Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Marriage of Christ Revealed

The Church Year began with a big bang: a liturgical Haley’s Comet in the form of the most significant changes in the Mass we’ve had in decades. We also passed through the longest Advent we could possibly have and the shortest Christmas. That has given us one of the rare alignments of liturgical stars: the “Epiphany convergence” of the wedding at Cana, the visit of the Magi, and the Baptism of Jesus.

The what?

One of the perks of daily Mass attendance is the chance to hear and consider in rapid succession Gospel texts that don’t pop up more than once every three years on Sundays.  Of course, we can read them on our own. If left to our own devices, though, most of us probably wouldn’t make the connections we get in the liturgy. We just passed one such sequence: the wedding at Cana (Saturday), the adoration of the Magi (Sunday), and the Baptism of the Lord (Monday).

Reflecting on the arc of Christ’s life, the early Church noticed a number of manifestations—epiphanies—of God’s glory. In fact, the Last Supper in John’s Gospel opens the “Book of Glory” of Christ’s passion and death, a title that would have resonated with Mark, who saw the zenith of that glory in the cross and placed the Gentile act of faith, not on the adoration of wise men from the East as Matthew did, but on the lips of the crucifying centurion (cf. Mk. 15:39). The Church also noticed that some of these epiphanies marked a beginning in Christ’s life, and others pertained to its completion. The three beginners were—you guessed it—the visit of the Magi, Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, and the wedding at Cana. It wasn’t until the end of the fourth century that these three epiphanies were celebrated separately.

In a sense, John Paul II wove them together again, at least in popular piety, when he added the Luminous Mysteries to the Rosary. Acknowledging that “certainly the whole mystery of Christ is a mystery of light. He is the “light of the world” (Jn 8:12),” John Paul added Cana and the Baptism to the Rosary chain of meditations, presupposing that the adoration of the Magi would be considered within the Joyful Mysteries. “Each of these mysteries,” he wrote, “is a revelation (epiphany) of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus” (Apostolic Letter on the Most Holy Rosary, 21).

This mystery is profoundly a part of our own life and charismatic history as a Pauline Family. Our founder, Blessed James Alberione attached these words from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 3:12 to the seal of the Pauline Family, as a summary statement about our purpose: “That the manifold wisdom of God may be made known.”

This manifestation of the Good News in Jesus Christ—this evangelization—is meant to be seen first of all in the members of the Pauline Family. The last of the ten branches to be founded is suggested both by Nazareth and by the Cana aspect of Epiphany—the Holy Family Institute. This secular institute exists to help couples grow in holiness together and so, manifest the glory of God in Christ, in his relationship with the Church. Of course, that’s one of the purposes of Christian marriage anyway. The vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience that HFI couples make, however, carry out that purpose in a specifically Pauline way. Obviously, members don’t live those vows the way we celibate Paulines in community live them. Still, the vows connect them with the religious members in a perpetual relationship as family, and through this, with God, “so that the manifold wisdom of God may be made known.”

Over and over again, throughout the history of Israel, God went to great lengths to demonstrate how close he was to his people. He chose an array of words and images that told them that not only was he God, and the one God at that, but the living God who made and chose them, a personal God, who wanted a joyful, saving relationship with them. “The most amazing image,” writes Fernando M. Cornet in The Epiphany of Jesus Christ,* “was that of Bridegroom and bride, because it manifested God’s ineffable love for the people and his burning desire to be intimately united to Israel….The New Testament explicitly applies this image to Christ, whose bride is the Church, as well as to each individual person. Even more, bride and Groom are to have one single voice.

“This is one of the most evocative images for the Fathers of the Church and clearly shows the purpose of the Incarnation…. Following the Jewish wedding  ritual, the Fathers characteristically distinguish a dual moment in the marriage of Christ: The first corresponds to the Incarnation, and the second to the Passion. In the first moment…Christ marries flesh or human nature; in the second, instead, he marries the Church. They are not two different marriages, but two moments in a single marriage. From his flesh, in fact, the Church emerges, is born, and becomes the Mystical Body of Christ. Thus he and she—his Humanity and the Church—‘are no longer two, but one flesh’ (Mt, 19:5-6).”

In other words, if any of us think that John’s account of the wedding at Cana is about the couple getting married, we need to think again.

I recently had a chance to talk with Larry and Kim Todd. Larry has been an HFI member for twelve years. Kim has been discerning God’s call in her life, too. Like an underground stream, Larry’s Pauline connection has been a major part of their life, especially in their personal and family relationship with God. Married for 36 years, they have two daughters, Christine (28) Lauren (22), who have been raised in their parents’ faith and share their values. Larry and Kim recently moved back to Lexington, KY, from Oregon, to be closer to their girls, who—Kim laughingly says—are taking full advantage of Mom and Dad’s unwanted absence and are now making up for lost time! They even occasionally hang around to listen in as Larry prepares for his ministry as parish lector and practices the reading.

They don’t see themselves “as especially religious or holy. We’re just happy to be with each other. Of course, we’re not seeing how other people see us, but nothing makes us stand out. We kind of blend into the parish.” Larry works as an engineer, testing electrical products for safety and conducting webinars on the company’s evaluation methods. He travels often for workshops and consultation assignments, so he and Kim don’t get to pray together very often, but they sometimes manage to fit in the Divine Office in the evening. It seems to have an effect beyond hearth and home. Larry noted, for example, that even though he has never expressed his distaste for profanity at work, his colleagues sense he doesn’t like it and they don’t use it around him. Even the VP watches his language.

Kim claims she doesn’t pray “nearly as much as Larry does,” but here and there fits in her favorite formula, the Guardian Angel prayer. “If I’m sitting somewhere, I test my memory to see if I can remember other prayers I learned in grade school, and it’s hard! Larry is more structured. I’m more spontaneous.” At the same time, she admits that in her spontaneity, she turns much of what she hears, good or bad, into brief, unformulated prayer for others.

This compatibility with ordinary life is what Larry appreciates in his Pauline commitment. He says, “I pray a lot more in five-second increments during the day. I see something going on, and I’ll throw out a short prayer for somebody. I have a little crucifix on my desk at work, and every time I see it I can interrupt what I’m doing for four or five seconds to thank Him for my job, or say, ‘What would you do in this case?’ It’s just a way to keep in touch with Jesus all day long.” When he has more time, especially on trips, he tracks down a church, prays the Divine Office or with the Pauline prayer book.  “I never thought I would have the time. But when something becomes important, the time is there. I now spend a little more time thinking about God when I might have been doing something else before.” He believes that this is the blessing for younger couples: “the Holy Family Institute gives them a focus.”

Christine and Lauren Todd
Kim supports him in this wholeheartedly. On his part, Larry relies on her “very valuable” support. She has seen him grow into “a more patient person. And I know he’s really driven and focused, to be true to it.” Larry adds that because of his Pauline vowed life, he has made “decisions in my career and my family to improve my family life,” like moving back to Kentucky. The short monthly letter that he writes to director Fr. Tom Fogarty, SSP, helps him to articulate his priorities, bringing “me closer to my family.” The specific nature of Pauline spirituality didn’t give him anything particularly new, but provided him with a measuring rod for whatever crosses his path. “When we test something at work, we ask, ‘What does the standard say?’ Other ways may be good, but they’re not for me.” Kim adds, “[Larry’s consecration] makes me more interested in my faith, and I know his prayers go far. He thinks enough about me and our marriage to pray for me, and I think it makes our marriage stronger.”

Kim drives a shuttle for a car dealership and covers about 125 miles of Lexington’s roads a day. She connects with the people she serves and even finds some to pray for. While Larry points to people like Fr. Tom as “guiding stars” on his faith journey, Kim sees many of these stars in the regular people and clergy she meets along the way. She know, too, that as Larry launches into his formation for the permanent diaconate, that constellation of hers will grow, since his journey will be made together. The world will never be the same.

To learn more about the Holy Family Institute:
Fr. Tom Fogarty, SSP,
* Epifania di Gesù Cristo, Fernando Maria Cornet, Editrice UNI Service,, pp. 41f.
Photo credits: Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP, Gerry Rauch, Larry Todd

1 comment:

  1. I like this commentary even though it is hard to wrap my head around it. Very Profound.


Your turn! Share your good word with us.