By Mario & Paola Martinez
In the book of Genesis, we read, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother to join his wife, and the two become one person.” God created marriage from the beginning with a specific design and purpose. However, many couples seeking to get married today spend very little time preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage, and do not truly understand what that design and purpose are. Theme four of the Bishop’s Pastoral Letter on Marriage reminds us of God’s intention for marriage, by asserting that this noble vocation is a “Sacrament of Christ’s Love,” where we are called to give ourselves to one other, as Christ gave himself to the Church.
This call is not an easy one. We need adequate preparation for such a heroic undertaking. Christ’s love for His bride The Church is extraordinary. He loves us freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. How many of us comprehend the great responsibility and sacrifice it takes to love our spouses this way? He loves us in such a total way that he offers us the gift of His Body and His Blood in the Holy Eucharist, holding nothing back! “This is my body given up for you,” says the Lord, and we receive Him by saying “Amen.” The body of Christ becomes one with our body. Every Mass is a wedding, where we reaffirm our love for Jesus.
In marriage, we are called to give ourselves completely to each other, as gifts of total love, and to receive one another entirely; to continually reaffirm our love for one another. When we get married, we don’t just receive a sacrament, we become a sacrament, signs and instruments of God’s love for our spouse and our neighbor. However, we cannot carry out the duties and responsibilities of our vocation alone. We need God’s grace, we need to cooperate with God’s grace, and we need the accompaniment of other married couples who are farther ahead in their married journey.
Over the years, Pope Francis has called for The Church to improve its marriage-preparation process in favor of a new “catechumenate for marriage” – one that relies on engaging and accompanying couples. This is a vision more than 35 years in the making, starting with St. John Paul II in the 1980s! This dream is now being realized with the development of a new pastoral guideline titled “Catechumenal Pathways for Married Life” published this year. The publication of these guidelines is proof that the Church continues to assert the dignity and beauty of marriage, and that it is truly a sacrament of Christ’s love.
Thanks be to God for the many graces that the sacrament of marriage offers, for the accompaniment of others, and for the opportunity to work on being the best version of ourselves, to build healthy and holy relationships, and to truly become Sacraments of Christ’s Love.
(To download the pastoral letter and/or for information on Natural Family Planning Resources we invite you to visit sbmarriageinitiative.org.)
Mario and Paola Martinez are co-directors of the Office of Marriage and Family Life Ministries in the Diocese of San Bernardino.