|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
Every family comes into being thanks to God's decision to directly intervene and lovingly give it existence. In the first pages of the Bible, we come to know of God designing a paradisiacal abode for the first family of man on earth. Reading through it, beautifully described the imagery that comes to mind is of a bird flying around making a nest. There is a sense of urgency and love in the designing of it. For there is a movement in the heart and the body of of the bird, of a new life taking shape inside. When eggs are laid and babies are born, there should be nothing lacking for their sustenance and care. The bird goes about picking the twigs and fashioning them into a most fitting dwelling place for the little ones. In the heart of God, there was a clear decision to create a family of man on earth as a reflex of the Godly family in heaven. Accordingly, the dry land of the earth gets set apart from the deep waters of the ocean. Light becomes fixed on the horizon for the day and the night. Rivers flow to quench thirst. Trees have grown up bearing fruit to all tastes and palates - all designed in God's care to ensure that these were God's own bounty to man's family.
“You Will Save Her” (Tobit 6:17)
This perception of marriage is positively reaffirmed in the charming story that the Book of Tobit is. Tobias, the young man under the direction of his father goes in search of a bride and finds Sarah and falls in love with her. However, he was shocked by Raguel, father of Sarah telling him that the girl had a demon in her that would consume the man who would approach her and that she had already married seven men who were all eliminated at the very first night of marriage. Fear gripped the young man. At that very moment, revelation comes to him that Sarah was destined for him by God Himself from all eternity. “Do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world was made.” (Tobit 6:18) He received assurance that he had made no error in his discovery of Sarah and she was no threat to his existence but was part of God's plan which he knew was for his prosperity and good future (Jeremiah 29:11).
God's vision of family should inspire every young man and young woman deciding to get married, to wait in prayer for his or her life partner in God's scheme of things to be revealed. The one determining factor that should count in this choice is the finding of a partner who would share his or her life in prayer and in God's Presence.
Jesus had elevated marriage to the status of a sacrament in the first miracle that He had performed at Cana. This is, as St. John tells us how Jesus revealed God's glory (John 2:11). Where human calculations failed God intervened that the celebration of the marriage continues. This promise Jesus gives to every married couple.
“He Has Borne Our Infirmities” (Isaiah 53:4)
God’s own Spirit is offered by Jesus to be part of every marriage relationship. Hence St. Paul calls marriage a mystery. By mystery what is meant is a realm of God’s intervention. St. Paul continues to say, “This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 5:32) Marriage is incorporated into the saving relationship between Jesus and the Church. In this context St. Paul gives a Divine character to the love in marriage. He says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)
Jesus loved the Church by taking upon Himself all her burden of her sin and pain as Isaiah had prophesied (Isaiah 53:4-6). That is what Jesus had come for. Only at one moment did He hesitate in trembling. That was at Gethsemane. He saw the Cross looming large before His eyes and He cried out to the Heavenly Father that He was unable to shoulder it. The gospel tells us that the angel came to comfort Him and strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). That really means He felt impelled by the Father’s message and experienced a Heavenly Power of Love to enable Him carry out the mission of the Father. He surrendered, “Not my will but let your will be done.” (Luke 22:42) From then on, He never looked back with complaints nor did He find the Father’s Will too burdensome to accept. The gospels say that there was no blame on His lips. That is how He saved the Bride - the Church - to make her “radiant, unblemished, holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:27)
St. Paul presents this great ideal of saving love to every husband, by saying, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.” What happens in our families is the blame game. A game initiated under the influence of the evil power in paradise when man and woman opted to rebel against God and submitted to the plan of the demonic world. Their relationship was disrupted. All the love they received in the Presence of God that strengthened them, enabling them to accept each other in the words of Adam as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” was lost. Adam points a finger at his wife as the cause of all the downfall. Ever since then, the blame game has continued to disrupt family relationships. With Jesus this demonic attitude came to a grinding halt. Jesus, the Heavenly Bridegroom accepted every failing and distortion in His Bride the Church and personally took the responsibility, paying the price of it all. That is the Calvary event after which the very nature of married love has changed.
“You Are The Body Of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
The husband takes up the role of Jesus as the head of the family. St. Paul continues to teach us “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour.” (Ephesians 5:23) This is a deep truth of love to be contemplated in every family circle. The function of the head as regards the body is what a husband must adopt in his relationship to the family. Medical science tells us that it is the head that naturally takes upon itself all the pain of the body. The head and the body are vitally connected by a wondrous nervous system. When any part of the body is cut, the message is relayed by the nervous system to the brain and it returns to that part of the body as an experience of pain in order to protect it. No wonder before operating on any part of the body, doctors would administer anesthesia which numbs the nervous system connecting the body to the brain. From then on, whatever cut is inflicted on the body, no pain will be felt. The nervous system does not carry the signal of injury to the brain. The injured part of the body does not feel the pain because the head did not first feel the pain. This analogy is used by St. Paul with a Divine implication. “Wherever there is any burden or shock or pain in any member of the family, it is the husband, the father, who should feel it first and most acutely. It becomes his responsibility to deal with it to save the family. Hence he has no right to blame the wife or the children. The blame stops there.” He in his turn takes it to Jesus the Saviour to be strengthened to pursue his mission.
It is in this context again that we understand clearly what St. Paul says “Wives respect your own husbands.” (Ephesians 5:22) Respect does not mean slavish submission. In fact St. Peter tells us that husbands and wives are equal in grace (1 Peter 3:7). Hence when St. Paul speaks of the wife respecting the husband, it is definitely not a matter of she being inferior to the husband. Rather, here there is a divine logic of salvation which becomes the saving grace in families. The wife loves the husband with the sacred awe of gratitude and commitment for having been accepted totally by him as Jesus accepted the Church without questioning or faultfinding. This is the attitude with which the Church stands before the wounded Christ on the Cross. She understands how precious she is for the husband who loves her unconditionally and takes responsibility for her.
One wonders whether this Pauline version of married love is practical in daily life. What is practical is not to be judged by what happens around but by what God offers to make it possible for us. The grace of marriage is so dear to the Heart of God that He even did a miracle to save a marriage - promising the same miraculous intervention at every moment of human failure. But then husbands and wives should be able to value the grace of marriage and not take it for granted. This awesome grace is given “in earthen vessels” as St. Paul would put it (2 Corinthians 4:7). This is a warning to all - an earthen vessel could break and the grace could be lost. No cost should be too forbidding to protect this treasure placed in us. Jesus says “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)”
“A Chosen Race, A Royal Priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9)
A way a person should live and fulfill God’s Plan for him is what vocation is. When I look at myself I always understand what a precious call God has given me. From all eternity, as St. Paul says, God has called me to be a priest (Ephesians 1:4). At every step of my life, His Hands lead me that I may live true to my vocation. He trained me and anointed me with the Holy Spirit. He makes me stand before His people in His power and authority as a prophet, priest and shepherd. Precisely because I am deeply aware of the immense value of this grace, I never failed to praise and thank Him for His choice. I also know that I can lose this grace. Therefore at the end of the day before I go to rest, I make sure to make a very honest soul searching whether any thought or desire crossed my mind that could at any time in the future be a risk to my call. If I do find anything, I will not hesitate to root it out from my life. I will not trade the sanctity and beauty of God’s Call for any passing pleasure or gain of this earth. I have taken to my heart what Jesus said emphatically that the Grace of the Kingdom of God is to be accepted as the treasure that a man finds and in order to gain it, sells everything he has (Matthew 13:44). Unless I am ready to give away all that is not of and from Jesus, I will not relish this Grace from God.
The vocation of a husband, wife, father, or mother is not in any way less sacred or less precious than the vocation of a priest. It is noteworthy that in the Sacrament of Marriage, it is not the celebrant priest who ministers the grace of marriage to the couple but it is they themselves who are the sacred ministers. The celebrant priest is only the official witness of the Church. Hence, as sacred ministers of the grace of matrimony, the husband and wife are to be prophets, priests and shepherds. As prophets they pray together, receive the revelation of God’s message to share it with each other and with the children. As priests they sanctify each other by the holiness of their lives. As shepherds they guide each other and the children to Jesus the Great Shepherd. Hence the teaching of the Church - that the family is a domestic church.
The heart of the couples should always be tuned to the treasure of their call in marriage - being ready to pay any price and always sensitive to the dangers involved. The casualty of the first marriage should be a warning to every family. The demonic world, as soon as it saw how precious the first marriage was in the eyes of God, was determined to ruin it. Man and woman fell into its evil trap. It is good for all couples to be serious-minded and aware that the demonic world is determined to destroy the treasure God had given them in their family life, a treasure destined, fashioned and given by God to man. So precious the treasure that God has chosen to be part of it - to save it when man and woman falter and fail in his and her commitment.
An earthen vessel is broken due to irresponsible carelessness and culpable negligence. Such irresponsibility casts deep shadows on the heart when one takes the other for granted and when hurts are allowed to fester within. The husband and wife need to come together in prayer every day asking pardon from each other for every bruise caused and every complaint felt. St. Paul warns us not to allow the anger to remain after sunset (Ephesians 4:26-27). A deep appreciation for the value of the grace of marriage in the Presence of God will dispel all such dark shadows and love will glow at the end of the day.
He Who Touches You, Touches The Apple Of His Eye” (Zechariah 2:8)
In the Divine Retreat Centre, we have a very special retreat called the Bible Nursery. It is a retreat for tiny tots from the age of three to six. One would wonder how a retreat could benefit such young minds. In fact, I have often found this retreat most grace-filled and beneficial to the little children. I remember once passing by the side of this retreat hall and a little girl was coming out shedding tears and sniffling. I called her and made her sit next to me and asked her, “Little girl, what happened to you?” In the midst of her sobs she said, “Father, I saw Jesus in the Sacred Host of the Eucharist. Jesus told me that He loves me.” I was puzzled and asked why it should make her sad. She replied saying, “I am sad because I wanted to tell Him that I too love Him but before that He disappeared.” Crying inconsolably, she continued “Everyone I want to love is escaping from my life. I loved my dad very much but last year he went away from home with someone else. He phones me up and he tells me that he loves me but when I ask him to come home and see me, he says that my mother hates him and does not want him. He says my mother has another friend. Why do my father and mother hate each other so much and why do they not love me and stay with me in my house?” Tears were filling up in my own eyes and in my heart I thought to myself, “Her father and mother may have their own reasons to keep away from each other but who’s there to wipe her tears? What in this world can justify the pain and tears caused to this little child?” This little life that God has sent into the world is getting scorched in the heat of hatred and anger. Indeed no reason is sufficient for a father and mother to break the heart of the child in such a manner. The growth of a child will be complete only in the warmth of the family God has established. Indeed it is only then that a prosperous and peaceful generation will emerge. The Paradise that was lost is to be regained in every family and for this the Power of the Holy Spirit is raining down from the Heart of the Father.
Let Us Pray
Heavenly Father, You created us as a family to reflect Your Glorious Nature of Life-Giving Love. Let not our shortsighted selfishness ever cast dark shadows into our relationships that Your Glory must fade away in our homes. Your Son revealed to us that the Holy Spirit is ever present in our family relationships to fill us with Your Love and heal every wound.
Give us the grace to turn to You at every moment of failure and miscalculation - in the firm faith that Your Hands are not shortened that You cannot save our family, that Your Heart is not hardened by our sin that You cannot answer our prayer. Make us a witnessing family that is able to live out Your vision of marriage and become a credible inspiration for those who are struggling to accept each other from Your Hands.
May the Power of Love You lead us to live, restore humankind to Paradise.