Relationships are complicated. We learn that early on in life. Some parents have varying degrees of success at loving one another, and others provide painful examples of what relationships should not look like, ultimately culminating in the fallout of broken relationships. Ultimately, when done well, the sacrament of marriage in particular is a glimpse into the love God has for us. It’s an embodiment of the sacrificial love of Christ on the cross. The Revelation of God’s love for us is indescribably beautiful because it is love made manifest through an encounter with a person. Our encounter with God’s love is modeled through the life of the Virgin Mary, it is experienced in authentic worship, and it is handed on through a lived example of self-sacrifice.
We take our first example of an encounter with divine love through the life of the Virgin Mary (she herself is no stranger to difficult circumstances in marriage). Like Mary, we are called to surrender to God’s will, no matter the cost. In his book “Love Alone is Credible,” Balthasar highlights how Mary’s receptivity to God-made-flesh in her womb shows how this love can bear fruit in both literal and figurative ways. In marriage, couples bear fruit through children and also through lives of radical hospitality, obedient to sharing God’s love with both the neighbor and the stranger. Our call to follow Mary’s example of surrender moves beyond poetic verse and is concretized through many forms of popular piety, especially in the rosary and many other Latino/a cultural traditions. Our Lady of Guadalupe in particular, present to St. Juan Diego in person and to us through his tilma, speaks to her people in intimate ways that cannot – and should not – be scripted as symbols, but loved and lived as an image of strength, solidarity, and communion.
How do we respond to this invitation to divine love? We follow Mary to the foot of the cross. The Eucharistic celebration is the pinnacle of Christian worship, and in our worship we remember and experience intimate communion with divine love. As Christians, we are formed by the bread that nourishes us, and we see deeper meaning in the sacrifice of the Mass. As we learn to become active participants in the liturgy, worship becomes more than rubrics and responses: it is encounter and communion with God and each other. We leave behind the comfort of suburbia and we face the bitterness of a broken society and stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us. As Roberto Goizueta emphasizes throughout his book “Christ our Companion,” our prayer must become action. Liturgy speaks to the deepest needs of our hearts for love, nourishment, and healing.
We see the glory of God’s love shine most clearly in his self-emptying love, poured out over and over again in mercy throughout the ages, but most poignantly in Christ’s paschal mystery. The Mass is a place of encounter, but it is the beginning, not the end. At its conclusion, we are sent out to be transformed and transformative in the lives of those we meet. In light of our experience with God’s love, Balthasar explains, we begin to overcome the limitations of our human love and begin to love with the heart of God. This love cannot help but spill over into the deepest recesses of our souls, softening our hardened hearts until mercy waxes into forgiveness and we become the suffering Church who stands in solidarity with the victims of oppression, violence, and the sins of the past. Giozueta’s message be summarized this way: healing and restoration seeks not retribution, but reconciliation.
Although humans are imperfect in many ways, the sacrament of marriage strengthens its couples to understand, encounter, and share God’s love with those around us. As we overcome everyday trials and seek the good of the other, we begin in some very small way to imitate the sacrificial love of Christ on the cross. May our faith become action, and our encounter incite a transformation in our own lives that seeks to set the world ablaze.