St. Valentine's Day is this week, and while it may be fun to celebrate with hearts, gifts, and romantic dinners, it is also an excellent time to reflect on Christian love in the context of marriage.
The Sacrament of Marriage is a beautiful gift from God intended to provide us lifelong companionship and access to the grace that flows from the sacramental bond. However, marriage also comes with a considerable amount of responsibility. St. Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church…” (Eph 5:25). Paul speaks directly to husbands here because it is embedded in a larger context that emphasizes the differences between men and women. Still, the call for spouses to love one another is universal.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus frequently uses the imagery of a bride and a bridegroom to illustrate his relationship with the people united in his Church. We are called to imitate this union in our own marriages as a reflection of Christ's love for the world. The Catechism expands on this mystical union, saying:
The unity of Christ and the Church, head and members of one Body, also implies the distinction of the two within a personal relationship. This aspect is often expressed by the image of bridegroom and bride… The Lord referred to himself as the "bridegroom." The Apostle speaks of the whole Church and of each of the faithful… as a bride "betrothed" to Christ the Lord to become but one spirit with him. The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb. (CCC #796)
So, since everyone who has entered the Sacrament of Marriage is called to love one’s spouse like Christ loves the Church, the natural question becomes: How does Christ love the Church in a practical and attainable sense? There are countless examples throughout Scripture, but we will examine a few fundamental ones here.
Jesus always provides for the needs of his people. The first example is when he began his public ministry by performing his first miracle at his Blessed Mother's behest during the wedding feast in Cana. The couple had run out of wine and, despite telling his mother that his time had not yet come, he was obedient to her and provided the wine they needed to continue their feast. It was no coincidence that this significant moment in Jesus' life occurred as a guest at a wedding. By this act, he sanctified the sacrament and let us know he will provide the grace we need to provide for one another in our marriage (cf. CCC #1613).
Be a Friend
Jesus was alone on only a few occasions. He selected twelve men to be his apostles, who became his friends and companions. They journeyed with him, learned from him, shared meals, and defended him. He also formed such a close friendship with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, that when Lazarus died, it is the one time when Scripture reveals that Jesus wept (Jn 11:35). Through Jesus' example, we learn how vital friendship is to the human condition. While other friendships may ebb and flow, a married relationship should provide a secure and lasting friendship founded on trust and openness.
Jesus is a servant. He most notably demonstrated his servant heart at the Last Supper when he humbly washed his Apostles' feet (Jn 13:2-17). Peter, recognizing his unworthiness, tried to resist, but Jesus explained that this service was critical to being in relationship with him. In other words, to have a share in what Jesus offers, we must humble ourselves in service to others, beginning with our spouse.
Jesus protected his Church on Pentecost by sending the Holy Spirit as promised. While Jesus was not physically present and walking the earth that day, he made sure we had a guide and a comforter in his absence (Acts 2:2-4). The Holy Spirit continues to protect the Church's teaching through the Magisterium so that we can always feel safe knowing that we are not being led astray (CCC #86). Protecting our spouse applies to more than just the physical sense. We can protect our spouse's dignity, reputation, privacy, and other things as an act of love for them.
Everywhere Jesus went, he helped people. He helped a woman who was about to be stoned to death for her adultery (Jn 8). He helped people to understand theological realities by patiently answering their questions, and he helped Peter catch fish after a long, unsuccessful night (Lk 5:1-6). One of the benefits of marriage is knowing one’s spouse well enough to understand how to help, even when he or she may not be able to articulate it. When our spouse asks for help, we should imitate Jesus and not hesitate to give it.
One of the fundamental pillars of Jesus' teaching is forgiveness. We are all sinners, and as such, we all need forgiveness. Marriage is a prime target for Satan, who seeks opportunities to damage the bond through sin. These can be anything from minor annoyances and negativity to more significant issues, such as destructive communication patterns, criticism, or actively turning away from one's spouse. Be aware that the source of these things is Satan, whose sole purpose is to destroy the sacrament. So, be quick to forgive, “for if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mat 6:14-15). For the times when, perhaps, your spouse offends or disappoints you without even realizing it, keep the words Jesus spoke while he was being crucified close to your heart: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34) – as an act of compassion towards your spouse for what he or she is unable to see.
While forgiveness is a beautiful and necessary thing offered abundantly by Jesus, he never encouraged anyone to persist in sin. He told many parables about the consequences of making poor decisions and stories of the joy of conversion, repentance, and finding the right path. Earlier, I mentioned the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus saved from stoning. After the confrontation, he stated, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (Jn 8:11). It is common for people to focus on the lack of condemnation from Jesus, while ignoring the part where he tells her to stop sinning. The primary duty of spouses is to help one another to get to Heaven. This involves supporting and correcting one another other with love and gentleness, as well as accepting it from each other, as both spouses grow in virtue and holiness.
Of course, the greatest act of love that Jesus gave to his Church is his self-sacrifice in his passion and crucifixion for our salvation. Spousal love is sacrificial love. We are called to lay aside our ego, comfort, and desire for the good of our spouse. There ought to be no room for selfishness in a sacramental marriage, which is one of those temptations from Satan I mentioned earlier. To achieve this type of sacrificial love, humility and prioritizing long-term over short-term goals must be present. In other words, there ought to be a willingness to sacrifice temporary earthly comforts or desires to achieve a greater eternal good in heaven for you and your spouse. Remember, Jesus was not comfortable being scourged and hung on a cross, nor did he desire to be there. He did it purely out of love. This love transcends warm and fuzzy emotions and gets to the root of what it means to love like Jesus. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). When you chose your spouse and spoke your vows before God, you did not know where the journey would lead and what difficulties and joys you might encounter, but you knew you wanted to go through all of it with that one person. There is abundant grace to be found in marriage, but to receive all it has to offer, we must love our spouse as Jesus loves us.BACK TO LIST