What is Marriage?

Today is World Marriage Day!  In honor of the day, I wanted to write a little bit about the purpose of marriage, especially since there seems to be so many different interpretations of what it is in our world today.

It is clear that purpose of marriage in today’s culture is confused.  The rate of divorce is incredibly high and people are more often than not opting to forego marriage altogether, choosing instead to live in non-marital monogomous relationships, become serial daters, have casual sexual encounters, or to merely cohabitate.  People often question if marriage is even worth it, and believe that a valued, committed relationship is just as good as a signed document declaring a marital union is in effect.

Even though there are many different interpretations of marriage out there today, the reality is that marriage is not merely a signed document, nor a human institution based on certain social structures or personal attitudes.  It has embedded within it, particular spiritual and permanent characteristics built upon the well-being of the individual persons in the union, as well as society as a whole. 

In order to understand the inherent meaning of marriage, it is important to begin with God, the author of authentic love.  In his infinite Being, God is a Trinity of Three Divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  These Three Persons partake of an indissoluble unity, marked by a deep fidelity to one another in mutual self-giving.  Their gift of themselves is one of totality, unity, and faithfulness: for all eternity, the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and their love pours out into a third person, The Holy Spirit.  In the union of marriage, man and woman–who are created in the image and likeness of God–are called to most perfectly mirror the image of the Trinity and to love as God loves.  Since the Holy Trinity is the highest and supreme example of familial relation, marriage should thus reflect some of these same characteristics.

Marriage is the means by which man and woman live out a familial relationship, mirroring the relation of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Man and woman come together and share in an intimate life marked by their indissolubility, fidelity, and mutual self-giving.  It is through the permanent commitment of marriage that man and woman are most fully able to live out their deep and abiding union, and pour forth their love by procreating, and by sharing the fruits of their love with the world.   

We also gain insight about the inherent meaning of marital love by examining it as Christ lived it.  Christ fully exemplified for us what marriage is all about.   He is the great Bridegroom, whose love for his Bride, the Church, is marked by four chief characteristics: that it is free, total, faithful, and fruitful.

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Though Christ was fully divine, he freely entered into human nature so as to reconcile God’s people to the Father.  In his perfect obedience to the Father’s will, he offered himself totally on behalf of his Bride, withholding nothing from her, and choosing to endure injustice, mockery, chastisement, brutality, and ultimately death—all for her sake.  He knew, despite suffering and pain, that his great love and sacrifice for her would ultimately unite her to God the Father and lift her up–sanctifying her–so that she may obtain eternal salvation.  He was completely faithful to her until the moment he breathed his last breath, and through his faithfulness, he opened the gates of heaven allowing the flood of mercy and compassion to wash over his beloved. Lastly, he gave her the gift of The Advocate that so that his love and hers could flourish and bear great fruits, bringing forth the light of love to the world.

Through his life and love for his Bride, we gain insight into what true and authentic love in a marital union is to be like: it means always willing the good of the beloved.  It is not merely contractual or based on personal interpretations, but rather, is covenantal.  Marriage is an exchange of persons, who vow to love one another as Christ loves, with a love that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful.  In the vocation of matrimony, we are called to love one other particular person, and be a living sign of Christ’s love for the Church and for the world.

The purpose of marriage, as designed by the Creator, was further raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a Sacrament through the merits of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. When two baptized children of God come together in marriage, he pours out special graces upon them so that they may live out their vocation to love one another in marriage, not merely in a natural way, but in a supernatural way.  In this Sacramental reality, the bond of marriage becomes a sacred promise between the man and the woman, that by the gift of their free, total, faithful, and fruitful love, they may move each other towards sanctification and union with God in heaven for eternity.

While it is true that marriage can at times be difficult, it is important to remember that it is primarily because it is the coming together of two imperfect people.  Successful marriages are not the result of finding the perfect person who makes you perfectly happy, but of loving the imperfect person you have married.  Difficulties may arise, but in the end, when both partners seek to work them out with the sake of their spouse in mind, these obstacles prove overall to affirm their marital love. As Saint John Paul II said in Love and Responsibility“One who truly loves does not then withdraw his love [when difficulty arises], but loves all the more, loves in full consciousness of the other’s shortcoming and faults, and without in the least approving of them.”

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Marital love is a beautiful gift, and when lived out according to God’s plan is entirely worth it.  The inherent meaning of marriage can not be reduced to merely personal interpretations, but it must be shaped according to God’s great plan for marriage as he designed it to be.   

 

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Packing Christmas Away

Today we celebrate the last official day of Christmas, and for me the closing of this season carries with it a tinge of sadness.  The idea of carefully packing away all of my beautiful Christmas decorations leaves me feeling a little blue.  I know our house will look very plain and empty without all of the greens, reds, and golds…the very visible signs of hope and of the promise fulfilled in Christ’s coming.

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This Christmas was very special for me because I think it was the first time ever in my cradle catholic life that I paid close attention to what God was trying to say to me during both the Advent season and the Christmas season itself.  I believe that this preparation allowed me to continue to see all the signs of Christ’s coming everywhere I looked, well after December 25th.  I’m very thankful for that.

Yesterday at Mass we celebrated the last Sunday of Christmas, and it felt so very fitting that it fell on the Feast of the Epiphany—the day we celebrate the Wise Men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus.  I was lucky enough to cantor at this particular Mass, and it was special because it allowed me to sing the words from Psalm 72: Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.  Every nation on earth will adore the Christ-child; the one who is High Priest, Prophet, and King over all the world.

It was also incredibly special because it gave me the opportunity to notice things that I usually don’t. Right before the Gospel Reading Father incensed the psalter.  We read about this kind of offering in Scripture often, and it is carried on in the Tradition of the Mass.  It is a reminder through our sense of smell that our prayers and daily sacrifices, united with the Words of God and his passion, are lifted up to heaven together in oblation to God in the Mass.  Yesterday in Mass I got a unique visual of this, because as Father began his homily I saw the incense resting above the altar, and fanning very, very slowly to the giant crucifix behind it.  I could almost see the Lord smelling it…taking in a deep breath as he hung on the cross in the most perfect offering.  It was as if he was breathing in deeply the beautiful fragrance and offering of the Mass and exhaling it all back.  It was a stunning image, and one I think perfectly captured the reality of the Mass.     

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After this vision, I was called back to Father’s homily in which he spoke of the three Wise Men.  He told us of their journey to see the Messiah who was to be born, and how they went out of their way to follow the star which shone brightly in the sky.  Father reminded us that their journey was treacherous, but despite the obstacles they would face, they showed immense courage.  They allowed the bright shining star to lead them on an unknown journey—a journey which they hoped would take them to see the King.  And it did. It led them to a tiny baby resting in a humble and meager manger: a poor and lowly image that nonetheless radiated such beauty and profound light.  All they could do was kneel in thanksgiving, offering their finest gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to their King.

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The gifts that the Magi brought the Lord are deeply rooted in significance and meaning.  The three gifts pointed to and foretold just who the baby in the manger was: the gold was a gift associated closely with royalty and endurance; the frankincense had medicinal purposes; and the myrrh was an embalming and anointing element.  Through these three gifts, the Magi were acknowledging that Jesus was a King whose kingdom would never end, that he would take on the role of High Priest, and that his life and death would significantly be involved in our salvation (the True Prophet who brings the Good News).

This got me thinking about Christmas in our culture today and what it seems to have become all about.  The center focus has greatly shifted away from Christ, moving more towards other things like Santa Claus, goofy Christmas songs, and the countless hours of prepping and buying, storing and wrapping, giving and receiving gifts with one another.  One has to sit and wonder if this is what Christ wants of us during the Christmas season.20170109_120103

Yesterday, though, I couldn’t help but think that the practice of gift giving isn’t too far off from what God wants us to realizeHe doesn’t necessarily want us to focus on the material goods, but he wants us to understand what it means to be given a gift, and in return pour ourselves out in love for one another as a gift to each other.   In Christ, we receive the greatest gift of all: we receive the gift of salvation and the divine opportunity to enter into communion with the Lord; to know him, to love him, and to put him on for ourselves through the Holy Spirit.  Yesterday I realized in a deeper sense that the Christmas season doesn’t just end abruptly, but rather ends with a calling.  Through the guidance of the Christmas season we are brought into the New Year with the most perfect gift of Christ’s love, then sent forth to carry his light and his love out into the world. Christ perfectly lived out his calling to be priest, prophet, and king, and in doing so he gave us the capacity to live this out in our own lives today.  We are called to daily make an offering of our lives to one another and to the Lord in a gift of love; we are called to boldly proclaim God’s goodness to the world; and we are called to become kings like Christ, masters of our own desires and selfish whims, and people who seek always to prioritize and will the good of the otherIn this three-fold way, we become Christ’s light in the world, a gift to one another.  Through Christ, we become the visible signs of the promise fulfilled.

I think just as there is a time for all seasons, it is fitting to pack up and store our Christmas supplies away.  Just as Christ walked forward in his life and resolutely journeyed towards Jerusalem, we too have to go forth and live our lives day by day.  We cannot live in the Christmas season forever.  We have to encounter all the joys and celebrations, and obstacles and pains that come with a New Year.  Hopefully, though, as we continue on in this journey we remember to merely store the Christmas decorations in the dark and dank basement of our homes…not the spirit of Christmas itself.  That, we should remember to save and store in the inner recesses of our hearts.

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Should I take my kids to Mass?

This past Sunday was the first time in a long time where we didn’t have to walk out of Mass.  As Father began his closing blessing I looked over to my husband to express my excitement, and was met with his wide-eyed smiling face.

Yes.  That was a good one.

We made it through without a single fit and no whining.  It was incredible.  This kind of quiet in Mass is such a rarity with two young kids…and a golden opportunity for me and my husband.

It was the first time in a long time that I could concentrate during the consecration, and it primed my heart so well that I even got choked up walking to receive Communion.  In this quiet I could prepare my heart enough to savor the gift I was being given in the Eucharist, and it was amazing.

And, also, probably a fluke.  As wonderful as it was, my husband and I laughed to ourselves after Mass knowing that it was probably a once in a blue moon kind of thing—enjoy it while it lasted!  Next Sunday we will probably be met with the familiar cries, fidgets, and groans for Mass to be over that come from both a toddler and a baby who don’t quite fully get the magnificence of it all.

But that’s OK.

Joe and I go to Mass each Sunday because it is an obligation that our Church has given us.  Canon Law says that on Sundays the faithful are obliged and bound to participate in the Mass, and that we should give particular care for reserving the day especially for worship.  (Canon 1247) This law is what is called an “ecclesiastical law” (a law, given by the Church to the faithful, to those who possess the sufficient use of reason). So, in reality, our children could miss Mass if we didn’t want to bring them.  It wouldn’t hurt them morally or be a sin for them if they didn’t go.  Though we are tied to our moral obligation to attend Mass each Sunday, they are not.

But another, and more important reason, why Joe and I go to Mass is because it is the place where we encounter God in a special and unique way.  Through the community of believers, and especially through the liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist, we are given a divine opportunity each week—rather than a mere “obligation”—to get especially close to God.  It is a gift, and we go to receive.

However, in the craziness that comes from taking the kids with us, it’s easy to forget why we even go and tempting to throw our hands up in the air and give up bringing on them along.  I have story after story of not-so-fun experiences with the children at Mass…

So why even take them?

We take them to Mass for the same two-fold reason that we go to Mass: the obligation, and the gift.  Though they don’t have an obligation to go, as parents, we have an obligation to raise them in the faith.  This is an obligation we signed up for when we baptized them as children.  The family is the place where they are to gain the foundations of the faith, and there is no better way to prepare them than to immerse them in the communion of the Mass each week.  Despite their distractions and clamoring for toys and snacks, there are many opportunities for our faith to become visible to them, so that when they are older and gain an understanding for the Mass, it is both familiar and familial.  They are able to see mom and dad praying (or at least trying to pray), to interact with other members in Church (who overtime become familiar to them), and to gain a firsthand experience of God’s Fatherly love (a kind of love that is both patient and persistent) in our parental ability to make it through a Mass with them with patience and love–reminding them through our actions that this is where we are called to be.  That this is HOME. 

Even when it’s hard. 

The graces that come from toting your kids to Mass each week payoff, but they do so in small ways overtime.  When we walk into Mass now, sometimes I hear Eli excitedly saying, There’s my friend!  As Father lifts the Host in the air I’ve heard Eli whisper, Mom why he do that?  During the readings as he plays with my hair, he casually asks, Mom, what he saying?  Question after question arises during mass—questions that seem so simple and easy to pass over—but each is an opportunity for him to encounter Jesus and the Church in a childlike but profound way.  I whisper back, “Bud, Father is calling Jesus to be with us,” and, “That’s a ‘lector’—he’s reading God’s Word.”  Sure, in the moments where the kids are crying or whining and I’m beginning to sweat it’s easy to lose sight of these little opportunities…but in the big picture, we are giving them an immense gift by going to Mass together as a family.  And it starts as early as the beginning.  Even Lucy, who is still so little, participates in the Mass just by being there. And with her smiles—and even her cries—her presence is a reminder to everyone else that the Church is young, active, and alive.

I urge you to take your children to Mass as a family.   I know it can be difficult at times, and can be frustrating, but it is SO worth it.

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Here are some tips for taking your family to Mass:

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Sit near the front of the Church.  I know it sounds counterproductive, but I swear to you this works.  There is something about being near the front that calms the kids, more than if you sit in the back.  This is not to say that you won’t have to head to the back of the Church at times, but being in the front allows them to see what is going on and gives them an awareness that they are there for a reason.  Their perspective is so much shorter than ours—allowing them to see above the pews will do wonders for their behavior.

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Avoid the cry room.  I know some still prefer it, but the cry room can be straight out bananas most of the time.  If you think it’s hard for you to pay attention in the Church, it is that much harder to pay attention in the cry room.  To the kids it can make Mass seem more of a time to play, than a time to pray.

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Make sure your kiddos are fed before Mass, and if necessary, bring a few quiet snacks with you.   However, be smart in choosing your snacks.  Hand held snacks are the best; avoid snacks that can spill all over the place and create distractions and a scene.

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Bring a quiet toy.  Once Eli was a little older and it became harder to keep him still and quiet, we allowed him to have one toy (more than one always proves to be too distracting) to keep him pacified. We allow him to bring a hotwheel, or a small figurine, and it has worked well.

If you don’t want to bring toys that are unrelated to the Mass, take a look at these options:

Mass books

Rosary

Mass buddies (Saint card set) 

Quiet felt play sets 

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Don’t leave Church, just leave the pew.  Make a habit of taking your child out of Mass when their noise/crying distracts from the Liturgy.  Taking them to the back is a good way to let them know that their behavior is unacceptable, and signals to them that they are to be quiet in Church.  However, don’t let them run around and play.  Holding them teaches them that disruptive behavior isn’t rewarded.

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Make Mass an experience for them.  When they get noisy, quietly try distracting them. Ask them questions like, Where is Father?  Can you find Jesus?  Point to a candle!  This works well, especially for children over the age of 2, and teaches them to participate in the Mass.

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Don’t let other people’s concerns get you down.  It is very rare, but in the case that you encounter someone who is rude or uncharitable to you because of your children’s (loud) presence, take my advice: Just don’t worry about it.

You are not there for them.  Do your best to minimize your children’s distractions in Mass, but don’t allow someone to keep you from going.  Brush any awful comments and disapproving glares off, and keep your eyes transfixed on the Eucharist, because HE wants you and your children to be there—and that’s all that matters.

And lastly:

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Don’t sweat the fret. Even though it can be extremely difficult to quiet your own heart and pray during Mass when you take your kids, don’t be discouraged from taking them with you or from going to Mass.  God knows your heart.  He will feed you, even if you are unaware that you are being fed.  That moment last Sunday in which I was able to savor the Mass was wonderful, but it was merely a fruit of the gift, not the actual gift itself.  The Eucharist is fuel and nourishment for us, even if we unable to enter into the Mass fully.  Our awareness is not primarily what God looks for, it is the opening of our hearts.  If we come to him in the Mass with an open heart, he will fill it.

 Thoughts or hesitations about taking your kids to Mass?  Have any more advice to add? Comment below! 

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Infant Baptism

We baptize our baby in New Mexico this Sunday.  I am SO excited for the baptism.  We baptized our niece Eloise last summer and it made me really look forward to the day that we would stand together and bring our little baby boy into the Church.   
I want to share a bit of the reasoning behind why the catholic church baptizes infants, for those of you wondering why we baptize at such a young age.  A lot of people criticize the catholic church for baptizing infants before they have a “born again” experience, or rather, “accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.” For these, baptism follows but has no salvific value.  It is only after one has accepted the Lord into their heart that they are saved. 
The catholic church, since the time of the Apostles, has always understood  and taught baptism to be a Sacrament which accomplishes the remission of sin (both original and actual–though only original in the case of infants, since they’re incapable of actual sin).
In Acts, Peter calls all the faithful to repent and to be baptized in the name of Christ (Acts 2:38), but he does not restrict this to adults only.  He said: “For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Acts 2:39).  
Scripture tells us that baptism and salvation are connected (1 Peter 3:21), hence the sacrament is vital for adults and infants alike.
Through baptism, we believe that we are “born again” in the Spirit.  We become once again united with God, as was his original intent.  We once again become his children, members of his Body, and members of his Church, and we also become born again into a state of grace.
This is what is so special and exciting about my son’s upcoming baptism.  I look forward to when we stand with our family and our priest and we trace the sign of the cross on my son’s head as the mark of his belonging to Christ.  I’m excited for this beginning in my son’s life–the beginning of the profession of faith which we will be making on his behalf now, and which he later, by the grace of God, will personally confirm himself. 
Thanks for reading!
Lauren