We’re having the wrong discussion about marriage as a sacrament

I posted this before the Supreme Court’s decision. It’s still what I think.

Why?

Why do we fall into this trap time and again?

Our message about marriage as a Church should be about how it uniquely prefigures what God is like. If you want to fully experience what God’s love feels like, wholly give yourself to someone who wholly gives themselves back to you and commit together to make each other holier by perfecting each other in love. Heaven, we should be saying, isn’t bright lights and soft harp music. It’s being eternally in the throes of ecstasy that can only be faintly approximated by a couple that is fully and completely in love with each other, not only in the initial crush phase of a romantic relationship, but in the daily pinch-yourself of being married to your best friend, best advocate, and ultimate lover. We don’t know what God is like, but that’s as close as we can come.

That’s why marriage is a sacrament. That’s why John Paul II spent a long stretch of his pontificate lecturing every week about the transformative nature of married love.

Instead, we get sucked into the culture wars. When we should be paying witness to the centrality of love in the gospel that acknowledges a God who loves you so much that nothing you can do can alter His love for you for better or worse, we instead get caught up in drawing distinctions about which types of broken, imperfect, human relationships God smiles or frowns on. And the point of sacramental marriage gets buried.

If you want my opinion, we should be doing much, much more to sing the praises of truly sacramental marriage. Which, I think, like sainthood, can probably only be fully discerned after the fact, though sometimes when you are in its presence, you have a gut level awareness.

If you want my opinion, we should do a lot more to prepare young people for marriage in a way that sparks them to strive for loving greatness instead of settling for good enough.

And if you want my opinion, we should underscore for everyone who has already messed up, in the eyes of the world, that this kind of holy relationship – with God, with another – is absolutely still available. And we should trumpet the stories of those who have fallen down but gotten back up, those who failed in the past but are reflecting that all-in love anew, with the same partner or in a new relationship. And we should acknowledge that, though societal and religious rules prescribe optimal conditions, God is a God of surprises, and the history of our faith shows a God who picks the unlikely, a God who breaks the rules we put on him. Shame on us if we allow someone to think that, if the world or even the Church thinks less of their love, they are broken, less than, disordered. Because leaving people thinking that God turns His back on the broken is 180 degrees from the reality that the faithful know in their hearts.

In today’s Gospel, the religious authorities ask Jesus to render a judgment about a situation that is, to say the least, less than perfect. And he doesn’t fall for it; he sticks to his message. Focus on loving God and loving your neighbor. 

And we should do the same. The next time someone asks a Church leader to weigh in on whether gay marriage should be legal, I pray that he speak instead to the truth that marriage can be so much more than what we are fighting over – a civil arrangement for joint economic, legal, and social benefit. It can transform your life and bring you into God’s presence on a daily basis. Don’t settle for legal marriage. Strive to be sacred.

Let’s work as a church to inspire every marriage to reach for that goal rather than fighting over which ones are legal and which ones aren’t and leave the civil wrangling to someone else.

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