Marriage and the Touch of Christ
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

Today is Marriage Sunday, but the readings do not directly bear upon marriage, only indirectly. Jesus touches a leper who has tremendous faith: “If you choose, you can make me clean”. Jesus moved with compassion replies: “I do choose. Be made clean”.

It is the touch of Christ that heals. And that is why he became flesh, to be able to touch us with his own flesh and blood, and every time we receive him here, in the Eucharist, he touches us with his own flesh and blood. The Eucharist heals, just like good food heals over time, the Bread of Life heals as we pursue him, seek out his presence, and consume him regularly.

Sometimes I’ll flip through the TV channels and will come across the Daily Mass, recorded at St. Basil’s Church in Toronto, and whenever they turn the camera to the congregation, I think: ‘How sad’. The whole Church is empty, except for about 5 or 6 people who obviously get it. There is so much suffering in this world, physical, mental, emotional, marital, work related, etc., and Christ alone heals, because he is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Word, our origin and end, and he touches us literally, in the flesh, in this Eucharistic mystery, and out of all the people who need healing in that area of the city, about 5 or 6 are there ready to receive his touch. And that’s a good reflection of every city. Why is there so much brokenness in the world if such healing is available? Because there is so little faith, which is precisely why Jesus said he could only work a few signs in his home town of Nazareth.

And Christ alone heals marriages, because Christ is the Bridegroom, and he came among us to take a Bride to himself. I used to have a poster in my classroom that said “Christ is the third party of every marriage”. If he isn’t, the couple will very likely experience serious trouble soon after the initial ceremony.

There are some good signs today among young people. Although the majority of people in Scandinavian countries are not getting married, but cohabitating, the vast majority of young people today want to be married. But I always challenge my students to tell me what it is that they want when they say they want marriage. What exactly does ‘marriage’ mean? And they find it very difficult to articulate. And that is understandable, because they are raised in a culture that no longer really understands what marriage is. We think it is something that Parliament can define and redefine at will. But it’s fun to push young people to try to articulate what it is they really want, and eventually they begin to articulate that what they want is someone who will give not just himself, not just a part of himself, but his entire self to her, and she wants to reciprocate, receive that complete and total self-giving, and give her entire self to him. And that mutual self-giving, if it is a total self-giving, will have certain properties.

It is an irrevocable self-giving precisely because it is total; if I give something partially and hang on to a part of it, I can revoke that giving by pulling back. But if I give all of it without hanging on to even a part of it, I cannot retrieve it. If a couple genuinely give themselves entirely to one another, that self-giving is an irrevocable gift, for no part of them has been held back. That is why a genuine marriage is an indissoluble one flesh union. A valid marriage cannot be dissolved. The two have given one another an irrevocable identity of “spouse” which cannot be undone anymore than one can undo one’s identity as a parent. That’s a very weighty thing, to be willing to give that.

And because marriage is a mutual and total giving of one’s bodily self to another, it is till death, for only death can take my body from another or the other’s body from me. So, to intend a temporary union is not to intend a marriage. And, because a couple that intends to marry intends a one flesh union, there must be an openness to children. It does not mean that a child must ensue, that’s not always possible, a couple can find themselves infertile, but that openness to life is necessary for the marriage to be valid.

Marriage is a very noble and holy vocation, and it is a very difficult vocation, because it’s about learning to love. But not everyone can be married, because not everyone has the moral capacity and the psychological maturity to actually give him or herself totally and completely to another, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death part them. If a man cannot make smaller sacrifices, for example, is unwilling to stop smoking pot despite his fiancé’s repeated appeals, or if he refuses to give up old vices that continue to weaken the relationship, it is logically impossible for him to give his entire self to another. I can’t give the whole of me, but refuse to give a part; I can only give a part while refusing to give the whole. And that is why a lot of marriages within the last 40 years or so have been invalid, and why there are a lot of annulments. Many think they are ready for marriage because they are full of the excitement and the exhilaration of embarking on something new, but their love, although it is sweet as candy, is often as weak as candy and as such, it simply cannot support the difficulties that are in store for every married couple.

But if a couple’s marriage is valid, then the sacramental graces are there to help them become good and faithful spouses and good parents. But every marriage needs healing, because every human life needs constant healing, and the touch of Christ alone heals. It’s up to the couple to approach the Lord with the very same faith as the leper in the gospel: “If you choose, you can make me clean. You can heal us Lord”. If he sees that faith in a couple struggling to love one another as Christ loves his Bride, he will be moved with pity, stretch out his hand and touch them, saying: “I do choose. Be made clean.” But we have to allow him to touch us; we have to have the eyes of faith to see him literally in this sacrifice of the Mass. Our entire married life has to be centered around the Mass, and nothing else.