Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16
A happy marriage is heaven; and an unhappy marriage .. well ...
Marriage is a sacrament, a work of God. It gives a man and a woman an opportunity to live out in their own lives the forgiving, understanding, committed, fruitful love the Father has for them and, as we all know, it’s not easy.
The word sacrament comes from the Latin word sacramentum or oath. In every sacrament God makes an oath, namely, that in every sacrament he will meet us in the community, touch us, and change us. Let us apply this to a sacrament, for example, our most important or central sacrament, the Eucharist.
Jesus commanded his Apostles to do what he did at the Last Supper namely, to take the bread and say `This is my Body' then to take the wine and say `This is my Blood'. He promises us on oath (sacramentum) – I will meet you there!
Every Eucharist is therefore a meeting with the Lord. He promises us that he will meet us there in the form of bread and wine. He becomes truly present at the consecration and offers himself to us in Holy Communion. This explains why Catholics go to Mass - to meet Jesus in the sacrament.
A protestant pastor friend of mine in another parish used to say to me he couldn’t understand why Catholics seem to be able to get to Mass Sunday after Sunday. He would say, ‘Catholic Mass is so boring! There is often no singing, the words are always the same, the people don't smile at each other much, and often the priest is boring to listen to, and there are two collections, and the church is cold, and they all go home straight afterward', and so on and so on....
But what he didn't understand was that Catholics don't go to Mass to be entertained by a priest, or swept off their feet by wonderful singing or a wonderful homily, or even to have fellowship with all their friends. Catholics go to Mass primarily to meet Jesus (God) in the sacramental action of the Eucharist. If the priest delivers a wonderful sermon or the singing is particularly good that is only icing on the cake for them.
What is more, it doesn't matter all that much to Catholics whether the priest is likeable or not. The priest is an essential part of the Mass and we couldn't have Mass without him, but whether he is nice or not, even whether he is a good priest or not (perhaps he has a problem with drink, etc), is not our primary concern. We are there to meet Jesus who has promised - I will meet you there!
By the way, this promise of Jesus to be there for us helps us to understand what a serious thing it is for a Catholic deliberately to miss that meeting with the Lord in the community on a Sunday when he calls us together. He is there waiting for us and we are guilty of a serious offence if we ignore his invitation.
Let us take another sacrament, for example, Reconciliation. Again the same promise is made by the Lord - I will meet you there. If we have committed some serious sin the Lord asks us to name this sin to the priest and resolve to overcome it. When we do this he promises - I will meet you there! It may be a priest who is sinful himself, or a priest who lacks understanding, or an impatient priest who does not even listen properly, or a priest we don't like. We don’t go to meet the priest - we go to meet Jesus - and to receive his forgiveness through the priest. If the priest is patient and gentle and understanding this is a great thing but it is not necessary. It is Jesus whom we meet there and who gives us his forgiveness.
So, every sacrament is a meeting with the Lord.
If we examine the scriptures and study the various meetings that people had with Jesus we can begin to understand the next point we can make about sacraments. Jesus met tax-gatherers, cripples, blind people, prostitutes, deaf, dumb and insane people, demoniacs and even dead people. In each case he touched them. Not necessarily with his hands, although he did do this too, as with the leper who said, ‘Lord, if you want to you can cure me.’ Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.
Sometimes Jesus touched people with a word or a look or even his mere presence. And it is interesting to note that people too, wanted to touch Jesus, as did the sick woman who came up through the crowd wanting to touch just the hem of his cloak.
So we can say that in every sacrament Jesus touches us - his forgiving touch in Reconciliation; his sanctifying touch in Baptism; his healing touch in Anointing; his strengthening and uniting touch in the Eucharist, and so on. Of course Jesus heals and strengthens us in Reconciliation as well as forgiving us our sins but usually each of the sacraments celebrates one or other dimension of the touch of the Lord without excluding the others.
It is a really interesting exercise to go through the scriptures noting how in every meeting Jesus touched and then changed the person who met him.
- The leper whom Jesus touched and then changed. ... "and he was cured."
- Peter, who had just betrayed the Lord three times and who caught Jesus' eye as He was being led out to Pilate. This look from the Lord touched Peter deeply and he went out and wept bitterly. He was changed from sinner to penitent.
- Zacchaeus met the Lord and was touched by his kindness in wanting to stay in his house. Zacchaeus was changed from a dishonest man into an honest man.
In every sacrament we, too, meet the Lord, are touched by him, and are changed by him.
It is perhaps in Marriage that we see most easily this ‘changing’ that God does when he touches us. John and Betty come before his altar in the Church. They say the words of consent and God promises - I will meet you there. God is present and touches the couple and the two become one.
We see the change that God works in them through this meeting and we know that it is something God has done for them. That's why the priest says 'What God has joined man must not divide.'
There are three sacraments which change us for eternity - Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. There is one sacrament that lasts for life - ‘till death do us part’. The other sacraments can be renewed many times during our life.