimony, like the other sacraments, was earned for us by Christ on the cross. It was not a niggling and fearful thing that He wished to confer upon us–and did confer. No; Christ desires that marriage shall be generous, and that husband and wife understand that their mutual giving is good and pleasing to Him. He wants husband and wife to see each other as pathways to Him; He wants them walking hand in hand, and heart in heart, toward Him.
If we are to see Christ in the least of His brethren, are we not to see Him in our own husbands and wives? Indeed, it is in our husbands and wives, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, that we ought to see Christ most clearly and intimately.
Marriage is its own vocation, and into it we are to throw ourselves with the same kind of dedication and self-abandonment that we expect of a priest in his vocation.
For the husband, his wife and children are Christ most closely and immediately. Wife and children are his vocation; his way to holiness. It is a lesser vocation than the religious vocation, in the same sense that a man is a little less than an angel.
But this does not mean that a man is not a marvelous being; and it does not mean that marriage is not a marvelous vocation. And as a man or woman, in the order of grace, can rise higher than an angel, so can a husband and wife rise higher, in the order of grace–in the Sacrament of Matrimony–than this or that priest or Sister in another vocation.
We are not to be comparing our way of life, we wives and husbands, with the way of life of those in religion. We are not to be comparing our way of life with any other way. Our task is to devote ourselves to our own way wholeheartedly, with full trust in God’s grace and providence, and with the fullest possible realization of the sublimity of our own vocation.
Nobody, really, goes directly to God. Everybody must go through certain channels and in some service to fellowmen. The way to God for husband and wife is through each other and their children, and in love of them and service to them. That is why it is a fruitful meditation to think of one’s own son or daughter on the cross.
Our sons and daughters are given to us in order that we may help them to salvation, and they us. A parent thinking of one of his children on the cross can come closer to Christ; can understand much more of what Christ suffered for us, can be more intimately united with Christ in His Passion.
And certainly the parent can better understand, while thinking of his own child crucified, what Mary sacrificed for us.
In this kind of meditation, parents can find the true wisdom of marriage and the family. Making the Way of the Cross, and thinking of their beloved own children, they can more clearly and poignantly think of Christ, and love Christ and thank Him for His goodness.
Then, returning home, a husband can look upon his wife and children, or a wife upon her husband and children, and see Christ in them, and grasp something of the nobility and the deep goodness of Christian marriage and family life.