marriage encounter

At RCIA, each week, we keep hearing the term “community” in the talks. We heard that the Church is the community of all the believing peoples, connected with each other through their loving concern. In Baptism, the person being baptized is welcomed into the community. In Reconciliation, through the priest representing the community, the sinner is absolved from their sin. In the sacrament of the Sick, the priest again represents the community; but we also heard how much more comforting it is if the sick person is prayed over by the priest, and those who love him, i.e. his community. The sacrament of the Eucharist is the epitome of community. We receive the Body of Christ, the Head of the Community. In so doing, we acknowledge that we are not separated from the community but attentive to it and its’ needs.  And now, today, we will hear about the sacrament of Marriage, in which two people become a community.

Before we go any farther, let’s briefly discuss the concept of community. Five people live in the same house. Is that a community?  It could be. What is the interaction between them? The interaction, when all is said and done, is what defines a Christian community, their relationship with one another. Common interests, growth together, concerns for one another, interaction with one another. All of these manifest qualities of the community we are speaking about. Without these, we just have five people living under the same roof, co-existing with one another. Nothing is said at the breakfast or dinner table; each person doing their own thing; one reads a paper, one is texting, one talking on the phone, one listening to a sporting event, one lost in their own thoughts. If we are lost in ourselves, in our own needs, we cannot be truly concerned about anyone else. Just as good diffuses itself, and spreads itself, so too, love is contagious and rapidly spreads and grows among the peoples touched. I assume all of you drive. Think of the times you have allowed someone to pull in front of you. How often within two or three blocks, you see them do the same for someone else. Good diffuses itself. So, when you hear the term “community”, don’t think of it as a neighborhood, or a place. Think of people who are bound by love and affection for one another. That is a community.

Marriage, then, is the smallest community you can have. Two people mutually concerned about each other. Quoting Eric Fromm in his book, “The Art of Loving”, he says “Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.” The word “active” is the operative word in that sentence; an active concern signifying that we are doing something for it. Marriage, then, is the resulting union of the two people who profess before the larger community their intention to wed. Too often in today’s world, we think of marriage as that special day, that singular event, involving brides’ maids and best men, and church, and a festive time afterwards. Though the celebration may be attended by many or just a few, the intensity of what is happening is not affected. The husband and wife willingly become a community of two. The sacrament of marriage is like the human-divine life of Jesus: a Godlike love flowing into and through the limited container of our human nature. The words “…for better or worse, in sickness and in health…” represent the Christian couples’ continual efforts to be faithful to each other and to the ideals of Christ, regardless of the circumstances. These continual efforts will be their constant making of the church, the building up of the community of Christ. The natural love, that mankind associates with marriage, is transformed into a personal couple-relationship with Jesus. Their love for each other reflects their love for their God and God’s love for them.

When Cathy and I were first married, I don’t think we thought of our marriage as representing the ideals of Christ, nor the constant building up of the church. At least I didn’t. It was just a natural normal thing that people do and did. I think my understanding of marriage was that she and I would live under one roof, loving each other, being attentive to each other’s needs, providing for our material comforts, having children and trying our best to bring them up within the Catholic Church. Period. Amen. And maybe, that is all that we could expect at that time, given our own growth, our own knowledge and our own expectations.

We attended a Marriage Encounter, one weekend. We were the youngest ones there. Everyone else, it seemed, was there trying to save their marriages, and we were just setting out on ours. One thing that we learned there and it truly stayed with us throughout our marriage was: “Realizing how tight the other person’s shoes are. Walk around in them for a while. Feel the pain that your spouse is enduring. Maybe, your spouse is enduring, because of what their spouse does… ehhh, that would be YOU.” This increased awareness was fostered by an exercise called “10-10”. After the marriage encounter was over, each week, we would go off and write a short love letter to the other. This was how 10-10 would start. In that letter, we would bring up something that the other person does, that bothers us, annoys us, angers us. Keep in mind this was a love letter, so there was no room in it for anger or complaining. After the letter was written, we would in the presence of each other, read aloud what our spouse had written to us. Only after it had been read, would we then discuss it, for no more than 10 minutes, each. By doing this we soon learned that sometimes the pain the other person is feeling in their shoes is because of our own actions.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that there are no coincidences with God. Everything that we endure, everything that happens to us God has already surveyed and allowed. Go back over your life and find the times that God has played a part in your life and you didn’t recognize it, at that time. I don’t know why or how we learned about The Marriage Encounter. It was a special time for us. We did not seek it out. We didn’t even know of its existence, let alone what it entailed. But somehow we found it, or maybe more accurately, God helped us find it.

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