The word holy which is being bandied about so busily in the Catholic world right now is actually quite hard to define. Dictionaries may use a synonym – sacred, or refer to a deity and use “divine” or even in a sentence speak of “worthy of complete devotion.” The words holistic or whole help a little. “Holy” is very commonly used in scripture and liturgy but nearly always to refer to God or possibly a saint. Pope Francis in his new Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exultate makes practising holiness a task and a responsibility for everyone. It is not just being good, even kind and merciful but imitating Jesus in following his way in the Beatitudes. The word “blessed” then becomes “holy.” Blessed are the peacemakers = holy are the peacemakers. A true ubuntu concept too.
Holy Matrimony is an old and rather formal term for Christian marriage. It described the special nature of marriage as more than a secular contract but a covenant relationship with God. Is it a calling towards God, or a calling to be like God? Theology and a spirituality of marriage would explore those questions but it is not necessary to overcomplicate matters. “Marriage matters.” That is enough to accept and try to understand. Being one of the Sacraments of the Church it matters as its purpose is to be a sign of the presence of Jesus. If one spouse looks at the other, or children or other people look at a couple they should see and experience Jesus present. How? In their visible love, patience, tolerance, acceptance, total self-giving. The sexual nature of the relationship and its fruitfulness are signs too of the creativity of God.
So then, how holy are our marriages, where they do exist? In our Southern African region there is a low church marriage rate especially within some of the cultural groups. Rural dioceses often report very few marriages in a year although customary and “home affairs” marriages do happen. It is not right to generalise but it is no doubt fair to say, “our marriages are not as holy as they could be.” Gaudete meaning “joy” is the ideal also of THE JOY OF LOVE, Amoris Laetitia, the 2016 Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis.
In both documents the Holy Father recognises that joy as well as holiness are work in progress 158. The Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel. This battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives. A holy marriage is something to strive towards over the life-time of couples. Apart from catechetical teaching, to help couples in this process the Church does have resources that it offers but are not as well used as they could be either. Some programmes, amongst which Marriage Encounter and Equipes, date from around the time of Vatican II, some are more recent. There was a growing awareness of the laity, of marriage and the family, as a focus on the universal call to holiness of all the baptised was coming to the fore. Gaudium et Spes 48 in a long section on marriage notes “By virtue of this sacrament, as spouses fulfil their conjugal and family obligation, they are penetrated with the spirit of Christ, which suffuses their whole lives with faith, hope and charity. Thus they increasingly advance the perfection of their own personalities, as well as their mutual sanctification, and hence contribute jointly to the glory of God.“ That is both awesome and a massive challenge.
As Pope Francis describes very simply this call to holiness is not about prayer only but includes all the ordinary events and chores of daily life, jobs, housework, child-care and of course the difficulties associated with them. Marriages also differ, depending on personalities and circumstances. At present a most famous couple Nelson and Winnie Mandela come to mind. Their circumstances were extremely difficult and the marriage eventually did not survive but it certainly played a role for them and for South Africa. Effective couple communication is essential. One could even ask the question that Marriage Encounter once asked of its couples, “If God were standing at the foot of your bed would he be smiling or frowning?” TR FAMILY WEEKLY 11 APRIL 2018
MARRIAGE ENCOUNTER has been inactive in Gauteng for some years. To revive this valuable resource for promoting the holiness and renewal of marriages there will be a weekend from 27-29 April in Pretoria. For more details contact: Cecilia Chinga – 083-395 0031 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org