The red wine of marriage

Letter from the District Superior, Rev. Fr. Robert Brucciani, March 2018

My Dear Faithful,

This edition of Ite Missa Est is devoted to the holy state of matrimony. There are two reasons for this: first, on account of the privilege of welcoming our dear confrère, Pater Lüdger Grün, to the district of Great Britain to give a conference on the Sacrament of Marriage; and second, because Catholic married couples find themselves increasingly alone in the combat for their own salvation and that of their children.

The challenge

Where they should expect to find support from their peers, from the culture of the society in which they live, from Catholic schools, from the Catholic hierarchy and from the laws of the land, they increasingly encounter a threat. Satan wants it all. He wants to erase the trace of God in His creation in the Church, in government, in society, in families and in individual souls, and he is making astonishing progress.

Married couples have no choice but to enter into close combat if they are to save their souls and those of their children. They must repulse from without the social, legal, economic and doctrinal assaults upon their purity, upon their innocence, upon their ability to earn a living and practice their religion. They must also do battle within to bring themselves into subjection on account of original sin.

God, however, has given them a treasure to fight and to suffer and to win against the world, the flesh and the devil. This treasure is the red wine of grace they received on their wedding day. In Fr. Eugene Boylan's truly excellent work, This Tremendous Lover, this treasure, the red wine of marriage, is eloquently described.

Duties of a Christian

In the daily life of a Christian, writes Fr. Boylan, there is often lack of perspective in the importance of exterior acts of our religion. Once we have performed our religious duties in the morning:

…there is generally a vague feeling that religion has purely a negative concern with the rest of the day; that the most one can do with the rest of one's time, as far as religion is concerned, is to avoid sin and possibly fit in a few extra prayers. 

Now, since we are members of Christ, this view is obviously wrong; for we are His members and He is our life in everything we do. So that every single action of our lives should come under the influence of our religion. And so should our relations with every single person we meet during the day, for they must all be regulated by Christian charity. And if we seek for a further exercise of that Christian charity, we should begin with the person who has the greatest claim upon that charity. And that person is not society in general. For the most important person in the world to a married man should be, and must be, his wife.

Duties of spouses

Not only is the love and mutual surrender of Christ and His Church the model proposed by God for the love and mutual surrender of husband and wife, but their union is also a "Sacrament" of that union of Christ and His Church. Writing on this very point, Pius XI (Casti Connubi) reminds husband and wife that the love of Christ for His church should be their model.

Through their marriage:

not only can married people ‘arrive at the summit of perfection’, but they ought to do so; so, far from being an obstacle, their married life is a means to this end.

What really happens then in true Christian marriage is that a man and a woman, abandoning their own individual life, give themselves completely to one another, as Christ does to His Church (only think of Christ giving Himself in Holy Communion!) and together form one new unit, living one new life. They are not only two in one flesh, they are two in one life. The standard set for married love by St. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians is very high. The man is to love his wife ‘as Christ loved the Church and delivered himself up for it'.

Christ loving Christ

This might seem an impossible endeavour to mere humans, but:

…marriage, being a Sacrament, gives an increase in supernatural grace which is the effect of all the Sacraments, together with a special grace and assistance for all the difficulties and decisions that belong to married life. That is the reason why we can set such a high ideal before husband and wife. It is indeed a superhuman ideal. But the strength at their disposal is superhuman also.”

As a wonderful example of how God turns evil to good:

the very obstacles put by human nature [and the world] to the fulfilment of this ideal of marriage can make marriage the foundation of an intense spiritual life. For it will soon become apparent that neither party is an angel; both are human. And the love and sacrifice demanded on both sides are so great and so costly that the questions soon arise: ‘Is any human being worth all that?’ ‘Can any human being give all that?’ The answer lies in the fact that it is not a mere human being who gives, nor is it a mere human being who receives. Each one loves, and sacrifices self, in partnership with Christ; each one is loved and is served in union with Christ. Beyond her husband, and in his heart, the wife sees and loves and serves Christ. Beyond his wife, and in her heart, the husband sees and loves and serves Christ. The strength to go on, to give all the substance of one's house for love and count it nothing, comes from Christ and is used for Christ. Christ is the lover and Christ is the beloved. For, even in marriage, ‘there shall be one Christ loving Himself.’

Only the perfect Christian can be the perfect lover. And the disappointment which is inevitable in all human affairs; the seeming inability of the other to return the love given leads one to look further for the perfect lover, the tremendous lover who is Christ. 

The song of the bird in the summer evening, the crystal beauty of the young night sky, the merry dance of running water, all and each of those heart-touching charms of nature that made the poet sad have but one message for the fortunate lover who has learned that all things in the world are but things and infinitely below the worth of persons, and that there is only one person who for him sums up the glory of all creation. These things will pass, and the foreshadow of their passing will sadden his heart if he does not learn that all these, and even the one in whom they are all contained, are in turn the expression of the beauty of Him who made them, and whose love they affirm and reflect. For husband and wife are not merely symbols of Christ and His Church, they are the "Sacrament" thereof, and in some mysterious way they share in the reality which their union symbolises.

Such is the red wine of marriage.

In Jesu et Maria,

Rev. Robert Brucciani

View all articles from Ite Missa Est