And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:4-6)
Jesus says that from the beginning of creation God made humans both male and female, designed for marriage. If we are following God’s will, we recognize that it is not merely human chemistry which unites people in marriage, though in the modern age that human element plays the biggest role in what brings a couple together. But a Christian couple asks God to unite them in marriage, bringing God into the relationship even in dealing with problems that may arise. The fact that we invite God to unite us in marriage does not guarantee that there will not be human problems and failures. One can hope that the couple being aware of God’s presence in uniting them will also seek God’s help when problems arise because they are also seeking salvation in and through the God-blessed marital relationship.
The aim of marriage and the Eucharist “… is ultimately salvation, obtained as a free gift of divine grace by those who accept the arduous pathway to holiness, one that involves ongoing repentance and constant struggle against what the patristic tradition terms the ‘passions.’ The end of that pathway, for marriage as for Eucharistic celebration, is eternal communion with the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. This may be described as a participation in divine Life itself, denoted by the Greek term theosis or ‘deification.’” (Philip LeMasters, TOWARD A EUCHARISTIC VISION OF THE CHURCH, FAMILY, MARRIAGE & SEX, p v)
St Paul captures this idea of a godly marriage in his Epistle to the Ephesians: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:31-33). In sacramental marriage, we enter into a divine mystery. The potential for a divine blessing is great, but still there is a human element to marriage which creates for each of us a challenge to allow God’s love to guide our passionate love.
Human love gets tested with time, then comes true Christian love when we no longer rely on our emotional infatuation and have to choose to love our spouse by denying our self and taking up our cross. This is not a lesser love, but the opportunity for growth in love so that love doesn’t remain reduced to an emotion or passion but grows into an experience of the Holy Trinity where I no longer live but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). We see this human process described in the following passage:
“For me, it was that first disinterested rebuff, then a thoughtless, nasty remark which really stung me. From there it was downhill. I started to grow weary of her incessant giggling, and things we had been passionately interested in started to bore me. I began running out of things to talk about. So did she. Soon enough, I sensed the unpleasant drift of my heart away from what I had so recently cherished. In time, I even came to dread the very sight of ‘my beloved.’ What once filled my soul with boundless joy now left me stale and lifeless. I craved a new experience: I was no longer ‘in love.’ Yet, paradoxical as it may seem, monastic tradition has taught me that this is the point where real love can begin – if we so choose. Once we get beyond the initial flush of emotions, once the thrill is gone, then we see what we’re really about.” (Monks of New Skete, IN THE SPIRIT OF HAPPINESS, p 32)
Our human choice, based in human love, must be transformed by our love for God and become divinely inspired. The mystery of our marriage is dependent on our willingness to remain united to God. We each have to cooperate with God to make this happen – synergy. The ‘success’ of our marriage becomes interrelated to our union with God, to our spiritual life, to carrying our cross.