"A lay Catholic perspective"

rainbow line
fish gif

The Mystery of Christ in Marriage

by Cecile Flater


MARRIAGE ALWAYS INVOLVES two imperfect people. In our world today marriage doesn't have a very good chance of survival — more than 50% of marriages in North America end in divorce. However, marriage in Christ has a 100% chance of success. Jesus heals rifts, and transforms us to be truly one in him.

Reconciliation in a Christian marriage always involves three people: I like to visualize a cross right between a husband and wife. The cross symbolizes the person Jesus, who makes all reconciliation possible. Pope John Paul II said, "In Christ the mutual opposition between man and woman — which is the inheritance of original sin — is essentially overcome."[1] It is the Lord who removes the primary effects of original sin. The unity of husband and wife corresponds to the dignity of the image and likeness of God in both of them. The real threats to this unity are often a consequence of original sin.

This threat is very serious for women today. God said to Eve, Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.[2] When a woman is unfairly dominated by a man, we often see the effects of original sin, not God's order for marriage. One startling example is abortion. Mother Theresa says abortion kills two people — the unborn baby and the conscience of the mother. While such a violation is fatal to the woman it also destroys the true dignity of the man, since both man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God.

"For whenever man is responsible for offending a woman's personal dignity and vocation, he acts contrary to his own personal dignity and his own vocation."[3]

Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ who through his death on the cross gives us a way out of misery. We can enter into the way of reconciliation through the cross so that our relationship can be restored and redeemed.

Getting it all together

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, give way to one another in obedience to Christ.[4] When my husband and I are disagreeing, I look to Jesus for the strength and patience to work things out. If I keep this focus, I am always able to hold my peace. I know that Jesus will lead us to a place of unity. Concentrating on obedience to Christ through these times produces the fruits of the Holy Spirit such as patience, long-suffering, self control and even joy!

Mark suggested that Gary and I not make a decision about an important issue until both of us are in agreement. We found this really helps us to struggle honestly until we reach a place of oneness. It definitely takes loving effort from both marriage partners. However, the result is so good that it makes all the work worthwhile. And just what is the result? We achieve a very strong marriage in Christ that gives us security and peace which reaches out to our children, family and friends. Our marriage becomes a source of hope and light to others who can see a husband living like Christ and a wife living like the virgin bride, the Church. Saint Paul seems almost in a vision as he describes marriage as a mystery representing Christ and the Church.[5]

In the same passage, Saint Paul describes an attitude for women of surrender which may look like blind faith at times.

Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is the husband the head of his wife; and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything. Husband should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her, to make her holy.[6]

Saint Peter uses Sarah, the wife of Abraham as the model for women.[7] When we consider how Sarah gave way to Abraham to the point of sleeping with another man we may be shocked![8] Yet Sarah showed up Abraham through her obedience when the king she slept with reprimanded Abraham for not telling him that Sarah was his wife. The king sent Abraham and his people away since he believed himself to be under a curse for his actions.

In the same way, wives should be obedient to their husbands who have not obeyed the word; they may find themselves won over, without a word spoken, by the way their wives behave, when they see how faithful and conscientious they are.[9]

Times have changed. Such drastic obedience is not required now of Christian wives. After all, in Abraham's era polygamy was accepted, whereas the Church does not accept polygamy since it is contrary to conjugal love which is undivided and exclusive.

But Sarah's surrender to God, and her trust that God would work all things to good for those that love him, is fitting. Sarah's willingness to do what God wanted of her regarding Abraham, reveals an obedience to God's will that requires tremendous trust without control of the results. She could only accomplish this by throwing herself into the arms of God to protect and help her. Sarah did what she knew she had to do, probably without pleasure in the process. That is where, as women, we encounter the cross that reconciles us to our husbands. This attitude of giving way to our husbands as unto the Lord is death to ourselves.

My concept of this attitude has changed over the years in our marriage. At one point I thought that submission was jumping 10 feet when Gary said, "Jump 10 feet!" even though I was only able to jump 5 feet. But as our marriage has matured I can honestly share my heart with my husband and surrender being right to Christ's will at the centre of our married lives. This is made easy for me when Gary is loving me as Christ loved the Church. His laying down his life for me opens his heart and mind to listen to me so that together in Christ we can make decisions that give harmony to our marriage.

The loving union of husband and wife is especially beneficial in raising children. Often children play one parent against the other and miss out on a peaceful atmosphere just to get their own way. When parents are united in their approach to their children, there is less chance of this happening.

Prayer and mercy

Two other things can help to make a married couple one in the Lord. One is praying together and the other is forgiveness. Usually the tough times have motivated Gary and I to pray together which has helped us to develop a regular prayer time. For example, when a child is terribly sick or when we feel inadequate as parents we realize our tremendous need for God and one another. Our source of hope and consolation is turning to the Lord knowing that our loving Father will hear our cry. Somehow he will show us the way. The answer may not be exactly what we expected but we can be sure it will be the Lord's will, which is the best answer for us. For instance, when our beautiful but very sick baby Anita died at 4 months, we were saddened. But we were also relieved that her suffering had finally ended. Her purity and innocence gained her entrance into heaven where she now prays for us. What a blessing to have a member of our own family interceding for us!

If everything and everyone fails, the antidote which restores peace is forgiveness. We would sometimes rather blame each other for suffering instead of accepting Jesus' way of mercy and compassion. Never pay back one wrong with another, or an angry word with another one; instead pay back with a blessing. That is what you are called to do, that you inherit a blessing yourself.[10] I cannot force anyone to forgive and bless me but, by the grace of God, I do have the ability and power to forgive and bless others. Treating my spouse with mercy as I certainly want him to do for me, sets me up to rejoice always, pray constantly and give thanks in all circumstances knowing that this is Christ Jesus' will for me. This is true obedience in the Lord, oneness of heart in Jesus.

Reconciliation through the cross in marriage is a magnificent mystery. Jesus restores the man's and woman's relationship to its original bliss, before the first sin. Mutual love and equality are regained. Admiration and intimacy is experienced towards each other. And Jesus at the centre of the sacramental marriage constantly reminds us of his presence. He empowers us to love one another as he has loved us, making the marriage a sign glorifying himself and his Father.

[1] Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women, 11,4;

[2] Gn 3:16;

[3] ibid., 10,5;

[4] Eph 5:21;

[5] Eph 5:32;

[6] Gn 20:1-18;

[7] 1 Pt 3:6;

[8] Gn 12:10-20;

[9] 1 Pt 3:1-3;

[10] 1 Pt 3:9