November 28, 2014

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Faithful marriages offer a foretaste of the heavenly wedding feast

Sean GallagherThe season of Advent that begins this weekend is a time of joy that is ultimately rooted in our hope for heaven.

Many marketing professionals try to convince us at this time of year that we can have heaven here on Earth if we just receive the perfect Christmas gift.

But we who seek to be Christ’s disciples know better, even if we experience some happiness in exchanging gifts with friends and loved ones.

During Advent, we prepare to celebrate Christ’s first coming into this world in his birth in Bethlehem. That blessed moment—and his life, passion, death and resurrection that followed—restored some of the joy of God’s kingdom that our world lost through original sin.

We know well that all creation groans under the ongoing effects of original sin. The good news that St. Paul shared with us about this groaning is that it is the groaning of labor pains (Rom 8:22).

If, with the help of God’s grace, we endure this life’s unavoidable trials, we will experience a birth into a joy beyond measure in heaven, our full “revelation [as] the children of God” (Rom 8:19).

This birth into glory comes as the fruit of an earlier marriage—the joining as one of Christ the bridegroom and his bride, the Church.

This marriage of Christ and the Church isn’t simply a theological concept or biblical image. By God’s grace, it shapes married life in the Church, which St. Paul reflected upon in his Letter to the Ephesians.

He knew, however, that human words, even those inspired by the Holy Spirit, could not fully explain the spiritual meaning of the sacramental union of husband and wife. In the end, Paul described marriage as “a great mystery,” one that is bound up in the marriage of “Christ and his Church” (Eph 5:32).

Prayerfully reflecting on the profound life in Christ to which married couples are called can be helpful in Advent when the busyness of our schedules intensifies, and it is easy to lose sight of the important purposes that underlie our marriages.

I’ve been blessed with the chance to see the deep spiritual meaning of this beautiful sacrament in the weeks leading up to Advent as my extended family and I have prepared to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my parents, Tom and Debbi Gallagher, who exchanged their vows of marriage on Nov. 28, 1964.

I’ve lived through 44 years of that marriage and 13 of my own.

On the one hand, I know from the many crazy and sometimes difficult circumstances of life over that period that marriage on this side of heaven is like any other sacrament. It’s only a small foretaste of the infinite joy of heaven.

Yet on the other hand, as fleeting as those foretastes can sometimes be, they have given me an experience of the richness of the wedding feast of the Lamb that Christ has in store for us in heaven.

And it’s not just me. My parents and all of the couples who have been married for 50 years or more across central and southern Indiana have continually been filled with new life by this grace.

In their grace-inspired faithfulness to their vows, my parents and so many other spouses of their generation offer that foretaste of the heavenly wedding feast to young people of my generation and those younger than me living in the midst of a society that treats marriage as disposable and malleable to the point that it has no meaning.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, then, give thanks for faith-filled couples like my parents and pray that all married couples may become more vivid images of the marriage of Christ and his Church. †

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