“Do-it-Yourself” or Vocation: Coincidence or Providence

"Window dressing” or the Complementarity of the Sacraments of Marriage and the Eucharist?

Is marriage independent of sexual identity, an optional role or an unjust institution; or, alternatively, is there a deeper answer to the question of a man marrying a woman? We live in a time, then, when the foundations of marriage in the mystery of the Blessed Trinity needs to be excavated. Why did God make man, male and female; indeed, why not create a creature that, as it were, could “buy” into any number of alterations or additional extras? What is the stable significance of an incredible reality of two different types of human personhood: being a male person, and being a female person? Are the events in our lives just an agglomeration of moments or are the connections between the Sacrament of Marriage and the Eucharist the ‘finger” of God’ (cf. CCC, 700) “leading” to his outstretched hand? (cf. Mt 14: 31; CCC, 699).

There is a profound relationship, then, between anthropology and the vocation to marriage1; and, therefore, the sacrament of marriage befits the gift of man and woman to each other in a way that needs to be constantly explored; indeed, the greatness of marriage is a gift of God: ‘‘By the power of the sacrament, the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church (cf. Eph 5:31-32)”2. Indeed, if it can be said that the Eucharist makes the Church3, then can it not also be said that “The Eucharist is the very source of Christian marriage?”4 In other words, the very good of man, male and female, passes through the mystery of relationship; and, if a man or a woman do not marry, then it is essential that they live a life of intense communion. It is almost a law of psycho-social development, that if we have become dysfunctional through developmental problems, then we need the help of healing relationships. Thus, we live in a time in which hope needs to be restored to the human heart; and, in particular, to the heart open to married love: ‘‘For my part, I firmly believe that the main pastoral urgency today is the formation of exemplary Christian families, which are able to give concrete witness to the fact that Christian marriage is beautiful and possible to fulfill” (p. 1).5

In a word, a variety of questions have arisen around the theme of marriage and being married; and, therefore, in answer, this essay draws upon personal experience, a bodily philosophical psychology, and both a biblical and a sacramental theology. There are five parts: The Proposal (I); The Structure of Marriage as an Expression of our need of God (II); The Trinitarian Dynamic that is the Living Precursor of Marriage (III); The Reality of Man, Male and Female, in Marriage (IV); The Marriage Feast of Cana Revisited (V). Following a conclusion, there is a brief mention of a number of related articles.

The Proposal (I)
To begin with, the very fact of proposing to my wife on the Feast of Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, has prompted a question: is it coincidence that I proposed to my wife on this feast, or is there a reason beyond the circumstances? I confess to not being very liturgically literate at the time and, as such, the presence of the liturgy in my life and marriage continues to grow and unfold. With respect to my proposing to Catherine, then, it was not a premeditated decision so much as one prompted in the “space” of the sign of peace. Why the moment of the sign of peace? Perhaps because this expresses the constant challenge to which Christ is an answer: the challenge of conflict, disagreement, and disunity (cf. CCC, 1606-1607); and the answer of forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. In other words, I was obviously considering the possibility that Catherine would marry me; but, in fact, having both been a disappointment to a number of women, and been disappointed by them, I was anxious to know if this choice was of God, or not. Insofar as my experience had taught me anything, it had taught me that there was no real grasp of the reality of conception, the nature of fatherhood, or of the faith entailed in being open to life, I therefore wanted to be sure of at least a common spirituality of seeking the will of God. When I proposed to Catherine, it was at least on the basis that we were agreed about being on a common, Christian path, and that it was right to be open to life; indeed, that it was right to accept a child, even if that child had been conceived when, to us, a child was inconvenient or unplanned.

On the one hand, I had been unable to marry, or to be chaste, and suffered a humanly unanswerable pain of losing a child to abortion; but, through time, the witness of the Virgin Mary to the crucifixion of her Son, Jesus Christ, has spoken a mysterious word of consolation: no death is in vain. In time, however, I understood that striving to improve myself, even by rejecting selfish, self-centred behavior, was like being the man in the Gospel who swept his house out, only to let in several more devils (cf. Lk 11: 24-26). On the other hand, then, I needed conversion to being a sinner (cf. Jn 16: 8-9)6 and to seek salvation from Jesus Christ,7 and not just the placebo of self-sufficient human effort; indeed, it was true that I understood how I had acted contrary to my nature but, as I say, recognizing the reality of being a sinner was a more difficult, if not impossible, human step. Perhaps, it is a part of how we are misled in today’s world: misled into thinking that self-development is synonymous with conversion; indeed, it could be how true conversion is hidden from us in the conceit entailed in a certain kind of “moral effort,” process of self-improvement, or a mentality of self-sufficiency: the “self-made man.”

Providence is an expression of the concrete love of God for the sinner
When we approached the priest, Fr. Tony Trafford, to announce our intention to marry, he advised me to get a job; and, within a week, I was working in a laundry. This was in complete contrast to when I was considering the possibility of the priesthood, and I had been unable to take the same advice, and to act on it. Thus, we both “read” this as God acting to make our marriage possible; and, therefore, indicating his approval of it. Catherine was disappointed, however, that I did not have a ring to offer; and, without even mentioning it, my mother gave us an engagement and a wedding ring which had belonged to my grandmother. In view of our poverty and the generosity of others, we were also given a honeymoon in Wales, some spending money, a double bed of our choosing, the planning and all the help we needed for the wedding and reception.

Our main concern was courtship and marriage preparation; indeed, the Book of Tobit (cf. CCC, 1611) was our recommended reading, and has been an invaluable inspiration, particularly in view of the need to pray, and to act as they did. The reality of our chaste courtship was not a sign of weakness, or disinterest in the bodily expression of love; rather, a chaste courtship was a “confirming gift” that we were being given what we knew we could not do: wait to celebrate the “unwrapping” of the reciprocal, spousal self-gift. Thus, the various aspects of the providence of God were a definite encouragement to see in our decision to marry the expression of a vocation.

The Sacrament of Marriage, the Marriage Feast of Cana and three “Moments” of Personal Experience (II)
We married in the context of a Nuptial Eucharist; and, as such, the Eucharistic love of Christ for his Church was present in our wedding. If the sacramental presence of Christ in marriage builds on the mystery that God made himself the un-originate origin of man, male and female,8 renewing this self-gift in the paschal mystery (cf. CCC, 1602), then “how” is Christ present in the marriage and how, to complete the reference to The Blessed Trinity, is the Holy Spirit present in marriage?

The reference in the Catechism to the person-sign in the marriage of man, male and female, is specifically to the woman: “The woman, ‘flesh of his flesh,’ his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a helpmate; she thus represents God from whom comes our help” (CCC, 1605).9 Thus the woman signifies the help of God in the marriage; and, indeed, this reminds me of the dialogue between Mary and Jesus at the wedding feast of Cana: ‘“They have no wine” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me?”’ (Jn 2: 3). In other words, the woman is not just a sign of the help of God but is actively appealing to her son to help the married couple in the immediacy of their need: an immediacy that is almost co-terminus with the very moment of the marriage.

It is as if, then, the very presence and action of Christ is inseparable from the celebration of this marriage at Cana. Thus, there is an indication that this dialogue between human need and divine help, involving as it does Mary and Jesus Christ and, therefore, the Church and her head, is a kind of permanent indication of the sacramental structure of marriage. In other words, it is not so much that there is a once and for all “moment” in this dialogue, although there is; rather, the sacramental structure of this dialogue between the human need of the spouses and God is instituted and begun in the liturgical act of the sacrament of marriage and, at the same time, given the dynamic direction of being a permanent appeal to Christ. Given, then, that Christ and his Mother Mary, not to mention the disciples (cf. Jn 2: 2), are present at this celebration of marriage, there is an unmistakable ecclesial dimension to the celebration of this marriage; and, as we know from the relationship between the Covenant at Sinai as a “marriage” between God and his people, and its foundational significance for Jewish marriage,10 so we can recognize the mystery of the “recapitulation” of the new Covenant between Christ and His Church, and the Sacrament of Marriage. Furthermore, however, there is the emphasis on the celebration of marriage; indeed, if the divine “We” is the ultimate origin of the mystery of marriage (cf. Letter to Families, 6), then the ultimate objective is the celebration of lived love. But, like any sacramental participation, spousal preparation is both vital for the reception of the sacrament, and for being lived as a lively dialogue.

Prayer for a Home: Providence or a Complete and Utter Inconvenience
In terms of the possibility of children, for example, if faith is not at the “root” of the decision to be open to life, then the “burden” of difficulties may well overwhelm spouses; and, therefore, health, employment, and accommodation, to name but three factors which can be immensely significant, can present insuperable obstacles to the welcoming of children. In a particular moment in our family life, I was unemployed, trying to study, weary beyond description, having moved from a basement flat in my parents’ house to the first floormy father had died, and we now had four small childrenand expecting our fifth child, my mother told me that she could not afford to keep us in the house, and she was going to sell it the following year. In one month, the house was sold. I was in a psychological state of complete resistance to the whole “inconvenience” of the possible change in our lives; and, in general, resistant to acknowledging our need of help in a whole variety of ways. Then, unexpectedly, during a Sunday convivance, I saw that my prayer for a home of our own was being answered, and we applied for a Council House to rent, and were helped to move by members of our Neocatechumenal community. Although it entailed three moves, the birth of our fifth child in our second, temporary accommodation, the ongoing support of our community, and the wisdom of others, helped me to see that God was bringing us to the house in which we have now lived for twelve years, and which was his answer to my prayer.

Prayer for work: a prayer for perseverance in the gift and task of work

“…it has pleased the … (Lord) to take away the humiliation I suffered among men” (Lk 1: 25)

Praying for work is a constant prayer that has been answered in a variety of ways; and, as such, includes writing extensively, and occasionally being published, temporary contracts, the opportunities for further study, teaching qualifications and experience, and the encouragement of a growing number of qualifications, and a general lack of debts. In particular, however, there was a period of prayer prompted by the study of the Our Father. We were divided into groups, and our group had the article: “Give us this day our daily bread”; and, in the course of it, I had this prompting to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I did not go, however, as I was too busy. But then, when the school bus was cancelled, and I began taking our children to school myself, I would call into the nearby Catholic Church for about half an hour each weekday morning. My prayer was like a long conversation about all the different activities that contributed to job seeking, including my health, the needs of my wife and, in due course, our eight children and her hope that I would go early and be back in time for dinner around five o’clock; and, in general, although there was a consistency in my theological training, there was a general lack of relevant and consistent work experience. This dialogue with the Lord went on from September until December of 2007; and, on January 3, 2008, I began work which had all the ingredients which were necessary to develop my working life. Thus, just as the Lord took away Elizabeth’s “humiliation among men” when she became pregnant with John, later to be known as John the Baptist, so the Lord took away my unemployment: a reality I had experienced as a kind of barrenness and which, like Elizabeth, required an act of God to “heal it.”

But then, a few years later, in what was to prove a very difficult time, there was a change of personnel and a decisively alienating form of management where previous agreements were not acknowledged, administrative changes were actually structural, organizational changes and, in due course, obstructive and manipulative practices increasingly raised the question of the significance of this word of affliction. Eventually, the problems at work were absorbing so much time in seeking advice, counsel, and the benefit of other people’s experience and discernment, that I eventually resigned in January, 2015. What made resignation an opportunity was the realization that, having had one book published and starting work on the preparation of another, self-employment offered the prospect of focusing on writing and publishing. Thus, while unexpected, what emerged was a new phase of self-employment, and the wisdom of accepting that God plans our careers with an insight and timing that draws out the deepest threads in our lives (cf. Is 55: 8); and, while what seemed like a loss, and was very difficult to accept, the greatest gift was still emerging: being given the opportunity to write in the light of the grace of this providential help (cf. Mt 6: 25-34).

Praying through difficulties in our relationships
St. Dorotheus (c. 505 – c. 565), an Abbot in the age of the Fathers of the Church, invites us to find fault with ourselves when things go wrong11. He is discussing why one brother can upset another and says: “we can say the reason for all disturbance(s) is that no one blames himself.”12 Again, St. Dorotheus says that a brother can bear inconvenience, penalty, dishonor “or trouble of any kind … who is ready to find fault with himself.”13 In other words, recollecting the fall of Adam and Eve, and the tendency to blame others for our own fault, the preoccupation of our culture with litigation and compensation, the tendency in the family for parents to wonder why their children are so difficult, can all be helped by meditating on our own faults to find the reason for what is disturbing us in the events around us. Who would think of this kind of medicine in this day and age? Nevertheless, this kind of medicine is available to help countless people, and who knows how many families,14 if only we are willing to see that there is a “psychological” prescription in many “spiritual” discourses.

Once, while teaching abroad for a week,15 my wife and I left the care of our children in the capable hands of others; however, what surprised me was the absence of our children around the table. Although we were in good company, I actually missed the ups and downs of meal-time stresses, talking and praying together with the children; and, indeed, this is the person who found it difficult to “welcome” the interruption of the children returning home from school when he was both studying and working at home!16 I would even consider, as impossible as it is, going to any future engagement abroad, en famille. How amazing is God!

The Sacrament of Marriageand its dynamic, Trinitarian Structure: An Inherent Expectation, therefore, that Man, Male and Female, is Intended to Imitate the Blessed Trinity (III)17
While marriage is a kind of image of the reality of eternal life (cf. CCC, 1602), the focus here is on the lived mystery of sacramental marriage. Thus, the Church says of marriage: “Through the sacrament of Matrimony the spouses are enabled to represent this fidelity and witness to it.” And the fidelity referred to is that “of God to his covenant, in that of Christ to his Church.” (CCC, 1647) But a fidelity involving Christ and the Church is also a work of God in the very existence of the Church; for just as Christ being the incarnate Son of God, is the bridegroom of the Church, so the incarnation of the Holy Spirit in the human, liturgical, social structure of human society is constitutive of his bride, the Church. (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8, 7) In other words, even in the mystery of the union of Christ and His Church, there is the complementary presence of the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit. Thus, St. John Paul II says of the spouses: “Their belonging to each other is the real representation, by means of the sacramental sign, of the very relationship of Christ with the Church.” (Familiaris Consortio, 13) Is it possible, then, to see the following Trinitarian structure to the sacrament of marriage? God is the “unoriginate origin” of man, male and female; and, just as Christ is generated from the Father and takes the flesh of a man (cf. Jn 1: 14), and is sacramentally present in the marriage, so the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and is also sacramentally present in the marriage. Thus, the mystery of the sacramental presence of God in marriage is, in fact, a mystery of the presence of the Blessed Trinity; indeed, a mystery of the presence of the Blessed Trinity which, hopefully, will blossom into the blazing transformation of the spouses.18

Just as the second chapter of Genesis gives us a “theology” of the interrelationship between origin and personhood, showing us that Adam was generated from the ground and the action of God, and that Eve “proceeded” from Adam’s side and the action of God19, so we can expect, as it were, an experiential expression of this dynamic reality in the reciprocal self-gift of man, male and female, in marriage. Ultimately, then, just as Creation is both the work of the Blessed Trinity as a whole, and an expression of each divine Person (cf. CCC, 258-259), so we can expect the reality of marriage, of that union of man, male and female, to be both a dynamic “work” of their unity and diversity. Just as God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so there is an expression of this in man, male and female; and, therefore, just as the husband could be said to be a natural sign, as it were, of the presence of Christ, so his wife could be said to be a natural sign of the embodied presence of the Holy Spirit20 in the Church. In other words, the life-giving nature of the relationship between Christ and His Church is also expressed, in a way, in the relationship between the husband’s gift of self and his wife being the place of this gift; and, as such, there is a coming to be of the Domestic Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11) as a kind of divine expression of the deepest mystery of the generative-maternal nature of the mystery of God being the Blessed Trinity.

In a word, then, could the presence of God in the marriage be understood more specifically? Thus, firstly, there is the action of God at the beginning of creation, which constitutes God as the un-originate origin of man, male and female. Subsequently, there is the invisible action of God which brings about the personhood of each one of us. In the words of Eve, “I have gotten a child with the help of the LORD” (Gn 4: 1). Thus, there is a dynamic sense of the mystery of human and divine action at the beginning of each one of us: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a child with the help of the LORD”’ (Gn 4: 1). Then, there is the marital dynamic which, in its own inimitable way, “makes flesh” the mystery of the generative and the maternal in God.

While it remains true, however, that we must “recall that ‘between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude’ “21, it is nevertheless also true that God himself chose to communicate a language of similarity when he said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gn 1: 26); and “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gn 1: 27)

A Dynamism of Man, Male and Female, in Marriage (IV)
We live in a time, then, when the identity of man, male and female, is regarded as a kind of “choice”; and, therefore, there is the view that being a man or a woman is a kind of “role” that we put on or take off. In other words, it as if there is no “intrinsic” relationship between our sexuality and our existence: bodily; psychologically; and, indeed, spiritually. Indeed, it is almost as if the “pro-choice” mentality of choosing reductivism, of reducing life to a calculus that cannot quantify the mystery, value, and expressiveness of bodily personhood, has unfolded into the rejection of the whole of embodied human personhood, leading to a manipulation of the body as if it is “independent” of the person made manifest as a man or a woman.

Drawing, then, on a more foundational exposition of man, male and female, as an expression of the ultimate mystery of the Blessed Trinity (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 11), leads to a more dramatic consideration of the dynamic nature of the mystery of marriage. While it is a constant battle that the fall of man, male and female, does not detract from the dignity of the sexes and their objective, if differentiated equality (cf. Gn 3)22, there is the need for an adequate understanding of a bodily, philosophical psychology. On the one hand, “Among the fundamental values linked to women’s actual lives is what has been called a ‘capacity for the other'”;23 and, at the same time, this capacity for the other is also a witness to the capacity for man as a whole, both male and female24. On the other hand, if this “capacity for the other” is, in fact, differentiated according to sexual difference, then we can expect there to be a complementarity about the interactive dynamic of the marriage. If it is true that dysfunctional dynamics disfigure the psychological development of children, what is the formative function of the positive, however imperfect, marital dynamic?

Dialogue of difference: oversight and immersion
Clearly, however, there are going to be differences according to the specific talents, education and experience of spouses; and the degree, as it were, to which spouses and parents have recognized their own imperfections: both in the marriage, and in the unfolding of their family life. But, nevertheless, what is the value of the spousal dynamic in the formation of the children? In the first place, then, there is the value of being spousal: of the dynamic difference of husband and wife living through the daily closeness and difficulties of being married. In other words, it is the very prayer, both personal and spousal, mixed with the dialogue of difference that proves to be “one” of the active ingredients of family relationships; and, indeed, it is a dialogue which comes into everything: from the very intimate nature of the spousal drawing together25 to the everyday practicalities of who needs what transport where, at what time, and on which day.

Thus, there is the conversation which, increasingly, involves the children as they get older, about when to go out, what activity to do, how to solve the practicalities of who does what: a dialogue that has to take account of age, talents, experience, tiredness, weather, and a whole host of other factors like readiness for school, recovery from previous outings, shopping, and chores. At the same time, as the father may want to distribute tasks to everyone, he needs to be sensitive to the need for exceptions, careful to draw in the quiet as well as not to overload the more able; and, as much as his wife may want to do everything, she needs to recognize both her limits, and the family wisdom of a variety of helpers. If, then, it is a matter of characterizing the difference between a husband and his wife, then it is a matter of the husband and father reflecting on how, at any one time, what is happening in the household is helpful to everyone concerned. Are people doing their household jobs? Bearing in mind that “household” is a wide ranging reality, from paperwork to wallpapering: from going on trips to avoiding the mounting hazards across the bedroom floors; indeed, from the more regular, timely chores, such as laying the table, to the more occasional but demanding work of painting, gardening, and tackling problem areas. Or, as seems to be often the case, the system is not perfect and one person or another needs excusing, helping or simply swapping with someone else. Alternatively, while some children emerge as capable in a certain area, such as cooking, another will need a very patient dialogue to even do cleaning with any consistency and helpfulness.

By contrast, then, a wife can be more immersed in the daily round of everything. At the same time, however, as that immersion leads to plenty of activity on behalf of the children’s needs, such as meals, shopping, washing, cleaning, and helping with all kinds of projects, as well as planning outings, and hospitality, and social responsibilities, it also runs the risk of the dinner-time overload and the unbearable prospect of having to cook another meal. Thus, immersion, as valuable and natural as it is, needs the objectification of the husband, and the help of oversight. Conversely, however, oversight is not non-involvement, and escapism, and needs to entail the corrective of filling in the gaps between the helpers, their need for a break owing to after school tiredness and, more generally, the doing of the general bits and pieces that fall to nobody in particular.

Emotional dynamics and dialogues
Thus, there has to be that flexibility in the household of the husband simply helping; however, if his helping is to put away what his wife has got out to use: helping can be very inflammatory. There is, too, the need to recognize that there are habitual emotional routes. Thus, when it is clear, for example, that something is going awry, or even the stress entailed in the planning of an event rises, then suddenly it becomes clear that it is the “husband’s fault.” Dumping the fault on the husband, therefore, can be therapeutic for the wife; and, as such, accepting that this is a particular dynamic in the marriage that is both longstanding and unlikely to change, can bring with it a certain amount of humor and acceptance that this is a part of what “we” go through in the course of daily life. At the same time, however, there is the need for discernment about what is, genuinely, his fault. Thus there are characteristic differences which, once recognized, can assist the whole process of accommodating each other’s ways.

More generally, however, there is the whole emotional development which entails the spouses companionable belonging, involving gratitude, appreciation and affection; but, also, the readiness to forgive, to forebear with one another and to hope in times of affliction, difficulty, illness, exhaustion, and temptation, sometimes prolonged, to believe that “marriage was a mistake” or that it should have been to someone else. This “emotional dialogue is also a part of the development of the lives of the children: appreciating their unique individuality and characteristic ways; and, at the same time, helping with the times of friction with each other, and with the challenge of chores and homework. It is important to wake up to the reality that children love to play with children and that toys are not a substitute for brothers and sisters, a family culture of interests and activities, not to say mission to others. Thus “the invitation to put family ties in the ambit of obedience of the faith and of the covenant with the Lord, does not mortify them; on the contrary, it protects them, it detaches them from egoism, it protects them from degradation, it leads them safely to the life that does not die.”26

Gradually, then, the spousal dialogue develops and becomes more nuanced and varied; and, at the same time, there is the increasingly articulated feedback of the children. As the children grow, so there is a more deliberate taking account of not just what each one thinks, but of the family meeting when views are shared on a particular topic, task, or project. At the same time, there is a constant listening to the “emotional exchanges” that help us to regulate, like a temperature gauge, the need for rest, quiet time, a snack, a prayer, a drink or other help.

Spousal Attraction and the Reality of the Flesh: Cosmology and Communion
Ultimately, however, there is a kind of magnetic, spousal complementarity, capable of drawing together as well as sparking exchanges, sustaining a magnetic field and the place of others in it; and, at the same time, there is a reciprocal cultivation of the inter-subjective, spousal dialogue as well as the objectification of the needs of the whole family. In the end, then, the natural complementarity of man, male and female, reflects and communicates in the personal order, the general dynamic of difference in the whole of creation. If, however, there is a particularly personal significance to the almost electric complementarity between husband and wife, it lies in the bonding of belonging. In other words, contrary to the individualism of our times, it is as if there is a kind of relational rest in the arms of the beloved; indeed, that just as marriage needs work it also needs rest: the being-together which epitomizes that the identification of man, male and female, is a kind of shared identity. The sharing of a human identity, then, is almost a human expression of the three persons of the Blessed Trinity being God; and, simple as it seems, a real communion through difference. The personal order, then, of man and woman, takes up into itself the coupling of sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules, inorganic and organic compounds and expresses, in the kiss, the personal nature of the attraction inherent in the being of the whole universe. If praise gives voice to creation as a whole,27 the nature of communication between man, male and female, communicates the ultimately personal nature of being: the personal being of God begets the personal human being of man, male and female. Thus the embrace that reveals the personal nature of the fullness of being is the beautiful place for the conception of the manifestation of the mystery of the personhood of human being.

Oversight and immersion, then, do not exist as disembodied realities; and, therefore, there is a whole expression of being the husband, and being the wife, which eludes description and definition except, more generally, in the expression of the flesh. It is interesting to acknowledge that even an apparently secular study found a connection between sharing childcare, and the positive quality of the spousal relationship28; and, therefore, Dr. Carlson said: “We are trying to understand what it is about sharing that couples view so positively.” This partial insight raises the whole anthropological question about the enfleshed nature of human personhood (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 11); and, therefore, it is natural that human fatherhood and motherhood reciprocally influences the spousal relationship. What is unnatural, by contrast, is the presumption that there can be parenthood without marriage, “fathering” without fatherhood and, indeed, “mothering” without motherhood. If a child is conceived a whole relationship is begun unto eternity; indeed, once a child comes to exist, then neither the man, nor the woman, are as they were: the one is “forever” a father and the other is “forever” a mother.29

Thus, in time, just as human development takes different stages at different times, so it is with parenthood; and, therefore, there is, as it were, the stages of human parenthood from conception until intergenerational friendship and fellowship. What is more there is that incredible discovery of the demanding nature of parenthood, its subtlety, the value of shared experience and advice and the amazing fullness of daily life.

Conception Brings Forth a Sign of a Dynamic Indissolubility
Amid the controversies of our time, there is either a genuine confusion or outright denial of the roots of human personhood, and the respective gifts of husband and wife who, together with God, bring about the beautiful mystery of human conception; indeed, in the case of a husband, there is the transmission of life: the gift entailing the service of the person;30 and, in an equally dynamic but complementary way, there is the wife’s welcome in anticipation of the possibility of bearing a child (cf. Gn 4: 1). 31 The life-giving nature of the husband’s gift to his wife is mirrored in the dynamic receptivity of the child growing from the gift of his wife’s motherhood. In other words, there is an incredible interpenetration of the human and the divine in the conception of each child; and, therefore, there is an incredibly real sense in which the very mystery of intra-Trinitarian life is lived in the conception of a child through spousal love.32

The reality of the spousal one flesh is, therefore, an expression of a dynamic that is formed in the sacrament of marriage, and that unfolds throughout married life; indeed, just as difference does not mean inequality, neither can giving be without receiving, and receiving be without giving.33 Communion, and the corresponding communication, is not conquest; and, conversely, if there is conquest or competition, there is a corruption of communion. Furthermore, just as you cannot give more than everything (cf. Mk 12: 41-44), so the wholesome nature of the reciprocal gift of marriage is all or nothing (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 11): the whole man and the whole woman; or, if it is less, either the reality of marriage does not and cannot come to exist or, in time, a radical change will bring about the wholesome gift which, in so far as it was given incompletely, was in the first place withheld in the giving.

What makes marriage indissoluble, then, is the very irreversibility of the gift; indeed, just as Christ has irreversibly given himself in the Paschal Mystery34, so has God irreversibly given the gift of marriage and the mystery of the ensouled, embodied expression of the spouses ‘one flesh’ in the reality of the child conceived; and, more generally, just as creation is a given-gift, so there is an irreversibility about the whole nature of God’s gifts. Indeed, what makes the faithfulness of the Lord to his gifts so significant is the enduring nature of the gift of God: a kind of perpetual renewal of God’s giving that renews the recipients of his gifts. Thus, while the world runs after novelty, stimulation and change, in the search for renewal, God retains everything he has given in the dynamism of renewal-as-development. In other words, marriage is not renewed through alteration or change; rather it is renewed from its roots, through the very mystery out of which it began, and through which it develops: the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. Thus any change that marriage undergoes is the change of development: the change that encompasses all it was in the beginning, and all it will be in the end; and, what is more, the agent of change is the permanence of God’s gift among us: the very presence, life and mission of the Blessed Trinity.

Finally, then, “the good wine” is the wholesome wine which Christ and his Church brings to exist out of the entire human reality of the man and the woman; and, as such, is abundantly shareable, and benefits all who are at the wedding feast (cf. Jn 2: 1-11): a wedding feast for all, and open to all. In other words, just as the sin of Adam and Eve was not an obstacle to the love of God, so all the problems in the world do not compare to the grace of redemption, and the possibilities of hope, that Christ and His Church continue to bring into the world.

Revisiting the Marriage Feast at Cana and the Eucharist (V)
Even if it was providential that I proposed to Catherine on the feast of Corpus Christi, is it providential according to the circumstances of our lives, or does it go beyond the moment of marriage to the mystery of the relationship between the sacrament of marriage, and the sacrament of the Eucharist?

As I recall, it was while on pilgrimage with a million or so others to Denver, Colorado, in 1993, that I attended a Eucharist presided over by St. John Paul II. The words which still resound from that Eucharist, from the emphatic statement of them by St. John Paul II, are: “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). Now, day in day out, nearly twenty years, and ten children later, two of whom are in heaven, I can see how Christ comes that I “might have life, and have it to the full.” Incidentally, when Jesus worked the miracle at the marriage feast of Cana, he asked for the jars to be filled and “they filled them up to the brim” (Jn 2: 7). Each of the “six stone jars” contained ‘twenty or thirty gallons” (Jn 2: 6). In other words, whatever the capacity of the stone jar, it was full “to the brim.” Thus, the whole of the human reality of the man, and the whole of the human reality of the woman, are contained, as it were, in the sacrament of marriage; and, under the influence of Christ, are changed into “good wine.” According to Pope Francis, the “good wine mentioned by the steward at the wedding feast of Cana, came from the water jars, the jars used for ablutions, we might even say from the place where everyone had left their sins … it came from the ‘worst’ because ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’ (Rom 5: 20)”… “so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, like the water in the jars scandalizing or threatening us, and turn it … into a miracle.”35

Thus, I have always been drawn to the mystery of the marriage feast of Cana; and, indeed, have taken encouragement from it throughout my married life. The wedding night, for example, can be a particular moment of suffering and disappointment, of wild expectation and actual exhaustion from the work of everyday life; and, indeed, the first child, bringing as she did the distinct presence of a work of God (cf. Gn 4: 1), can nevertheless bring an experience of misunderstanding about how to help the other and a certain inability to talk without argument and the need for silence, prayer and to simply be with one another. Thus, very early on, there is the experience of the marriage feast of Cana: “They have no wine.” (Jn 2: 3) In other words, it is not that the married couple can try harder, can give up, or can change each other; rather, in that experience of exhausting human love, however awkwardly and embarrassingly, quickly, abruptly and painfully, there is the discovery that Christ comes to turn water into the “good wine” (Jn 2: 10): He comes to help us to love the other. Again, Pope Francis speaks of the wine when he says: ‘If, beginning with the Church, we give back leadership to the family that listens to the Word of God and puts it into practice, we will become like the good wine of the Wedding of Cana, we will grow like God’s leaven!’36; and, indeed, that we can live in the hope of the coming of that good wine: 37 not as “forever promised” but as an act of Christ that comes into the reality of an unfolding marriage and family life. Thus, just as the Holy Spirit drew love out of the passion of Jesus Christ (cf. Dominum et Vivificantem, 41), so the transformation of the passion of marriage is a work, too, of God drawing love out of the death encountered in the limits of love-locked human hearts.

Eucharistic sustenance
As regards the Eucharist, I distinctly remember a particular moment of being away, from Friday evening until Sunday, with my wife and five young children and, come Sunday morning, being exhausted and crippled with back trouble; for, although the babysitting had occupied them in between the meals and the bedtimes, their unremitting needs were obviously a challenge for my health and energy. Then, at the Gospel, which was Peter stepping out of the boat to go to Christ (cf. Mt 14: 25-33), my back improved and I had a tremendous sense of hope that this was a call of Christ: to walk in his strength.

Although the Eucharist has been present throughout our married life, as I have said, perhaps I have underestimated its impact on daily life. Certainly, at particular times, I have asked for help with practical needs, with the help I need to love, and suffered interminably, it seems, the restlessness of our children; but, gradually, over the years, this “sacrament of love”38 has assumed a more particular focus: that it is the gift of loving as Christ loved. In other words, I become ever more conscious of the poverty of my human heart; and, in the Eucharist, I receive what cannot be given in any other way: the Love to love.

In the very offerings of the Eucharist, then, in the very bread and wine which is both fruit of the earth, and human labor, there is a kind of equivalent of everything I am: gift and work; person-in-relationship; in society and as a part of creation. In the course of the Eucharist, then, there is word, prayer, and the transforming presence of God; and, at the same time, the person I am is both given and received in the “sacrament of love.”39

In conclusion
Life is full of enough difficulties without us adding the questioning of everything that leads to knowing nothing, and even what we have turns to dust and slips through our fingers (cf. Mt 25: 29); and, therefore, let the sacraments of the Church come to our aid, and bring out their complementary nature: each leading to the other in so far as they belong together as an expression of that Love “with … {whom} nothing will be impossible” (Lk 1: 37). As Pope Francis says: “the perfect family does not exist; there are no perfect husbands and wives, perfect parents, perfect children,” he said, adding in jest that there is also no perfect mother-in-law, but “this does not prevent families from being the answer for the future.”40 In other words, given the nature of the cross, the suffering entailed in the renunciation of selfishness, it is true that there is not a simple transition to being even an adequate husband and father; however, in the mystery of the marriage feast of Cana is the hope of hopes: the transformation of all that I am into the ministry of all that we do and say. If, therefore, married life is both an incredible insight into the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and yet full of difficulties, disappointments, and sufferings, yet I hope that being open about the reality of marriage gives real hope to others; indeed, just as Christ has helped us, so his offer of help is to all who need it. As Pope Francis has said: “The Eucharist is the meal of Jesus’ family, which the world over gathers to hear his word, and to be fed by his body. Jesus is the Bread of Life for our families. He wants to be ever present, nourishing us by his love, sustaining us in faith, helping us to walk in hope, so that in every situation we can experience the true Bread of Heaven.”41

Communion, then, communicates the reality of the truth that the love of God brings us to exist in the interpersonal “dialogical being”42 of the Blessed Trinity. At the same time, creation is discovered to be an ongoing dialogue between fact and meaning” (Fides et Ratio, 94); and, therefore, what exists at one level as the literal sense of electronic bonds within and between atoms, at another level signifies the spiritual sense of creation communicating the mystery of divine communion.43 Thus, through the mystery of the sacraments of marriage and the Eucharist, there emerges the transfiguring wonder of the personal nature of communion being the goal of all creation; and, therefore, just as marriage is a personal institution, so it is a fitting image of the personal, incarnationally relational reality of divine being: our incorporation into the communion of Christ, and the society of His Church.

In general, then, it may be that there is a certain resistance to the particularities of experience; and, as such, it can be objected that one marriage can never express what marriage is. However, provided that there is a genuine reality involved, there will be a share in the universal characteristics of the sacrament of marriage; and, therefore, even if the “detail” is naturally variable, there will be a substantial share in what constitutes that definitive reality. In a certain sense, then, the marriage of Christ and his Church is the definitive reality of marriage and, at the same time, the marriage of Mary and Joseph has a particular luminosity with respect to it. Nevertheless, in so far as God has given men and women a share in the sacramental reality of the mystery of marriage, there will always be a witness which corresponds to his work. The witness to marriage, however, is essentially a word, a deed, and a work of God; and, like the nature of true variation, each witness will nevertheless participate in, and communicate the Creator, Redeemer, and the Sanctifier. In God alone, then, is the possibility of finding that completion of his gifts with which he began; and, therefore, just as God meets us on the road to Jericho, and brings us to the inn (cf. Lk 10: 29-37), so is the Church given the gifts of God to accompany44 the family in every kind of need. A gift among other gifts that is like a leaven in the dough, is the word of God; indeed, it seems that if God opens our ear to this gift (cf. Is 50: 4-5), he opens our hearts to all his gifts.

  1. Cf. Cardinal Angelo Scola, “Marriage and the Family, Between Anthropology and the Eucharist: Comments in View of the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family”, pp. 209-211, etc., indeed the whole article: communio-icr.com/files/scola41-2.pdf
  2. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis: V. The Eucharist and Matrimony, catholicliturgy.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/documentText/Index/14/SubIndex/0/ContentIndex/569/Start/557
  3. St. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia.
  4. “Sacramental Marriage and the Holy Eucharist,” by Deacon Harold Burke Sivers, nbccongress.org/black-catholic-sprituality/sacramental-marriage.asp
  5. Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Family: “The Marriage Crisis and the Eucharist” familiam.org/pcpf/allegati/10956/Relazione_Antonelli_inglese.pdf
  6. Even if the sin referred to here is the sin of unbelief in Jesus Christ, nevertheless it is clear that understanding sin goes beyond understanding wrongdoing; indeed, while the former is a natural law perception and valid as far as it goes, it does not of itself constitute conversion: turning to God for help. Nevertheless, in the perspective of a particular person’s salvation, beginning with a “natural” perception of wrongdoing may well be a precursor to the coming of conversion: a kind of “prevenient grace”: the grace that leads to but is not identical with conversion.
  7. Cf. Another article, “Witness Begets Witnesses” for an account more specifically about conversion: hprweb.com/2015/02/witness-begets-witnesses/
  8. Cf. Part I of the two part article, “An Anthropology of Gaudium et Spes”, (Part I: hprweb.com/2015/07/an-anthropology-of-gaudium-et-spes/)
  9. The Catechism cited the following at the end of this quotation: Gn 2: 18-25).
  10. Cf. “The Holy Family, Celibacy, and Marriage: A Reflection on the Passage from the Jewish Rite of Marriage to the Sacrament of Marriage”, hprweb.com/2014/08/the-holy-family-celibacy-and-marriage-a-reflection-on-the-passage-from-the-jewish-rite-of-marriage-to-the-sacrament-of-marriage/
  11. Readings for Ordinary Time, Volume IV, Weeks 13-23, Pro Manuscripto: For private circulation only, pp. 214-215 (Disc. 7), 220-221 (Disc.13).
  12. St. Dorotheus, Disc.7: “The reason … (for) every disturbance is that no one accuses himself.”
  13. Disc. 13: The false peace of the spirit.
  14. Cf. also numerous websites uses of St. Dorotheus’ work.
  15. Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, Diocese of Roseau, Dominica, invited my wife and I to stay with him. My wife contributed a bit to both the presentation to the Diocesan Catechists and to the interview with Catholic Radio Dominica. It fell to me, however, to give six presentations/addresses/lectures to his Diocesan catechists, to his students on the Maryvale course on the Catechism, and to the priests and religious of his Diocese in the course of a week (e.g. facebook.com/Diocese-of-Roseau-Pastoral-Centre-162121946381/timeline/)
  16. “Marriage in the Eucharistic Life,” by Rev. Ian MacKinnon (Orthodox Church in America, April 15, 1990) oca.org/parish-ministry/familylife/marriage-in-the-eucharistic-life “At first the discipline that servanthood requires seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11)
  17. Clearly the whole dynamic of man, male and female, goes beyond marriage and bears, as it were, on the whole unfolding of the gift of the diversity of personhood in the unity of the human race (cf. Letter to Women); however, for both reasons of the foundational nature of marriage, even in the act of creation, as well as in the needs of our times, the focus of this essay is on marriage.
  18. If marriage was one man and one woman from the beginning, and death came into the world through the devil’s envy, was there an original intention of an everlasting bond?
  19. Cf. Chapter 8 of Scripture: A Unique Word, Cambridge Scholars Publications, 2014, particularly p. 250 but also pp. 242-243; and cf. also “An Anthropology of Gaudium et Spes, Part 2”, hprweb.com/2015/08/an-anthropology-of-gaudium-et-spes-part-2/
  20. Cf. Gn 1: 2; Wis: 9-11 and the discussion above of the marriage feast of Cana and Mary’s presence and dialogue with Christ.
  21. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 43, quoting from Lateran Council IV: DS 806.
  22. Cf. Articles 2 and 8 of “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World”, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Archbishop Angelo Amato, vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20040731_collaboration_en.html
  23. “Letter on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World”, article 13.
  24. Cf. “Letter on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World”, article 14.
  25. Cf. Karol Wojtyla (subsequently St. John Paul II), Love and Responsibility, translated by H. T. Willetts, Fount: London, pp. 270-278.
  26. Pope Francis, 02, September, 2015, zenit.org/en/articles/general-audience-on-families-sharing-the-faith
  27. Cf. Karol Wojtyla, Sign of Contradiction, translated by Mary Smith, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979, pp. 127-135.
  28. “Fathers who do their share have more sex,” by Sarah Knapton, p. 5 of The Daily Telegraph, Monday 24August, 2015: Dr. Daniel Carlson {et al}, assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University.
  29. This discussion is not about adoption or fostering; but, in principle, responsible love develops the spouses (or religious), as it calls for an unfolding of parental love: a love that helps the whole child to grow to maturity, recognizing and developing talents and vocation. Furthermore, there is the good to the spouses of the “feedback” from their children; and, at the same time, the child(ren) benefit from the marital dynamic of the parents’ perseverance, forgiveness of each other and vocational dialogue and prayer.
  30. As the Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted says, in the course of the following document, “Into the Breach: An Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men, my Spiritual Sons in the Diocese of Phoenix,” (September 29, 2015): “That is, a committed love, a love that gives life, seeking the good of those to whom the man has committed”; and, as my father once said, to be a husband is to be a servant.
  31. Cf. “A Reflection on the Language of the Body”, a short article in Communio (communio-icr.com/articles/view/a-reflection-on-the-language-of-the-body; and, a slightly longer one in the American Journal of Bioethics, “The Mysterious Instant of Conception” (pdcnet.org/pdc/bvdb.nsf/purchase?openform&fp=ncbq&id=ncbq_2012_0012_0003_0421_0430) . In general, it is crucial to recover the truth about the male contribution to parenthood, which includes the reality of fatherhood; and, at the same time, the whole spirituality which pertains to being a husband. Cf. a dissertation on fatherhood, published as chapter two of a book called, Scripture: A Unique Word. I am afraid the book as a whole is very expensive, but something of the relevant chapter is published on Google Books.
  32. Cf. Chapter 12: “Life from Life: A Reflection on the Moment a Person Comes to Exist,” in the book, Scripture: A Unique Word, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014.
  33. Other authors have thought through the nature of receptivity as active, e.g., Karol Wojtyla.
  34. Cf. Cardinal Angelo Scola, The Nuptial Mystery, translated by Michelle K. Borras, Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005,p. 105.
  35. The Catholic Universe, Friday, July 24, 2015, p. 20: “Holy Mass for Families: Homily of the Holy Father Samanes Park,” Guayaquil (Equador) Monday, July 6, 2015.
  36. Pope Francis, 02, September, 2015, http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/general-audience-on-families-sharing-the-faith
  37. Cf. The Catholic Universe, Friday, July 24, 2015, p. 20: “Holy Mass for Families: Homily of the Holy Father Samanes Park,” Guayaquil (Equador) Monday, July 6, 2015.
  38. “But nowhere else can we meet Christ so perfectly, so completely, and so intimately as we do in what St. Thomas called the ‘Sacrament of Love,’ rightly named because it contains God himself, who is Love (1 Jn 4:8)” (from “A Divine Reflection: You and the Holy Eucharist,” Margaret O’Reilly, hprweb.com/2015/08/a-divine-reflection-you-and-the-holy-eucharist/)
  39. Cf. also St. John Paul II, article 22 vatican.va/holy_father/special_features/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_20030417_ecclesia_eucharistia_en.html
  40. From the full text from which Kathleen Naab worked, which is well worth reading: zenit.org/en/articles/pope-s-address-to-families-in-cuba
  41. From the full text from which Kathleen Naab worked, which is well worth reading: zenit.org/en/articles/pope-s-address-to-families-in-cuba
  42. Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology”, Communio, 17, (Fall, 1990), pp. 459, 441-442; and cf. also St. John Paul II concept, communio personarum (General Audience, 11/14/79) and, in Fides et Ratio, he says: “biblical man discovered that he could understand himself only as ‘being in relation’ – with himself, with people, with the world and with God.” (21)
  43. The coherence between the literal and spiritual sense of creation is explored, intermittently, in a forthcoming trilogy on Faith and Reason (Cambridge Scholars Publications).
  44. This principle of accompanying, we can say, emerged in one of the documents of the Synod on the Family (ongoing from 2015); cf. for example, paragraphs 94-132 of “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World,” Instrumentum Laboris, 2015, vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20150623_instrumentum-xiv-assembly_en.html
Francis Etheredge About Francis Etheredge

Mr. Francis Etheredge is married with eight children, plus three in heaven. He is the author of Scripture: A Unique Word and a trilogy, From Truth and Truth (Cambridge Scholars Publishing); The Human Person: A Bioethical Word (En Route Books & Media, 2017), with forewords from eight writers; The Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends (2018); and Conception: An Icon of the Beginning, with contributions from ten other authors, as well as The Prayerful Kiss (2019); Mary and Bioethics: An Exploration (2020); Honest Rust and Gold: A Second Collection of Prose and Poetry (2020),
Within Reach of You: A Book of Prose and Prayers (2021), Unfolding a Post-Roe World (2022), Reaching for the Resurrection: A Pastoral Bioethics (2022), Human Nature: Moral Norm, and Lord, Do You Mean Me? A Father-Catechist! (2023).

Francis is currently a freelance writer and speaker and his “posts” on LinkedIn can be viewed here. A radio interview can be heard here.

He has earned a BA Div (Hons), MA in Catholic Theology, PGC in Biblical Studies, PGC in Higher Education, and an MA in Marriage and Family (Distinction). He is a collaborator of the Dignitas Personae Institute for Nascent Human Life.