The Last 7 Words: Jesus Speaking to your Marriage

     So often when we think of the season of Lent, we think about what we are going to give up. While this is a good start, if this is the extent of our Lenten practices we are missing a great opportunity. For Lent is not just about doing something, it is about becoming someone. It’s about intensifying our practice of the faith as we seek to repent and believe in the Gospel. Today’s day of recollection then is a chance for us to take the encouragement of Pope St. Leo the Great who reminds us that “what the Christian should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and devotion, so that the Lenten fast enjoined by the apostles may be fulfilled, not simply by abstinence from food but above all by the renunciation of sin.”[1] This season of Lent is a time to turn away from those things that keep us from following Christ. After all, the calling of every Christian is a calling to follow after Jesus, which means that we have to follow Him through the cross to light. This day of recollection then is a perfect opportunity to step away from the business of our life and sit with Christ at the cross.

     As we read the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion we cannot help but recognize Jesus last seven phrases. While hanging their dying on the cross, He uttered these last seven sayings as a kind of last will and testimony. While we could reflect for hours on these last 7 sayings of Christ, this first reflection of the morning I want to spend a few moments reflecting on what each of these 7 sayings have to teach us about marriage and leave you sometime to prayerfully apply them to your marriage.

     For those of you who are married, your path to salvation and your journey with the Lord is lived out in the context of your marriage. So this morning, I would like to reflect with you using these last 7 sayings of Jesus asking what they have to teach us about the beautiful sacrament of marriage and how to live your marriage in accord with God’s intention for marriage. While you reflect on your own marriage, I think it is also important for you to reflection on how you can work to help strengthen your children’s marriage. We are going to see that it is Christ’s perfect love expressed on the cross which married couples are called to live out. It is my prayer that many of you will be able to take this basic reflection and adapt it in your prayer and meditation to your situation.

     When I hear the these 7 sayings, my mind immediately goes to Jesus 3rd saying, “woman behold your son… (Son) behold your mother.”[2] On a most basic level, Jesus is offering His Mother to the Church, which of course includes each and every one of us, but if we look at this saying from the context of marriage we see He is also offering His mother to every family. It goes without saying, that for a marriage to be fruitful they must be centered on Christ. Yet anywhere we find Christ we also find his mother. The calling of every married family is to imitate the example of the Holy Family who is the example par excellence of a Catholic family.

     One of the most moving moments of a wedding ceremony, if the option is chosen, occurs when the newly married couple processes over to the statue of the Blessed Virgin to present her with a flower and offer a prayer for their marriage. While moving, that gesture cannot be the end of the family’s Marian devotion. Each married couple must continue to live out their marriage with a deep Marian spiritually because “Mary is one of the human beings who in an altogether special way belongs to the name of God, so much so, in fact, that we cannot praise him rightly If we leaver her out of the account.”[3] Christ gave His Blessed Mother to us and so it is simply impossible to offer due praise to God with out offering prayer and devotion to her. Mary is after all the preeminent path through which Christ comes into your marriage. For “because Mary’s yes is so spotless and perfect, veneration and imitation of her do not in any way constitute some special spirituality. We must say just the opposite: No approved spirituality in the Church can afford to seek God while passing this model of perfection; none can afford not to be Marian as well.”[4] To keep Christ at the center of your family demands that your family have a deep Marian devotion.

     Mary then is the perfect model for us. She lived her life as a mother in the midst of a family. She can in some ways be said to be the quintessential bride. Her fiat, her yes, is the perfect gift, it is the example par excellence of a complete and total gift of self. Who better then for married couples to turn to as they seek the spiritual assistance they need to live out their marriage.

     I can think of no better practical spirituality for a family then the daily recitation of the rosary. I cannot see how any couple that faithfully prays the rosary daily from the moment they enter into their relationship until the end of their life will not live a life worthy of being welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. For in praying the rosary, married couples not only have the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother, but they are also afforded the opportunity to reflect on the life of the Holy Family, giving them the opportunity to prayerfully reflect on the example par excellence of a family. Bottom line, married couples must pray daily to the Blessed Mother and strive to imitate her fiat, her yes, in the midst of their marriage. So I ask you how are you using this Lent to develop your devotion to your Blessed Mother?

     As my mind turns to our Blessed Mother sitting at the foot of the cross and I find myself wondering how she viewed the many people who caused her Son such suffering and misery. As the perfect mother, her mind must have been linked with Her Son who began His final discourse from the cross crying out “Father forgive them; they know not what they do.”[5] For those of you who are married, it goes without saying that marriage demands frequent forgiveness. Just as our Lord forgave those who put Him to death, spouses must be willing to forgive each other. While all Christians must be willing to forgive 70 x 7 times[6] married couples must desire to forgive each other perpetually. Ideally married couples will frequently ask their spouse for forgiveness, yet if we look at Christ’s example on the cross we see He forgives without being asked to forgive, in fact He forgives just before they tear His garment; He forgives while they are still in the act of offending Him. How many times do spouses say they are willing to forgive if only their significant other would ask for forgiveness? While its certainly ideal that spouses ask for forgiveness, Christ’s example shows us that spouses must forgive out of love without ever being asked. It is only through this Christ like mindset of forgiveness that marriage can be protected against the bitterness that often eats away at marriages. So I ask you how are you using this Lent to seek forgiveness from your spouse while also forgiving without even being asked?

     While seeking forgiveness from each other is essential to a Christian marriage, any marriage that is going to be centered on Christ demands that both spouses frequently seek the forgiveness of God. Let’s be honest for as good as we think we are “no one is strong enough to travel the entire path of salvation unaided. All have sinned, all need the Lord’s mercy, the love of the crucified one.”[7] All of us are sinners and for any marriage to be fruitful it must include the frequent reception of the Sacrament of Confession. If Christ is at the center of all fruitful marriages, when one or both of the spouses separate themselves from the love of God by sin, their marriage suffers. Only through the frequent reception of the sacrament of Confession can spouses keep Christ at the center of their marriage and thus live out a fruitful marriage. So I ask you, this lent what have you done to make the sacrament of Confession a priority for you and your spouse?

     It shouldn’t surprise us that after hearing Jesus forgive those who hurt Him, He extends that forgiveness to the good thief who asks for it. Immediately after uttering Father forgive them we hear Jesus cry out “today you will be with me in Paradise.”[8] Shouldn’t this be the cry of every married couple? Isn’t this the goal of marriage? For in marriage the two become one flesh uniting themselves to aid each other towards their entrance into eternal life. When a husband and wife unite themselves as one in the sacrament of marriage they offer themselves as one to the Lord. God, through grace, works to bring the husband and wife to heaven together. Just as Christ brought Dismas, the good thief, to heaven, husbands and wives must work to bring each other to heaven. So what are you doing to bring your spouse to heaven?

     As you all know better than me, marriage requires the giving up of certain things for the good and harmony of the marriage. True love, demands forsaking certain things, so it should not surprise us when we hear Christ crying out from the Cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[9] If your marriage is going to be centered on Christ, it will demand that you forsake certain things. This sacrifice on your part and the part of your spouse is a form of purification. In a sense you unite yourself to the cross of Christ, and suffer by giving up worldly things to give yourself wholly to your marriage. As you know well, this isn’t a onetime action. No it is a lifelong process that invites you to turn from worldly things and purify your hearts. This forsaking of certain things invites you to turn towards your spouse and through them to the Lord. So what are those things in your life that you still need to forsake for your good and the good of your marriage?

     Just as marriage demands the forsaking of something’s it also takes some purely natural things and consecrates them to raise them to a sacred act. Out of this sacred act Christ blesses the couple allowing them the opportunity to participate in his supreme power of creation by bringing life into the world. Just as Christ thirsts on the cross for souls to bring them to eternal life, so to a husband and wife must thirst for each other to bring about life and then they must thirst to bring their children to heaven. Just as Christ, through His actions on the cross leads people to salvation, married couples must thirst for the salvation of each other and their children. So what are you thirsting for? Are you thirsting to spend eternity with your spouse in children forever in heaven? What do you do to quench that thirst?

     Marriage must be rooted in trust, and perhaps that’s what makes marriage so hard. Friends, ultimately for all we do, at the end of the day we have to leave our lives in the hands of God and so the ultimate focal point of your marriage is found in Jesus’ last saying on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. You see, when you exchanged vows on your wedding day you gave yourself over completely, to your spouse. With complete trust and faithfulness you offered everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly, just as Christ hanging on the cross battered and beaten on the cross, offered His entire self up to the Father. While the complete gift of self, including your faults and weakness can certainly be scary, it is only when you offer your total self, that you and your spouse can truly be united as one. While hard, as the previous teachings of Christ from the cross concerning marriage are accepted and integrated, this total offering to your spouse will follow naturally. So what are you holding back from your spouse? What have you not offered to him or her?

     Our Lord, in his last seven sayings provides a deep wellspring for our meditation. He lays out for us a deep insight into the 7 sacraments. When meditated on individually and then together as a whole they provide us with an opportunity to hear Christ speaking to us, to hear Him encouraging and showing us how to grow in our unique vocations. These 7 phrases invite us to enter more deeply into our relationship with our Lord and our relationship with others. For those who are married or are preparing for marriage, our Lord lays out a blueprint for what marriage is. He invites those who are married to reflect on their own marriage in light of His teaching and see how they can more fully live out the beautiful sacrament of marriage in their lives and in doing so journey towards eternal life. It is my prayer that as we this great Easter Season our Lord will enlighten our minds to the beautiful teachings contained in His last seven words.

[1] Pope St. Leo the Great. Sermo 6 de Quadragesima, 1-2: Pl 54 (286)

[2] Jn 19:26-27

[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Mary the Church at the Source. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005. 63.

[4] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal and Balthasar, Hans Urs Von. Mary the Church at the Source. 120.

[5] Lk 23:34

[6] Mt 18:22

[7] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Jesus of Nazareth Part II. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. 151-152.

[8] Lk 23:43

[9] Mt 27:46

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