The episode of the woman caught in adultery that we read in St John's Gospel (8:1-11) is certainly very much about sinfulness and divine forgiveness. In a less direct way, it is also about marriage, since adultery is a severe wound inflicted upon a marriage.
In today's society the sacrament of marriage is constantly under assault whether that be not understanding its uniqueness among human relationships or cheapening it with divorce and co-habitation.
Quite often we come across a focus, a preoccupation, on romance to the point that romance and love are thought to be the same. But the lasting truth of Scripture and Tradition, which is also very much accessible from our human experience, is that love is a decision while romance is an emotion. Romance is the raw material of love it is not the final product.
When a man and woman stand at the altar to marry each other it is meant to be a mature act of love, something they do with their whole free will, with their full heart, their mind and their complete personhood.
At its foundation, marriage is not just about the bride and groom. It is about Jesus Christ and His and His Father's divine action in our world through the Holy Spirit. When we see two beautiful young people move and act in the words and actions of the Marriage Rite, we also behold with the eyes of faith, the movement and action of God. A wedding is both human and divine; indeed, marriage is theological – it speaks of God.
In his huge and momentous catechesis, Theology of the Body, Bl John Paul II taught that marriage is the foundation of the whole sacramental order. This is an elevation of marriage above its human and worldly characteristics.
The sacramental order, for us as Catholics, encompasses the wide array in which God, who is invisible, makes himself visible. This sacramental order includes everything from the wonders and beauty of creation to the seven Sacraments of the Church. Marriage is the foundation of this whole sacramental order.
Why did Pope John Paul make this astonishing declaration? Precisely because marriage speaks to us of three things: who God is, what God calls us to, and what God wants for us.
God, as we believe, is Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. God is a communion of persons united in love a love so powerful that it is constantly creative and a love so enormous that it flows out from within the Trinity to us and to the world.
Marriage also is a communion of persons. The love of man and woman, expressed in the one-flesh union, is also creative, so amazingly so that it overflows from the couple to have the capacity to create a new human life.
What God calls us to
Each and every human heart yearns for, aches for and hungers for love. The only love that truly satisfies the human heart is the love of God and we are meant to experience that love on earth and forever in heaven.
Married love, that by its nature is free, faithful, fruitful and total, keeps before our eyes not only our desire for love but its fulfillment in God. The communion of man and woman, in life and love, reminds us of the communion God holds out before us as our destination in heaven.
What God wants for us
The Bible begins with a marriage of man and woman, Adam and Eve, and ends with the marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church – the new Adam and the new Eve.
This is not by chance nor just a nice book-ending for the Bible. Marriage belongs in the whole story of creation and redemption. The amazing fact that Christ came to show us by His life, His death and His resurrection is that God wants to marry us. The union that God wants to have with us is as intimate as that of husband and wife. That is why marriage is so precious for it holds before us, on a daily basis, the deep and powerful passion God has for us. It is not a sexual passion, because God is spirit, but the sexual passion and attraction of husband and wife mirror the intensity and power of God's passion for us.
For all these reasons, and many more, marriage is both sacred and precious.
Fr Paul Chandler is parish priest of Nundah in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Queensland.