Unveiling Mystery | Venerable Fulton Sheen on Sacramental Marriage

MARIAH MAZA

 

We know through the wisdom of Scripture and tradition that Christian marriage, a lifelong, indissoluble covenant between two baptized persons, is a sacrament. In the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he speaks about the self-giving love of husbands and wives and how this love reflects the love of Christ for his bride, the Church. 

Through Jesus, marriage is elevated to something more profound, divine, and mysterious. At the end of Ephesians 5, Paul confirms this: “This (marital love) is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” This “great mystery” of marital love is something sacramental.

PHOTOGRAPHY:    THE MANTILLA COMPANY

In fact, the origin of the word “sacrament” can be traced back to the Greek word mysterion meaning “mystery.” In return, the Latin word mysterium can be translated to mean “sacrament.” This is why, in the Byzantine Rite, the seven sacraments are referred to as the Holy Mysteries.

But these sacraments, despite being “mysterious” by their very nature, are something intended for us to enter into. The mysteries of the Church are not to remain shrouded in secret. God desires to reveal the divine beauty and reality of them to us through his grace. This element of mystery and the subsequent “unveiling” of it is especially true in marriage.

Soon-to-be-beatified Archbishop Fulton Sheen had a deep understanding of the divine mystery of sacramental marriage, despite his unmarried state in the priesthood. In his spiritual classic Three to Get Married, he writes, “great are the joys in marriage, as there is the lifting of progressive veils, until one is brought into the blazing lights of the Presence of God.” 

He wrote about four main mysteries, or “veils,” progressively lifted in marriage as a couple journeyed deeper and deeper into the sacrament: 

“In a true marriage, there is an ever-enchanting romance...First, there is the mystery of the other partner, which is body-mystery.”

Before marriage, a couple’s growing desire for intimacy manifests on multiple levels: emotional, spiritual, and physical. But until the sacrament is conferred, the ultimate expression of this desire for intimacy, for complete communion--for consummation--cannot yet be experienced. In the marriage vows, “both give themselves definitively and totally to one another. They are no longer two; from now on they form one flesh” (CCC 2364). Now the beauty of marital intimacy can be fully expressed in the spouses’ one flesh union. The first “veil” is lifted, because the beloved becomes totally known emotionally, spiritually, and physically in the sexual act of complete self-gift.

“When that mystery is solved and the first child is born, there begins a new mystery. The husband sees something in the wife he never before knew existed, namely, the beautiful mystery of motherhood. She sees a new mystery in him she never before knew existed, namely, the mystery of fatherhood.”

The Church teaches that “conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment” (CCC 2366). The mystery of sacramental marriage does not end after the wedding night, but rather grows and deepens through the fruitfulness of that consummation. 

Many times, that fruitfulness comes in the form of a child. And as a husband and wife welcome the birth of their child, an incredible transformation occurs in their hearts: the birth of their identities as mother and father. This reveals a facet of the beloved previously unknown. Spouses can delight in the unveiling of motherly and fatherly love they witness in each other with the onset of parenthood.

“As the children reach the age of reason, a third mystery unfolds, that of father-craft and mother-craft – the disciplining and training of young minds and hearts in the ways of God.”

Proverbs 22:6 admonishes parents to “train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.” And thus, another mystery unfolds in marriage: the mystery of the “domestic church.” Husbands and wives, now mothers and fathers, take on the responsibility of spiritually forming the souls of their children. They strive in family life to imitate the Holy Family where Christ himself was born and raised. To do this, the spouses must continue to lean on the endless graces of the marriage sacrament, which, in its fruitfulness, has only grown in life and love since their wedding day.  

“As the children grow into maturity, the mystery continues to deepen, new areas of exploration open up, and the father and mother now see themselves as sculptors in the great quarry of humanity, carving living stones and fitting them together in the Temple of God, Whose Architect is Love.”

As parents watch their children grow in age and virtue, they witness the fruits of their prayers and spiritual formation. In time, patience, and trust in the Lord, spouses can hope to see their sons and daughters become saints who take their place in salvation history. 

At this point the time before children, when the “body-mystery” of their one flesh union was yet to be unveiled, is many years past. But the mysteries of sacramental marriage continue, until, in the words of Fulton Sheen, husband and wife are “brought into the blazing lights of the Presence of God,” when Heaven itself is unveiled. “The body may grow older,” says Archbishop Sheen, “but the Spirit grows younger, and love often becomes more intense.”

If you are engaged, the excitement of these unknowns becoming known is something to joyfully anticipate as your wedding day approaches. If you and your beloved are newlyweds, perhaps you have already experienced the sacred beauty that awaits behind one or two of these “veils.” May you find joy in the unending mystery of the sacrament and strength in the graces God desires to lavish on you and your beloved.

Venerable Fulton Sheen, pray for us, for all engaged couples preparing for marriage, and for newlyweds just beginning to unveil the mysteries of the sacrament.


About the Author: Mariah Maza is Spoken Bride’s Features Editor. She is the co-founder of Joans in the Desert, a blog for bookish and creative Catholic women. Read more

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Stresses During Engagement Can Strengthen Your Marriage.

KIKI HAYDEN

 

It is hard to thank God for the difficult situations in our lives, but each time we surrender to the Lord, he works a miracle in our hearts.

Honestly, I am grateful that Michael and I endured some trials before we got married. Engagement, while a joyful time, can also be a time of intense formation in preparation for marriage. It is an opportunity to wash each other's feet, to face challenges together, and to rely on Jesus as the source of your strength and love.

You and your fiancé are sharing many joys during this time, but probably some sorrows as well. If one of you suffers, so does the other, and this shared experience can happen at a whole new level now that you have committed to becoming a family. It feels raw and vulnerable. But Jesus teaches that intimate relationships involve serving each other—and being vulnerable enough to receive service.

One of the most tender moments in Scripture is when Jesus washes his disciples' feet. At first, Peter refuses to let the Lord wash his dirty feet, but Jesus explains that this service, although messy, is crucial to their relationship (John 13:4-17):

“Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”

At first I, like Peter, was reluctant to allow Michael to serve me. I was determined to contribute equally to the relationship, and Michael expressed a similar sentiment. Neither of us wanted to be a "burden" to the other. But throughout our engagement, the Lord humbled us over and over again, sometimes in not-so-small ways. There were cockroach infestations, broken down cars, a minor surgery, a lost job, and even a death in the family.

With our pride stripped away, we were better able to humbly receive service and support from each other.

And as our relationship grew stronger, we realized it didn't matter if one of us was doing more serving and the other more receiving. We were becoming a family, and families don't keep score.

This lesson has been extremely important in our marriage as we continue to lean on each other. While some of our experiences during our engagement were sad, I can see now that the Lord didn't let any suffering go to waste. He used each trial, whether big or small, to bring us together and to teach us how to carry each other's crosses.

Furthermore, there is a whole new kind of challenge during engagement: making big decisions that affect you as a unit, as a family. Maybe you and your fiancé are deciding where to live after you get married, how to budget, or how to navigate the maze of wedding preparation. When there are bumps in the road, you are now affected as a couple. Two lives have already begun to become one.

One of our bumps in the road was our marriage paperwork. Through our own oversight, our files were lost somewhere between the Roman Catholic parish and the Byzantine Catholic parish. Many phone calls, emails, letters, visits to parish offices, and five months later, the files were in one place, and we were finally allowed to attend our first premarital counseling session.

We felt the effects of our mistake not as "my problem" or "Michael's problem", but as something we would have to solve together with God's help. At the time, I did not embrace these difficulties with grace. But looking back, I thank God for them.

During our engagement, we discovered that we can love each other, suffer together, and stay faithful to God's plan even when it doesn't look like circumstances are going to work out as we would prefer them. So when we encountered an unexpected cross during our first year of marriage, it wasn't the first time we had been challenged as a couple.

Here's the thing, though: we couldn’t have done any of that without Jesus. "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Christ is the source of strength and love in all marriages. As Catholics, we have access to Scripture and the sacraments, where we encounter God and receive his graces.

I can't be strong for Michael, nor him for me, if we rely only on ourselves. And it isn't enough to rely on each other, either.

Sometimes we both feel stressed or sad. In those moments, Jesus reminds us of his love for both of us. He even feeds us with his own body in the Eucharist to give us strength to keep going in situations that seem beyond our capabilities.

So as you and your fiancé progress together through your engagement, I pray that every difficulty, every disagreement, and every decision will bring you both closer to each other—and, more importantly, to the God who created you and loves you both. Your vocation is a call to holiness, so why not start embracing that attitude as you prepare for marriage?

Whether great tragedy or minor inconvenience, suffering doesn't have to be pointless. We can allow God to use those moments to sanctify us. Remember, "In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)


About the Author: Kiki Hayden is a writer and Bilingual Speech Therapist living in Texas with her dog Goldberry and her husband Michael. She is a Byzantine Catholic. To find out more about how God is changing her life through speech therapy, visit her website, Speaking with Kiki.

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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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A Catholic Jeweler Shares the Scriptural Heritage of Precious Metals in Wedding Jewelry

JESSE ROSS

 

The average American spends an average of about $6000 on an engagement ring. As a third-generation jeweler, I designed my own wedding ring about fifteen years ago, using precious metal and diamonds, and being in the business I was able to spend considerably less than this figure.

But this isn’t about how much to spend on a ring. The reality is that your budget determines that for you. If the cost of your wedding jewelry seems steep, consider this perspective into why we should use precious metals, which are particularly significant for sacramental Catholic marriage.

In Exodus, the Lord gives Moses very specific instructions on how to create the vestments, the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, and more. The Lord’s chosen materials? Gold. Silver. Bronze. In fact, gold and silver are each mentioned approximately 200 times in the Old Testament. Similarly, wife is mentioned 228 times.

What does this mean for us? To start, it means the inherent value of certain physical materials is something that the Lord pays attention to. It is part of his vocabulary of creation.

This is because he created everything. And among those created things are the chemical elements of silver and gold. An entire star has to explode in a supernova for Him to make them! When speaking to Moses, God chooses these materials specifically and calls them by name, in Exodus. He even gave the artisan Bezalel the special talent of creating “artistic designs in gold, silver, and bronze.”

In Genesis, after Abraham’s wife Sarah died and their Isaac had yet to be married, Abraham must have experienced tremendous considering that Isaac was the son of whom God had promised countless descendants. So Abraham sent a servant to his own land in order find a wife for Isaac. The servant followed dutifully and took 10 camels to the city of Nahor.

The servant prayed to the God of Abraham:

...if I say to a young woman, ‘Please lower your jug, that I may drink,’ and she answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels, too,’ then she is the one whom you have decided upon for your servant Isaac. In this way I will know…”

Enter Rebekah, carrying a jug on her shoulder with which to draw water. The servant “ran toward her” and the prayer was answered in exactly the way he asked God to make it clear, at which point he presents her with a ring. Of course, it’s made of gold.

That’s the depth of the heritage of wedding rings in precious metal.

Deep down, we all know precious metals mean something. That some things are sacred.

A Styrofoam cup, for instance, isn’t used for a chalice during the liturgy of the Eucharist, but silver or gold. We participate in the sacrament of Eucharist regularly; it is sacred yet it is commonplace. We honor and revere this sacrament, and our choice in materials shows this. As Catholics, our marriages are first and foremost a sacrament. So similarly, our choice in wedding ring materials is an opportunity to honor and revere this everyday sacrament.

Admittedly, the cost of precious metals can certainly be a financial sacrifice. Yet marriage itself is a sacramental sacrifice. The precious metals we choose allow us a unique way in which to offer thanks and praise to God for our spouse. The metals we choose can reflect a fitting expression of our view of this sacrament.

They allow us to look at the meager 118 elements God created and choose the same precious materials he chose. To co-create alongside him something that is both old and also new, a precious symbol of love and honor and tradition. Something universally precious.


About the Author: After a consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Jesse Ross was filled with the Holy Spirit "to create artistic designs in gold, silver, and bronze," as prescribed in the Book of Exodus. He decided to leave a tenured position to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather as a jeweler. Jesse and his wife, Angie, are Co-Founders of 31:Four Artisan Jewelry, an all-Catholic design and manufacturing studio based in the Orlando area. They are teaching the trade to their four children, who will be fourth-generation jewelers.

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