February 4, 2005

2005 Spring Marriage Supplement

Eucharist helps couples keep God at center of their lives

By Mary Ann Wyand

(Editor’s note: The Catholic Church is observing the Year of the Eucharist. This article is part of a Criterion series exploring the importance of the Eucharist in all facets of the life of the archdiocese. Click here for more from this series.)

“And the two shall become one flesh” (Gn 2:24).

This Scripture passage from the Book of Genesis is frequently included in the Liturgy of the Word at nuptial Masses, David Bethuram explained, as a reminder that the sacrament of marriage is both a celebration of unity and an essential part of the life of the Church.

In his ministry as director of the archdiocesan Office of Family Ministries, Bethuram often talks with couples about the vocation of marriage. The Office of Family Ministries sponsors monthly Pre Cana Programs at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis to help engaged couples prepare for the sacrament of marriage.

“When describing marriage, the Book of Genesis says that a man shall leave his father and mother and join with his wife,” Bethuram said. “Then the two shall become one. This is a very important point being made in Scripture. Marriage has a deep social meaning. Marriage is the closest interpersonal relationship imaginable by adults.”

Christian marriage connects life with love, he said. “It embraces the fundamental need for togetherness, reconciliation, faithfulness and living out God’s love in everyday life.”

In Pope John Paul II’s 2004 apostolic letter “Mane nobiscum Domine” (“Stay With Us Lord”), Bethuram said, the Holy Father “calls upon the Church, particularly during the Year of the Eucharist, to study and grasp the spiritual significance of the Eucharist.”

As an integral part of Christian life, he said, the Eucharist is a celebration of unity that provides spiritual support to help engaged and married couples keep God in the center of their relationship.

“Married persons go their way together in faith,” Bethuram said. “A married couple starts together in their search for God. Together they try to follow Christ, together they share their ideas, together they pray, together they are sent into the world, which is a basic element for Christian belief.”

In a very real way, he said, marriage is about understanding how living faith together is a communion.

But with the challenges of daily life, even married couples who strive for unity and togetherness still need to be willing to turn to the sacrament of reconciliation for the graces to sustain their relationship.

“Wherever people … live their life together in such an intensive process as marriage is,” he said, “there will necessarily be conflict, quarrels and confrontation.”

That’s why reconciliation is so important in a couple’s relationship with each other and with God, Bethuram said, as they strive to start life anew, accept each other and endure adversity.

“It seems to me that reconciliation, coming from the power of the Cross and of the Resurrection, is one of the most important focal points in marital spirituality,” he said. “Marriage aims at lifelong fidelity, in which one partner accepts the other without ‘ifs’ or ‘buts.’ ”

In their pastoral letter “Follow the Way of Love,” the U.S. bishops remind families that, “To live faithfully in a marriage requires humility, trust, compromise, communication and a sense of humor. It is a give-and-take experience, involving hurt and forgiveness, failure and sacrifice.

“The very same thing is true of fidelity in other family relationships,” the bishops noted. “Your faithful love in a marriage and family is tested by change. It can also be strengthened and brought to maturity through change. The challenge is to remain open to the Lord’s gracious, healing presence and to see change as an opportunity for growth.”

The Year of the Eucharist is a reminder that “the Eucharist is that very gift that brings us to new life,” Bethuram said, “and allows couples to open up to the Holy Spirit, which bonds and unites spouses in the sacrament of marriage.”

St. Vincent de Paul parishioners Dale and Monica Siefker of Bedford have taught Natural Family Planning classes for six years to help married couples embrace God as the center of their marriage.

The Siefkers welcome children in their marriage as gifts from God and feel blessed to have five children ranging in age from 10 to 2. They are expecting a baby in May.

Praying together and practicing Natural Family Planning have strengthened their marriage, Dale Siefker said. NFP is an expression of their love for God and for children, and is the result of sharing prayer and receiving the Eucharist as frequently as possible.

“There’s no substitute for the sacrament of the Eucharist,” Siefker said during a recent telephone interview. “There’s no way that a marriage can really be fruitful without the sacrament of the Eucharist.”

Receiving the Eucharist is a visible way to invite Jesus into your marriage, he said, bringing Christ in both physically and spiritually to support and nourish the marital union in the midst of the challenges of daily life.

“He’s part of the marriage,” Siefker said. “It’s a great privilege that is bestowed on us to be invited to the sacrament of the Mass and the Eucharist, and to nourish us that way, and to do that as a family. Bringing Christ into your life as an individual is one thing, but if you bring Christ into your life as a whole family it supports the basic fundamental unit of civilization.”

The sacrament of reconciliation also is an important way to strengthen the bond between husband and wife and God, he said. “Every day, I fail to do what God has asked me to do. Monica and I understand that we fail, and that we can go to God and ask for forgiveness. That helps you get up every day and try again, always striving for perfection. If you didn’t have God’s reconciliation and forgiveness, it would probably be impossible to keep trying again.”

The sacraments of the Church bring hope to a couple’s married life, Siefker said. “The ultimate hope is to bring each other to God’s kingdom, along with our children, by loving and serving God and each other. Helping each other to the kingdom is, of course, one of the main purposes of marriage—for a husband to help the wife and the wife to help the husband to eternity, and to raise children and bring them to eternity as well.”

Natural Family Planning helps married couples grow in love and fidelity, he said, by being open to God’s will for them all of the time.

“If you block out God’s will in the area of sexuality in your life,” he said, “which is a very fundamental human thing—it’s the way God gave us to procreate, to bring more souls into being to honor and serve God—and if you block God out of that part of your marriage then I think it’s nearly impossible to have God in any part of your marriage.”

Monica Siefker said she frequently tells couples that receiving the Eucharist and being open to God’s gift of children are central components of Christian marriage.

“I just don’t know how a marriage can survive without God as the center,” she said, “because he obviously provides you with all the graces that you need for that sacrament. Without him, you can’t do it. It’s humanly impossible.”

She said the example that Christ gave us in the Eucharist is a powerful sign of self-giving that helps married couples grow in love and fidelity through the years.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in the feelings of love and what pleases me,” she said, “and to become very self-centered. In a marriage, you can’t have that. It’s the total outgiving and outpouring of self to the point where you give it all to God and you give it all to your spouse. That’s exactly what the Eucharist is—a total outpouring, a total gift, of self. Jesus Christ on the altar is a reminder of what he did for us at Calvary and he continues to do every day through the Mass.”

To strengthen their relationship with God and each other, the Siefkers recommend that engaged and married couples attend Mass together as frequently as possible, spend time in prayer together in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and receive the sacrament of reconciliation on a regular basis.

“When you spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament in adoration, praying for your marriage,” Monica Siefker said, “you receive insights that are just incredible into that deep love, that self-giving, that sacrificial love of God, that allow you to be able to do that in your marriage. Be honest with him and he will be in the depths of your heart. Miracles happen in front of the Blessed Sacrament.”

She thinks that the high rate of divorce is partly caused by unrealistic expectations about marriage, but believes that keeping God at the center of the marital union brings graces to the relationship between a husband and wife.

“True love doesn’t feel good a lot of times,” she said, “but what it will do is fulfill you and provide peace and joy amidst the trials of life. I always say that it didn’t feel good for Christ to be on the cross. When you receive the Eucharist, Jesus comes in literally into your life and he is there in his self-sacrificing manner as total love. That enables you to become more like him.”

The sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation go hand in hand, she said. “You cannot have one without the other because if you’re not receiving the Eucharist in a state of grace it does no good. Those graces are not going to get through to you.”

Pray for the gift of self-enlightenment, she said, to see yourself as God sees you and see yourself clearly and objectively.

“Just pray for the Holy Spirit to give you that gift of self-enlightenment, to give you the graces of making a good and holy confession,” Monica Siefker said. “Those are real practical ways to keep God in the center of your marriage … [and] practice self-sacrificing love, not holding a single thing back—and that includes your fertility—everything, giving it all to God, giving it all to your spouse.

“That’s what sets you free,” she said. “It’s a paradox. You would think that it would create a burden, but it’s amazing how ultimately that total self-sacrifice and giving of yourself, the giving of your will and obedience to Christ’s teachings, sets you free and gives you the peace that the world will never know.” †


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