It was a Tuesday afternoon. I was sitting in a nearly empty Church, staring at the crucifix, praying. Out of of the corner of my eye I saw two people slowly shuffling their way down the side isle. My eyes trailed away from the cross as I watched this old couple taking baby steps. It almost looked painful. The isle was so long, I wondered when they were going to stop. The woman was severely hunched over, her arm linked tightly in her husbands. Finally they reached the altar, stopped, looked at the cross, and bowed as low as their frail, arthritic bodies would allow them. Then they turned around and made their way into first pew. As the woman went in, her husband tenderly fixed her sweater that was scrunched up in the back, pulling it down and smoothing it over–as a mother would do for a small child. The couple sat down, clutched each other’s hands, and in their spare hand, they each held a pair of well prayed rosary beads.
I have a pretty sensitive heart, but nothing brings tears to my eyes quicker than the love of an old married couple. I find their love breathtakingly beautiful. But it is a simple, humble beauty — not the beauty you’d find on the cover of Vogue. Rather, it is a beauty that is veiled behind wrinkles and grey hair; a beauty that is hidden among the mundaneness of two people who have known each other so long they can sit contently in silence, communicating with a mere look; it is a beauty that has stood the test of time.
Before me, I see two people who have surely lived out their vows: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, til death do us part. Their witness to a steadfast, unconditional love fills me with hope–hope that, in a world where marriage and love seem increasingly fleeting and temporary, there are still people who uphold the sacredness of this sacrament. I gazed back and forth from the cross to this couple. Suddenly, I was contemplating the love our Lord has for us: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Only, unlike the earthly bond of marriage, even death will not separate us. What a wondrous love.
Scheeben, a 19th century German theologian, notes that there is a sacramentality to Christian mystery. Indeed, the Christian mystery isn’t just a society of men. Rather, when you gaze upon the Church you see something deeper: a union with Christ. The sacraments, particularly marriage, are a vehicle of that union. In a sense, it was this married couple’s natural union-matrimony- that led me to reflect upon Christ’s love for me and His union with the Church. The married couple becomes a living sign of this supernatural union and love. It is this witness that dramatically elevates the status of marriage.
The sacramental relation of Christian marriage to the union of Christ with His Church stands revealed in the fullness of its extraordinary sublimity, thus excelling even marriage in Paradise. Christian marriage towers above marriage in Paradise because of the higher dignity of the concurring members, the higher purpose, and the closer relation to the marriage of the God-man with the Church, which it vividly represents (Scheeban 603-604).