Thy Kingdom Come: Marriage and the Family

seven sacramentsIn the last two weeks, we have considered the beginning of our life of faith in Baptism (by which we can call God in heaven our Father) and the leading fruit of that new life, which is praise (the hallowing of his name) sacramentally made visible to us by the Ordained Priesthood.

But there is life on the other side of the altar rail, too. We offer our lives on the altar, through the hands of the priests – but our sanctification, our life as children of God and of praising the Father, would be incomplete if God’s kingdom did not penetrate into every aspect of our lives.

And so after “Hallowed be thy name, we say, “Thy Kingdom Come.” And alongside the priesthood, which offers all to God, there is the sacrament of marriage, by which that kingdom penetrates into human life. When we say that third line of the Our Father, let us think of the sacrament of the Christian family.

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Now, let it be said immediately: marriage is not everything. Just as last week we said that the sacramental priesthood makes visible in a few people the truth of the universal priesthood of the faithful, so too marriage makes sacramentally visible the broader truth of the kingdom of God. Those who are not married – and those to whom we are not married – are also places where that kingdom is manifested. But marriage is the sacrament that makes it visible.

Just as those who are not ordained priests look to the priests to manifest the truth of their own priesthood, so those who are not married – and the married themselves, in all their other relationships – look to marriage to make visible the meaning of God’s kingdom. And just as we can think of the ordained priesthood to help us remember what “hallowed be thy name” means, we can look to marriage to help us remember what “thy kingdom come” means.

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Marriage is the ultimate human relationship, “the greatest friendship,” as St. Thomas Aquinas says, the first discovery of bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, another human to whom I can relate, as St. John Paul II reminds us in his meditations on Genesis.

Marriage is the necessary condition for child rearing. This is fabulous. The Second Vatican Council (echoing St. Thomas) calls it “the school of deeper humanity.” Children need to be taught what human life is about. Marriage teaches them. Although we need to take our children to church – to see the ordained priest hallow God’s name – that is not enough. Children also need to be taught human relationship.

When the Church traditionally said that children were the “primary end” of marriage, there was a delightful circularity. On the one hand, the point is that children desperately need the witness of a true marriage: not just a marriage rightly sealed at the altar, but a marriage lived in all the grandeur of human friendship – marriage serves children. On the other hand, in order for marriage to serve this “end,” it must be an end in itself: unless marriage is a magnificent friendship – again, not just sealed at the altar, but lived out in all its “busy generosity” (as Vatican II again proclaims) – it does not serve the children.

Marriage is human relationship, the love of one person for another, in its most fundamental expression. There are those who love more than married couples. But there is no greater icon of what human love is.

Sex is kept in marriage not because marriage is about sex – but because sex is lower than marriage. Sex is the act by which babies are made, and so sex must be kept in the place within that magnificent friendship – including lifetime fidelity – where those babies can flourish. Sex is unitive, too – because you wouldn’t want procreation to happen without union, wouldn’t want children to come into the world without the magnificent friendship of marriage.

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When we say “thy kingdom come,” we don’t just mean blind obedience to a dictatorial will. We will talk about God’s will next week – but his kingdom is something else, something grander. A kingdom means not just mastery, but a realm flourishing because of the benevolence of its monarch. A kingdom is not just a castle – and the Church is not just the altar – but the whole wonderful happy realm that benefits from a wise and just leader.

God’s kingdom is love. God’s kingdom is when love of God (hallowed be thy name) spills out into love of neighbor, and when God loves our neighbor through us. It is when what we experience at the altar becomes a way of life, a way of love, in our homes.

Marriage is not at all the only place where we love. We pray for God’s kingdom to come in all places. And yet the call of true family – a call we live so imperfectly, but to which the sacrament of marriage calls us and for which it gives us grace – manifests to us the true menaing of thy kingdom come.”

How do the imperfections of your family help remind you of the grandeur of family love?

eric.m.johnston

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