In the first testimony of a married couple in the Vatican Summit on marriage, Ron and Mavis Pirola from Sydney, Australia, were quick to get down to brass tacks, calling marriage a “sexual sacrament.”
Speaking of their early years as a married couple, the Pirolas said that gradually “we came to see that the only feature that distinguishes our sacramental relationship from that of any other good Christ-centered relationship is sexual intimacy and that marriage is a sexual sacrament.”
The Pirolas expressed their belief that married couples need to come to reverence sexual union as an essential part of their spirituality. “We need new ways and relatable language to touch peoples’ [sic] hearts,” they said.
The 251 other delegates listened in respectful silence as the Pirolas recounted their story.
“Like all marriages,” they said, “we have had wonderful times together and also times of anger, frustration and tears and the nagging fear of a failed marriage. Yet here we are, 55 years married and still in love. It certainly is a mystery.”
The couple also related how they have struggled to live according to their faith, which has not always been aided by formal church teaching and which sometimes seems foreign and obscure.
“Occasionally we looked at Church documents but they seemed to be from another planet with difficult language and not terribly relevant to our own experiences,” they told the bishops.
“Take homosexuality as an example,” they said. “Friends of ours were planning their Christmas family gathering when their gay son said he wanted to bring his partner home too. They fully believed in the Church’s teachings and they knew their grandchildren would see them welcome the son and his partner into the family.” Then they added, “Their response could be summed up in three words, ‘He is our son.'”
The testimony seemed exactly what Pope Francis was looking for when he requested that the bishops get closer to the real-life experiences of married Catholics throughout the world.
The Pirolas also recounted that a divorced friend of theirs “says that sometimes she doesn’t feel fully accepted in her parish. However, she turns up to Mass regularly and uncomplainingly with her children.” According to the Pirolas, “She should be a model of courage and commitment in the face of adversity” for the rest of her parish.
“Appreciating our own brokenness helps enormously to reduce our tendency to be judgmental of others,” they said.