Comprehending the Cross

CARISSA PLUTA

 

Death to Self. That doesn’t sound particularly pleasant, does it? Not only that, but it also seems to stand in direct opposition to our human instinct of self-preservation. We were made to survive.

And yet, we are asked to lay down our lives for our spouse not just once but daily for as long as we both shall live. It just doesn’t make sense.

We remember today the greatest of paradoxes--the Cross, an instrument of death that became a symbol of eternal life.


Beaten, bloodied, hanging naked before all, for a crime He didn’t commit. Christ’s body emptied for fallible creatures who would deny Him. His heart spilled out for the imperfect Beloved who would reject Him.

Hours before, He sweated blood in the Garden while asking that this cup pass from Him. In that moment, we see fear of pain, fear of death.

He didn’t have to undergo that suffering. He didn’t have to stay on that cross; He is God after all.

But He did so to show us that, despite the difficulty we may face, despite the moments where our love isn’t perfectly returned, the sacrifice is worth it.

He was held on the cross by the same force that has the power to unite two broken, flawed humans in the sacrament of marriage--Love.

Love makes the suffering of the cross comprehensible.

We look today in a special way upon the cross, upon the perfect Lover. The example set before us on our wedding day of self-gift at its best. The cross offers an honest look at what we are called to in our vocation-- an emptying of oneself, a rejection of the primal instinct of self-preservation to be brought into the greatest of glories. Death and resurrection.

Suffering doesn’t make sense when taken alone. We want our happily ever after, and God-willing, one day we should have it. But we don’t want the mediocre version of happiness the world offers us. Instead our heart longs for the fulfillment of all our desires and we will never be satisfied with anything less.

We enter a new leg of our journey to our heavenly homeland as we enter into our vocation; the heat of the crucible is turned up and there will be moments when we feel the pain of our impurities being burned away.

There will be joy in your marriage, and those moments will be some of the profound moments of joy you will ever experience in this life. But in order to receive what we were created for, those imperfect parts of ourselves must undergo a crucifixtion of sorts, and brought to new life.

As we clear our hearts of our selfishness, we make room for something that is more beautiful than we ever could have imagined--God Himself.

This is what He vows to us on the cross today. This is what He promises to us with His dying breath. I love you, he whispers in the depths of your heart and I want you to spend eternity with me. So, together with your husband, take up your cross and follow me. Lay down your life alongside me, and I promise you will rise with me. I will show you what it means to Love.


Carissa Pluta

About the Author: Carissa Pluta is Spoken Bride’s Editor at Large. She is the author of the blog The Myth Retold. Read more

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Our Origins Point us to our Destiny

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

The latin root of the word ‘origin’ is oriri, meaning, ‘to rise.’

We study our origin to know the root from which we rise. This truth is simplified in the common saying, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” The apple is precisely what it is and where it is because of what and where it came from. Though related to the origin, each fruit carries its own dimension of unique characteristics.

Reading and studying the beginnings of human nature help us more deeply understand our supernatural purpose and eternity in heaven. I imagine studying our origin is like firing a slingshot. The further back you pull the sling—or the deeper you explore your origin—the higher the shot will launch upon release.

Our shared identity as Christian women offers a common foundation. Each of us can say, “I am a human. I am a child of God. I am a woman.” We could explore the roots of our role as daughter or sister. Many of us can say, “I am a wife.” With each piece of our identity, we rise with a beautiful complexity of strengths, graces, skills, weaknesses, and experiences into a wide variety of individuals, called to glorify God in a variety of ways. Let’s begin exploring our shared identity together to strengthen our foundations of self-knowledge and communion with God.

I am a human.

We hear the fulfillment of the universal human heartache in Scripture, when Adam sees Eve and exclaims, “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” He received her as his own, she was seen and loved in her pure existence; in that moment, Adam and Eve experienced the fullness of perfection, in unity, without shame. Following the fall of humanity to sin, our ability to achieve perfection on this side of heaven faded. Nonetheless, every person’s desire for pure companionship and reciprocal love with others remains a part of our human origin.

I am a child of God.

For an understanding of our supernatural destiny, we study the origin of creation by God. He creates every natural element on Earth as an overflow of his love. He is love. Every piece of creation is a fruitful act of love, made to reflect and share his glory throughout the world and to offer love back to him. As a child and image of God, our origin—and, thus, our destiny—is to love others, to receive love, and to be fruitful.

I am a woman.

Saint Pope John Paul II offers several beautiful texts on the origin of our identity as women. In his 1988 Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, he encourages women to explore the origin of their femininity in Christ in order to know their destiny, “In the spirit of Christ, in fact, women can discover the entire meaning of their femininity and thus be disposed to making a “sincere gift of self” to others, thereby finding themselves.”  

In summary of Mulieris Dignitatem, four qualities inherent to the feminine heart and soul are receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity. As we identify the specific roots of our womanhood in these feminine attributes, we rise with confidence in our vocations by nurturing these qualities in ourselves and the women around us. We grow in self-love and develop a greater ability to fruitfully share that love through our specialized feminine gifts.

I am a wife.

Marriage, as a social institution, is rooted in legal, structural and financial benefits to society. Through a historically secular approach, marriage functions to offer foundational assets to a community for the greater good of all.

Supernaturally, or from the perspective of the divine, we are taught that men and women who share life in a covenant are empowered to reflect the image of the creator in a special way. Beyond reflecting God who is love in their individual lives, married couples reflect the inextricable union between Christ and the Church. We look to Christ on the cross to begin understanding the calling of married couples.

As Jesus carried his cross in a journey of salvation for all, husbands and wives are called to carry the burdens and pains of their spouse in their journey towards sanctification. As Jesus died on the cross for the sins of humankind, husbands and wives are called to surrender themselves for the sake of love of another. As Jesus’ side poured out blood and water as a sign of his purifying mercy for the Church, husbands and wives are called to forgive and be strengthened through their marriage to become an overflowing of love and mercy to each other, and their community. As Jesus’ death bore the fruit of grace through the offering of his body and blood, celebrated bodily through the Eucharist, husbands and wives are called to be fruitful through the sharing and offering of their own body and blood in creating new life.

We study our origin to know the root from which we rise.

What is another piece of your identity? I invite you to trace back through your life’s journey of memories, experiences, and callings to solidify your origin in that role. How can a deeper understanding of your origin teach you about yourself, God’s presence in your life, or where God may be calling you? How do your passions, desires, and gifts enable you to love others, to be loved, or to be fruitful in the world?

Reflecting on the origin of your personality, joys, passions, fears, and experiences will undoubtedly pull you to a deeper understanding of your roots so you may rise to the highest heights of your destiny. Ultimately, the ways in which we fulfill our vocations point us to our desire for the ultimate and infinite union with God in heaven.


About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Editor at Large. Stephanie’s perfect day would consist of a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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Where Love Dwells

CARISSA PLUTA

 

Then the Angel departed from her.

A friend of mine recently gave a talk that emphasized this line from Luke 1. This, he said, was the scariest line in Scripture. The words that proceed it are the words most of us have heard over and over again: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

PHOTOGRAPHY:    Laurentina Photography

Mary was invited into something so much bigger than herself, which in itself is frightening. Then she makes this bold statement of faith, and then the angel departed from her. No more questions, no explanation, no other answers.

Mary wasn’t given a roadmap, or a glimpse into the future. She didn’t know that she would have to give birth in a stable and then flee to Egypt to save His life. She never would have guessed that she would eventually watch her son suffer and die on a cross, only to come back from the dead three days later.

But it didn’t matter. When Mary gave her fiat, she said yes to everything that was to come, whether she knew it or not. She willingly said ‘yes’ God and in doing so, said yes to whatever would demand of her.

Like Mary, our “I do” at the altar contains a mysterious and sometimes messy reality.

When we make those promises of love we can’t know everything that will happen between then and that moment when death does us part. We don’t know how those vows will take shape. While we can dream about those good times, the bad times will inevitably come. While we can hope for health, sickness may still find its way in.

The promises I made on a spring afternoon almost three years ago look very different after two moves, big decisions, and a toddler later. And it will look even more different fifty years from now as our lives continue to unfold.

On that special day I, in a sense, made a promise to the unknown. I joyfully and willingly said “I Do” to a mystery.

And, similar to the Annunciation, it is in this mystery that Love dwells.


Love, a radical outpouring of self, is not found in knowing what is to come, but in the present. No matter how hard we try, love cannot be planned; it can only be chosen when the moment presents itself.

It is formed in those times of surrender, of joy, of consolation, and of desolation. It takes root among the laundry and dirty dishes, among the moving boxes and new jobs.

It is strengthened in the sleepless nights and early mornings, in the baby cries and smelly diapers. In wounded pride and tearful apologies, in laughter that makes your stomach hurt.

Heaven and earth intersect in a unique way when a man and woman promise themselves to the other. These earthly vows make room in our hearts for the divine, for eternity itself. Our minds cannot comprehend the depths of this Divine love we are promising. We may not understand what the words fully mean until we reach Heaven.

But like Mary we are called to say “I do” with our entire being. And like Mary, we can trust that God will give us the grace to be faithful to our call and make our “yes” truly life-giving.


Carissa Pluta

About the Author: Carissa Pluta is Spoken Bride’s Editor at Large. She is the author of the blog The Myth Retold. Read more

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Newlywed Life | What Do You Do When You and Your Spouse Have Different Outlooks on Health + Wellness?

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

My husband spent our year-long engagement two states away in his first year of grad school, determined to save money for our life together by shopping and eating as little as possible on his small stipend. The first time I saw him after he moved, he’d visibly lost weight and was more tired than usual--the result of a steady diet of frozen broccoli, boxed mac and cheese, scrambled eggs, and a weekly frozen burrito splurge on Sundays. I bought him a cookbook and promised we could live prudently without sacrificing his health.

Meanwhile, as I embarked on post-college living for the first time, I was sampling kombucha, oil pulling, and debating buying barefoot-style running shoes. Was my husband unnecessarily ascetic? Was I blindly following any wellness trend that appeared on my radar? The answer was probably both.

Even several years into marriage, I frequently observe the ways family of origin shapes your outlook, for better or for worse. My parents, sister, and I would take classes together at the gym and enjoyed cooking together from scratch. My husband and his siblings preferred pick-up sports to gyms, and his family often prioritized convenience and savings over other factors when grocery shopping.

After our wedding, as we began sharing meals and a bank account, my husband and I found ourselves in significant disagreement over how to use our limited resources well and to determine what was actually “healthy.” He called me a snob when I turned up my nose at butter that wasn’t grass-fed. I called him careless when he’d come home fatigued and sick from dipping into the candy jar at work all day.

I look back and see each of our immoderate perspectives on wellness as a typical example of the growing pains of newlywed life. Becoming familiar with one another’s spending habits, tastes, and day-to-day nutritional, sleep, and exercise requirements are among many adjustments in the merging of two individuals’ habits into a new, shared life. I have asked myself, however, why I felt so passionately about health in particular, and why I often insisted my husband conform himself more to my habits than vice versa. He’d press me, insisting he’d cherish and care for me no matter if one of us gained weight or developed an illness.

I truly believe the human body makes manifest God’s glory and expresses the person. I believe taking care of my physical well-being--held, that is, in proper perspective with my spiritual well-being--better provides me with the energy and clarity of mind to serve my husband and children in my vocation and to place my gifts at the service of the Lord.

Yet if I’m being entirely honest with myself, I also see the raw places in my heart that hide in fear: I fear sickness, death, infertility. I fear my appearance won’t be enough for my husband; the lie that, as a woman, how I look equals who I am. It’s a constant struggle for me to embrace the tension of pursuing fulfillment in this life while still fixing my eyes on the next. I desire, too much, to cling to this life in which I’ve been graced with so many gifts.

Eternal preservation, good health, and youth aren’t the ultimate goods. Eternal life, however, is.

Fulfillment without flaw. As I’ve worked to cast down these idols, time has given my husband and I more of a shared, moderate perspective on diet, exercise, supplements, and otherwise.

So where to turn if, like us, you find yourself and your beloved at odds over a major lifestyle matter--health and wellness, or otherwise?

First, I encourage you to accept differences of opinion as a normal accompaniment to your time of transition as newlyweds and, moreover, to delve into them. Like me, you might recognize a root cause that illuminates the parts of you the Father wants to heal, to reconcile, to be invited into.

Second, trust that your spouse chose you, loves you, made a vow to you--a mirror of our heavenly bridegroom. He wants you, no matter if you’re an XS or XL, if you eat or don’t eat gluten, if you’re marathons or Couch to 5K.

And lastly, turn to the Lord. Ask how you, in particular, can put yourself at the service of the Gospel--body and soul--and for him to reveal who you were created to be, and a healthy perspective on wellness will follow.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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Newlywed Life | Becoming the Sacrament

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

He approached the microphone, looked across the altar where we sat side-by-side, and began the homily of our Nuptial Mass, “Today, you have traveled here to commit your vows to each other in front of friends and family in the Sacrament of Matrimony.”

Father Martin pauses, glances around the sanctuary, then looks back at us; the thoughtful pause in his diction builds emphasis and suspense before he puts words on a vital truth,

“Today, you become the sacrament.”

PHOTOGRAPHY:   AN ENDLESS PURSUIT

PHOTOGRAPHY: AN ENDLESS PURSUIT

Fast-forward three weeks into married life when my husband and I received a phone call from my parents and the two priests who concelebrated our wedding. They were all together for dinner—and eager to hear our updates.

They asked about married life, routines, work schedules, and dinner plans. Eventually Father Martin took hold of the phone and, with his dignified pause, created some silence across the phone line before speaking. “Ahem, Mr. and Mrs. Fries, I have a question for you. On your wedding day I shared how you became the sacrament through the grace of the sacrament.”

“Yes, that sounds familiar,” we responded with anticipation.

“So, my question: in this first month of marriage, how have you become the sacrament?”

Geoff and I looked at each other with blank stares; we were now utilizing our own intentional pause before we responded. To be honest, that was not a conversation topic that had come up between us since we first heard it from our seats on the altar. We didn’t have our response prepared on the tip of our tongues. But there was the question, waiting to be answered.

How have we become the sacrament?

When something is sacramental, an invisible, theological truth is made visible. Sacrament involves transformation.

Consider, for example, the sacrament of Baptism. As the prayers are said and the catechumen is “freed from sin and reborn as a child of God,” pouring water over their head is the visible component to bring a spiritual reality to life. Beyond receiving the sacrament of initiation, the people of the church are empowered in a new way, ”Faith must grow after Baptism. For this reason the Church celebrates each year at the Easter Vigil the renewal of baptismal promises. Preparation for Baptism leads only to the threshold of new life.”

In the Sacrament of Matrimony, vows are said aloud, rings are exchanged and, if possible, those vows are physically consummated. Through the sacrament, there is a visible and invisible uniting of the husband and wife. Following the sacrament itself, “This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple's love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity.“

I pause to wonder, what truths have we made visible since our sacramental union? How have we been transformed?

In our own experience, married life was initially surrounded by logistical changes, yet our spirits were marked with a consistent, calm embrace of our new shared life. We responded to Father Martin’s question in a dialogue, offering reflections of the peace and joy which resonated in our hearts since our wedding day. We spoke of our experiences of service and generosity to each other in our new home. “But really, we just love getting to start and finish our day next to each other and sharing all of the adventures in between.”

Our answer felt too simple.

When Father spoke next, you could hear the smile on his face. He echoed the shared memory of the tangible joy and peace of our wedding day; he offered praise that we continue to receive those graces from God. He emphasized, again, “I want you to remember, you become the sacrament.”

In the months following our conversation, Father Martin’s question has resurfaced as a frequent point of personal reflection. How do two people become a living sacrament of marriage? How have we become the sacrament?

Just as I begin to feel my heart rate increasing by the stirring of mental over-analysis, I am calmed with a familiar nudge from the Holy Spirit—a reminder to remember. Remember the simplicity. Remember the peace of our first season of married life, the answered prayers which built a foundation of confidence that God is with us.

Now, seven months into married life, my husband and I have shifted in and through a variety of seasons; contrasting seasons of peace, loneliness, adventure, anxiety and joy, woven together by the constant desire for God’s presence. The highs and the lows, different as they may feel, are similar in the way they unite us in vulnerability, communication, forgiveness, prayer and love through our vocation.

The highs and the lows and the learning in-between have all become gifts of grace.  

As we receive these graces of marriage, we receive God’s love.
As we receive him, we are commissioned to love one another.
In loving and being loved, we become visible signs of love—images of God.
As a physical form of love, we are the sacrament of marriage.

Maybe my answer will sound very different this time next year, given more time and experience as a wife. But maybe becoming the sacrament is as simple as receiving the grace of each season and seeking love.

How do you and your spouse become the sacrament in your vocation?


About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Editor at Large. Stephanie’s perfect day would consist of a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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The Bible is an Epic Love Poem

JESSE ROSS

 

The word “love” is thrown around a lot lately--it’s no wonder it’s getting a little banged up.

Photography:    31Four Jewelry

Photography: 31Four Jewelry

If we pick up the word “love” off the debate floor, though, and polish it up a little bit, we find that it is as beautiful as can be, a lot older, a lot richer, and a lot more intentional than we usually give it credit for.

Consider the history of love: there is a great epic poem written about it, and it is based in the Near to Middle East. It starts with a lonely man foraging on a planet by himself. The creator of the planet comes down and tells the lonely man that he can have everything on the whole planet: all the weird animals nobody has ever seen before, all the spiny green and viney plants, even all the things swimming and squirming around in the planet’s vast oceans.

The creator of this planet hasn’t even deigned to give anything names. The lonely man gets to  call them whatever he wants. And the place is beautiful (envision waterfalls, coconut trees, and lush flowering landscapes). In fact, the man is placed right in the middle of a veritable paradise.

But something isn’t right. The man is lonely. So the creator who loves him perfectly makes another person for him; so he can experience love and give love. Now this no-longer-lonely man and his fiance (for lack of a better term) stand before their creator, listen to the rules about the creator’s planet, agree to follow them, and are told to “be fruitful and multiply.”

This is the way it starts out: the first chapter, the first marriage.

This poem is printed in every language, and it goes on to tell tale after tale about love in one way or another; love of that original creator, love between the original man’s sons and daughters (and the ensuing drama and murder between them), and eventually love between a God and the entire people he created, ending in a tragic but beautiful death.

This epic poem, if you haven’t figured it out, is the Bible, and it talks about love for thousands of pages.

In fact, a narrative thread can be woven through the entirety of the Bible with the reader as the hero. But not only is there a hero in the Bible; it is largely written in verse (poetry form). Therefore, we can say the Bible is an epic love poem, an extraordinary form of poetic, narrative prose!

As members of the Roman Catholic Church, we claim ownership of this great narrative poetry. Our values are reflected in it because we wrote it, excepting the Old Testament books which we inherited from our Jewish ancestors.

So if we want to know what love is--as Catholics--and how we ought to define it, all we have to do is look closely at how it is represented in our literature. Just as we might look at how the ancient Norse writings represented Beowulf as a warrior who was rich beyond belief. So like Vikings valued war and gold, Catholics value true love.

In the case of Adam and Eve (that once lonely man and his wife), they lived physically and spiritually together. When she sinned, he sinned, and their salvations were bound together. They had children, and eventually they died together. They are prototypical parents but also intimately connected with God, since he is present as they become man and wife.

Also, since we know how the story of salvation history ends: with the new Eve and the salvation of Jesus Christ, despite committing the first sin, Adam and Eve are invited into redemption (much later in the poem) through the sacrificial act of crucifixion.

A logical read of this literature yields that marriage is inherently good. That it is part of God’s plan. But we also learn that everyone will face problems in their marriage, and the path to their salvation will be forged out of it, as well as the salvation of their children.

In the book of Genesis, the very basis of love itself is set forth. It defines the creation of mankind not merely as a set of individuals but as a complementary set made up necessarily of men and women. This is part and parcel of creation.

Moving beyond the popular, political argument of biblical marriage including a man and a woman, this chapter in Genesis says that marriage is not merely about being an individual.  Rather, the next intended stage of life itself is marriage.

Consider that unique value. Marriage isn’t part of life. Life ordinarily culminates in marriage. And if it doesn’t, that life is uniquely and extraordinarily recognized by the lack of the normal marriage state. This is the case of religious sisters and priests--their celibate state tends to be recognized because of its sacrificial lacking in one way or another.

In our Bible narrative, marriage is a divinely created concept. Eve was made for Adam. Adam was there before her, waiting for her, profoundly alone without her. He was made for Eve because he was deliberately created to receive and give love. He waits for his love and helpmate, which leads us into the second great biblical imagery and literature of love: the Song of Songs.

The location of the first wedding is the Garden of Eden. The later, classic Hebrew example of romantic love is the Song of Songs. It is interesting that the bridegroom also talks of a garden, of pomegranates, of “choice fruits.” In fact, this garden imagery is explicitly stated when Solomon writes “you are a garden locked up.”

Again, the idea of marriage as a fruitful garden repeats. This is our value system, being described in poetry. What’s more, virtually every sense--even less common literary examples of senses such as taste, “your lips drop sweetness of the honeycomb,” and tactile sensations, “my head is drenched with dew,” seem to point towards the physicality of marriage.

The Song of Songs celebrates physical love in dramatic and almost scandalous sensory imagery. And this is in the Bible, canonically defining marital love as a physical act between a man and a woman. It is a fruitful act, and one that is celebrated and to be engaged in with every sense you have.

Thus, if in Genesis we accept marriage as a destined purpose of life, and from the Song of Songs we learn the physicality between a bride and groom is a part of it, then we have to consider what else is part of love.

To put it simply, God is.

In Song of Songs 4:8, Lebanon is mentioned several times. What’s more, the bridegroom says to his beloved, “come to me from Lebanon,” which is the modern-day locale of Cana, the first miracle and also a wedding. This leads us, obviously and finally, to Jesus Christ.

In Christopher West’s book, The Word Made Flesh, he reminds us that St. Augustine poignantly describes the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as a marriage between him, the bridegroom, and the church, his bride. St. Augustine goes so far as to refer to “the marriage bed of the cross.”

This crucifixion is a corporal interaction with God and his people. It is a sacrifice, a death, and a rebirth--it is everything that marriage is as we know it.

Even more mysterious is that unlike every other sacrament, marriage is a sacrament that the bride and groom confer on each other, not the priest, though he is the witness. Similarly, Jesus and the world together performed the sacramental crucifixion--witnessed and allowed by God the Father.

It is a beautiful love story with an extremely interesting meta-fictional twist. Because of this death and resurrection, we (the viewers, the readers, the audience) get to relive this day to day. It is our example for marriage, if we do it right.

So how is this cutting edge “meta” literature possible 2000 years ago? Because it is truth. The Catholic Mass is yet another example of literature in action. The Mass can be reviewed and studied as a great drama, whereas we are players in a chorus. Catholics have stood and sat and knelt and recreated this drama every hour of every day for thousands of years.

Literature is art that comments on the human condition.

When used correctly, it is a breeding ground of truth. So true things have their place there, whether or not we understand them yet. Consider, for example, that Macbeth can accurately be diagnosed with schizophrenia long before it was a recognized disease.

Even as a less avant garde read, taken at face value, the Bible is a love story, and it contains a blueprint for what love is. But it is even more than a blueprint for Catholics. It is a blueprint for love to the Catholic Church, by whose authority we receive the Bible, to all Christians who seek to follow it, and to all those of any tradition (or lack thereof) who seek to know the overarching and unifying truth of love throughout the history of humankind.


About the Author: Jesse Ross is a father of four and a proud member of the Knights of Columbus. He holds an MFA in poetry; his fiction, nonfiction, and poetry can be found in several anthologies, Spoken Bride, and McSweeney’s. He is a precious metalsmith and co-founder of the Catholic art company 31Four, artisan jewelry.

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The Feast of St. Joseph | A Fellow Human, A Saintly Spouse

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph: foster father of Jesus, spouse of Mary and head of the holy family. He was a carpenter, he was a man.

When we look to Joseph, we see a man who surrendered himself to the direction from an angel in his dreams. We read how he obeyed the command of God, loved and served Mary as his chaste spouse, and raised Jesus, the son of God, as his own earthly son.

Have you ever imagined when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus in the caravan, only to find him days later, preaching to adult men in the temple? My heart goes out to Joseph. The parameters of his mission were simple: love, protect, and guide Jesus and Mary. All in all, through obedience and grace, Joseph fulfilled his calling. But in this experience of losing Jesus and consoling Mary, I imagine Joseph was tempted to worry and despair.

Years later, Joseph died when Jesus was 30-years-old, on the brink of his public ministry. I picture Joseph lying on his deathbed, preparing to part from his earthly life. Joseph must have felt both sorrow and joy as he left his family with anticipation for his son’s powerful mission. I imagine the deep sadness of Jesus and Mary who said goodbye to their beloved.

Reflecting on the stories of Joseph bring his humble holiness to a human reality.

As we gaze at Joseph in statues and paintings, recall stories of him in Scripture or reach out to him in prayer, we encounter a friend. He is so approachable; a human man who intimately encountered the divine every day. This man who we rightfully honor with holy veneration was conceived with original sin. He was as human as me and you.

In the vocation to married life, we are sacramentally offered good and holy gifts such as intimacy, vulnerability, and companionship. Receiving and living out these gifts can often send individuals and couples to the heights of love, or can expose a raw wound of human brokenness. Perhaps in a moment of insecurity we believe, “I am not enough.” In the midst of an argument we fear abandonment. In prolonged frustration and anxiety, we despair and lose trust in God’s providence.

It may be easy to admire an icon of Joseph, Mary and Jesus and assume the immense joy in their family life. Amidst the celebration of such pure trinitarian love of the family, I hope against hope that there were days Joseph wished he could love Mary better. Or days when he was disappointed by how he received Mary’s perfect love. Joseph’s imperfections are the only stains of sin in the holy family, yet his entire being—holiness and imperfection combined—was destined for his specific vocation.

Through both his human imperfection and pure intention, God empowered Joseph to love Mary, show Jesus about the love between a husband and a wife, and receive love from his family. In the same way, we are each called to be fully present with God in our unique vocation, to love with virtue despite our own shortcomings.

God has so carefully woven two lives together in your marriage. On the days when your sinful, selfish, or short-sighted human nature is too much to bear, remember goodwill and purity of heart are enough for love. In striving to love and be loved, moments which expose brokenness do not define a limit for love. Rater, these moments help us identify where grace and mercy can provide healing. Joseph’s example offers peace and encouragement to every person, for our hearts to become a channel for God’s love to shine through.

St. Therese of Lisieux offers encouragement to little souls, to those who recognize their long journey to perfection, “Agree to stumble at every step therefore, even to fall, to carry your cross weakly, to love your helplessness. Your soul will draw more profit from it than if, carried by grace, you would accomplish with enthusiasm heroic actions that would fill your soul with personal satisfaction and pride.”

You are human. Joseph was human. If he could fulfill his vocation to the Holy Family, you can fulfill your vocation in your own holy family. You were created for a mission exactly where you are. As you bring your completely human heart to God, you will grow—with an ever-deepening purity of heart—in the capacity to love and be loved.

St. Joseph, you sought to bring glory to God in every action and word. Together with your pure heart, Mary’s Immaculate heart, and Jesus’ Sacred heart, guide me to embrace my human imperfection with humility so that I may receive God’s mercy and grow ever more deeply into the virtue of my vocation. St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus, pray for us.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Editor at Large. Stephanie’s perfect day would consist of a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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