During my wedding ceremony, more than 26 years ago, I was given a crucifix by the presiding priest. In our family, we often joked that, there we were, leaving the church, my wife filled with joy and me carrying the crucifix — oh, and filled with joy too
Though I understood the relationship of Christ and his church as bride and groom, and that this was the life and mission my wife and I were entering into, what I did not realize was the profound relationship between the crucifix, the Lord’s presence and the Eucharist in the marital bond. Therefore, let’s consider the image of bride and groom from Scripture, and then I’ll share a personal experience in which loving my wife “even as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25) took on new meaning in my marriage.
Marriage and Scripture
Marriage is one of the central images of the relationship between God and his people. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Churchstates that “sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of ‘the wedding-feast of the Lamb’” (1602).
One of my favorite stories is of Jesus’ first miracle at a marriage in Cana (Jn 2:1-12). Here the wine runs out, and Jesus turns water into the best wine for the celebration. Where there once was a shortage, now abundance is present. This act of Jesus was unexpected and rich in meaning, and it becomes accessible to our understanding through the mystery of marriage. You could say there were two marriages occurring in Cana that day: the couple’s union and the marriage of Jesus to his bride, the church, as he was on the threshold of his public life. Jesus’ presence transformed that Cana marriage just as it would have an unexpected impact on my own marriage.
As I was studying for my master’s degree in theology, I loved to sit and read through church documents and Scripture, getting lost and wrapped up in the mystery of our faith. It was wonderful. I’d often go into our bedroom and study, pray and read for hours.
My wife, though very supportive, did not like that I was often locked away in a separate roomat home. She would “check in on me” and suggest that I come out and study at the dining room table. For me, the dining room was filled with distractions. Besides, why would I leave this wonderful cell with the Lord? However, after many not-so-subtle requests, I decided to give in and haul my stuff out to the dining room to set up shop.
I thought my wife would hang out with me or be close to me, or even want to share in what I was studying. No, she was on the move. Cleaning and cooking, upstairs and downstairs, in and out of the room. OK, so what was going on here? I decided to take all this to prayer and asked the Lord, “What is my bride asking of me?” What I received in prayer was the word “presence.” What my wife was asking of me was that I be more present to her, something she was missing while I was hidden away. At the dining room table, she was experiencing my presence — and she was so happy!
A Catholic Look
Let’s take a Catholic look at what the Lord was showing me relative to the image of Christ as bridegroom pouring out his life for his bride. What I came to understand through more prayer was my bride (like the church) was longing to have a meaningful connection or a more significant union (communion) with me, her groom (like Jesus).
Since we are made for each other, called to be one, the gift of love calls one to the other to be in union and not separated. My wife and I share in the love restored by Christ from the ultimate separation, original sin. Jesus restores love and new life for his bride from the cross, where from his side water and blood — a sign of baptism and Eucharist — flow. The church is born renewed, and we enter into a new union with God like bride and groom.
Taking this analogy a little further, consider that I found myself at our dining room table. The dining room table is a type of altar in the domestic church. It is where we gather for a meal, pray, share stories and create traditions. This is similar to the eucharistic altar (table) in the church. So there I sat being a type of eucharistic presence (like Jesus in the tabernacle) so my wife could experience our love (really God’s love through me) through my simple presence at our domestic altar. The Lord was showing me another way to love my wife as he loves his bride. St. Paul goes even deeper and states it this way:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for herto sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish”(Eph 5:21-27). The bride of Christ is his church, and through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus became the living embodiment of the bridegroom and a faithful husband who was willing to give up his life for the one he loved.
From the cross we see the Lord sanctify his bride, showing what love is, and then through the saving work on the cross he promises to always be present to her: “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). What bride could stand to be separated from such a groom?
As a husband, not only will I lay down my life like Christ for my bride, but I’m also called to be present and in communion with her, just like Jesus and the church. This is one of the reasons why Sunday and Mass are so critical, for the groom desires to be in communion with his bride, and the bride needs to be in communion with her spouse.
What an amazing God we have to love us so much. I was given a crucifix by the priest the day I was married, and what I didn’t fully understand is that the crucifix is the how-to manual for married life.