As more and more countries enact laws permitting same-sex marriage, Pope Francis devoted his weekly “general audience” to the topic of Christian matrimony, distinguishing it from the merely social institution of marriage in its diverse forms and insisting that the life of the Church “deteriorates” whenever marriage “is disfigured.”
In his efforts to highlight “the beauty of Christian marriage,” the Pope insisted Wednesday that the sacrament of matrimony “is not merely a ceremony carried out in the church, with flowers, a wedding dress, and photos.”
“Christian marriage is a sacrament that takes place in the Church, and that also makes the Church, starting a new family community,” he said.
Francis recalled that the Apostle Paul compared the sacramental union of husbands and wives to the relationship between Christ and the Church.
“Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul says that the love between husband and wife is the image of the love between Christ and the Church,” Francis said. This “unimaginable dignity” is “inscribed in God’s creative design, and with the grace of Christ, countless Christian couples have carried it out, despite their limitations and their sins!”
All Christians, the Pope said, “are called to love one another as Christ loved them, that is, to be ‘subject to one another,’ which means at the service of one another.” This applies in a particular way to husbands and wives, Francis said, as they bear the image of the relationship between Christ and the Church. The spiritual meaning of this analogy is “very high and revolutionary,” he said, while at the same time simple, “attainable for every man and woman who rely on God’s grace.”
A husband must love his wife “as he loves his own body,” and just as Christ “loved the Church and gave Himself up for her,” Francis said. Following the example of Christ, “the radicalism of the devotion asked of men for the love and the dignity of women must have had enormous effects in the Christian community itself,” Francis said.
The Pope called the sacrament of marriage “a great act of faith and love” because it bears witness to “the courage to believe in the beauty of God’s creative act and to live a love that always goes further, beyond themselves and beyond the family itself.”
The decision to “be married in the Lord” also contains a missionary dimension, Francis said, “which means having in one’s heart a willingness to act as a steward of God’s blessing and grace for all.”
“As spouses, Christian couples share in the mission of the Church,” he said.
Francis insisted that “the life of the Church is enriched each time the beauty of this spousal covenant is celebrated, but deteriorates whenever it is disfigured,” Francis said.
The Church “needs the courageous fidelity of spouses to the grace of the sacrament!” he said.
Men and women brave enough to carry this treasure in the “earthen vessels” of our humanity are “an essential resource for the Church and for the whole world!” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.